“Thor: Ragnarok” might be the third title in the Marvel Cinematic Universe about the god of thunder, but this colorful deviation is no mere knockoff of its predecessors. Gone are the golden turrets of Asgard, overthrown by the goddess of death (played by Cate Blanchett), whose ’80s metal band swagger debuted at Comic-Con, setting fans on fire. The serious Nordic costumes have been electrified with Jack Kirby-inspired cosmic blues and reds. And instead of leaning on choral anthems, the new score will usher in a synth symphony channeling the hypnotizing sounds of Jean-Michel Jarre. The driving force behind these electric, retro-tinged changes is director Taika Waititi, best known for writing and directing the cult comedies "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" and "What We Do in the Shadows.”
“Ragnarok,” which opens Nov. 3, finds Thor imprisoned on the planet Sakaar, where he must fight to survive in the Grandmaster’s gladiator games. It’s the stuff of life and death. But Waititi didn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s still entertainment. “If we were taking things a little too seriously, I would say, ‘Never forget that we're making a cosmic adventure with a space Viking,’” said the director by phone. “That sort of captures it all. We've got the Incredible Hulk, and a giant woman with antlers. We've got aliens and spaceships. It's almost like a bunch of kids were asked what they wanted to put into a movie, and then we just did that.”
And while it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of Waititi’s aesthetic changes (Thor cut his hair!), perhaps the most exciting addition to the Marvel universe is the new cast members, who feel like they were plucked from a late night, Internet fan casting session. All your faves are in this flick. Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson,
So we rounded up the newbies to find out who they’re playing and what it’s like being on team Marvel.
Jeff Goldblum (Grandmaster)
“I’m the Grandmaster,” Goldblum said. The actor, who sports a bold blue lip in the movie, described his time on set as a “golden memory” but was hesitant to reveal too much about his big character debut. “If you followed the comic books [then you know that] he’s one of the elders in the universe. His brother is the Collector, immortal, has fought and beaten death, has superpowers galore, and his games are a playful, playful sort.”
Cate Blanchett (Hela)
When asked why she wanted to play the big bad in “Thor: Ragnarok” Blanchett was direct: “A) It was Taika. B) It was the goddess of death. And C) There's never been a female Marvel villain.”
Calling the shoot an “exercise in tone,” the actress revealed that her biggest struggle transforming into Hela was trying to feel powerful and credible as a villain -- while wearing a motion-capture suit. “The headdress is such a huge part of when she comes into the height of her powers in the film,” Blanchett said. “I only wore that really in the photo shoots. I had to sort of imagine what it was like being a reindeer.”
Karl Urban (Skurge)
Every great baddie needs a good lackey; enter one tattoo-headed Skurge. The Asgardian warrior has been operating the Bifröst bridge in the absence of Heimdall (Idris Elba).
“Then Hela turns up, and Skurge quickly realizes that he either has to join her or die,” Urban said. “He's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he's bright enough to make the right choice for him. He's a survivalist.”
Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie)
An elite warrior of Asgard “who has sort of lost her way” is how Thompson describes her character. The actress and Waititi wanted to deviate from the comic book version of Valkyrie, and instead create a more timely character.
“There's an unfair position that women are sometimes put in, in the context of superhero movies and action movies where at once they have to be very strong and fierce, but also sexy,” Thompson said. “Obviously, it's still a superhero movie and so you've got to figure out when you need to stand with your hands on your hips and what makes sense. But we wanted to create a character that occupied her own iconography.”
“There's one word I hate in all scripts in Hollywood at the moment in describing women, and that is the word ‘badass.’” Waititi explained. “That word has just crept into every script that is pushed around this town now. It's terrible, because it doesn't mean anything. It's a dumb male writer's way of saying, ‘Ah, uh, she's like, she, uh, she's tough.’ Then straight after that it's like, ‘She's badass, but she's got a beauty about her. And she's sexy. Unconsciously sexy.’”
For the record: An earlier version of this article didn’t attribute the above quote to director Taika Waititi.
Rachel House (Topaz)
She’s Waititi’s “good luck charm.” House has been in nearly all of the director’s films. House’s character here is yet another great warrior who works for the Grandmaster as a sort of bodyguard.
“She's a little bit strict with him at times,” said House. “But she's also quite petulant, when he shows his affections toward other people: not happy, very protective and easily jealous.”
Taika Waititi (Korg)
Pulling double duty, Waititi plays the 8-foot-tall Kronan warrior made of purple rocks. Korg was originally supposed to have only a few scenes, but Waititi manages to flesh him out (via motion-capture suit) substantially.
“You've got to understand that Taika Waititi the actor is an incredible person to work with,” the director explained. “When Taika Waititi the director comes across someone like that, it just seems appropriate to give that actor a bit more time to show what they can do. I did that, and my theory was correct. I was, he was that good. As an actor, I highly valued Taika Waititi the director, who was very generous to me in giving me a few more takes than everyone else, and really let me show what I can do.”
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This story is part of The Times’ fall 2017 movie preview. Check out the complete coverage here.