The Marvel movie countdown to Avengers: Infinity War #17: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

After 16 glorious weeks, our Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) challenge, recapping all the movies in the run down to Avengers: Infinity War, has come to an end.

With Infinity War on release from midnight tonight (click here to book your tickets if you haven't already), there's just one more film left to bring you.

And we're finishing our blog series on the highest of possible notes with Taika Waititi's infectiously goofy Thor: Ragnarok. Scroll down for everything you need to know.

The story

In the wake of Sokovia's destruction at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been searching for the Infinity Stones. These all-powerful gems, when applied to the Infinity Gauntlet, will allow their user dominion over the universe. 

Having escaped fire demon Surtur (Clancy Brown), Thor travels to Norway to find his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), ailing. A shocking secret is then revealed: Odin had a first-born child named Hela, who was imprisoned and her existence suppressed. Upon his death, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) emerges to establish control of Asgard, banishing Thor and his step-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into the recesses of space.

Crash-landing on the trash-filled planet of Sakaar, Thor is promptly thrown into gladiatorial combat with an unexpected ally: Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), whose human identity as Bruce Banner has long been subsumed. Forming a coalition with Hulk, Loki and former Asgardian warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Thor looks to re-assert dominion of his home kingdom and defeat Hela in the process.

The background

By 2017, Asgard's finest, Thor, had been the subject of two solo movies, 2011's Thor and 2013's The Dark World, as well as Avengers Assemble and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Despite the blockbusting amounts raked in by those movies, many still felt that the character was awaiting his definitive portrayal.

Backtracking to October 2013, while promoting The Dark World, Hemsworth announced that people "wanted more" and that he was contracted for three more movies (one solo, two Avengers films) in total. In October 2014, it was announced the title of the third solo movie would be Thor: Ragnarok, with a scheduled release date of 28th July 2017. The announcement was made by Marvel's Kevin Feige with The Dark World screenwriters Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost having signed to a script in January of that year.

Feige stated that Ragnarok would be "very important" in the MCU's Phase Three development. By the end of 2014, this still something of a distant prospect, Phase Two then well underway with Guardians of the Galaxy (released in July) having enjoyed enormous success, and with the likes of Avengers: Age of Ultron (April 2015) still to come.

In October 2015, it was announced New Zealand director Taika Waititi was in negotiations to make the movie. He had warded off strong competition from a host of Hollywood filmmakers, including Zombieland's Ruben Fleischer and Dodgeball's Rawson Marshall Thurber.

Later that month, Waititi was officially confirmed, which sent out a clear signal to fans: this would have the potential to be very different from previous Thor movies. Up to this point, the filmmaker was celebrated for hilariously offbeat movies like vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, a sharp turnaround from the Shakespearean grandeur employed by previous directors Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor.

Around the same time, it was revealed Mark Ruffalo would be returning as Bruce Banner, with producer Brad Winderbaum saying the production had derived inspiration from the Thor/Hulk team-up in the popular Planet Hulk storyline. Said Winderbaum: "The idea of a planet where there's gladiatorial games as a Thor predicament. [That storyline] was a really cool idea to us."

In another deviation from Marvel's formula, it was also announced by Australia's Minister For Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, that Ragnarok would be filming in the Queensland area of the country, a change from the usual America or UK base of operations.

Pre-production officially began in January 2016 with Ruffalo describing it as a "road movie". Throughout the remainder of the year, Tessa Thompson's casting as Valkyrie was confirmed, as was Cate Blanchett as Hela and Jeff Goldblum as Sakaar's Grandmaster.

Filming began in July 2016 with Waititi swiftly writing a scene involving Thor and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), before scenes from the latter's solo movie were demolished. Feige subsequently explained the film would take place largely in the cosmos, with the production drawing inspiration from the extravagant, vibrant designs of Marvel artist Jack Kirby.

Waititi said the film was a "kind of dismantling and destroying the old idea and rebuilding it in a new way that's fresh". As filming got underway, the filmmaker continued to play up the buddy comedy aspect of the plot, citing John Carpenter cult classic Big Trouble in Little China and Flash Gordon, among others, as tonal influences.

The first assembly of the movie clocked in at two hours and 40 minutes, subsequently cut down to 90 with a great many jokes removed. However, at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con it was revealed many of the previously cut gags would be reinstated, bringing the movie back up to 130 minutes in total.

Three weeks of additional filming in Atlanta included a scene where Matt Damon appears as a fake version of Loki during a theatrical re-staging of events from The Dark World. Two post-credits scenes were also shot during this time: the dispossessed Asgardians running into Thanos' (Josh Brolin's) ship after the destruction of their homeworld, and a more flippant one in which the Grandmaster comes face to face with some disgruntled Sakaarians.

Composer Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly of 1980s pop group Devo and once a regular of director Wes Anderson, was announced as scoring the movie. Earlier in October 2015, when he was first signed to the movie, Waititi had created a highlight's reel set to Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song', and this subsequently remained in the movie during a climactic battle scene.

Anticipation for the movie had been growing since July 2016 when Hulk's gladiatorial armour was unveiled to the Comic Con crowd. The first trailer was unveiled on 10th April 2017, racking up 136m views in 24 hours. The movie hosted premieres in both Los Angeles and Australia in October 2017 with the movie rolled out later that month.

Standout performance

It has to be Creed actress Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. In a movie stuffed with scene-stealing appearances (Jeff Goldblum simply being Jeff Goldblum in guyliner almost unbalances it), she crafts a memorable portrayal of a once-tough fighter fallen on alcoholic times. Showcasing a knack for physical comedy (her first boozy fall off her spaceship is spectacularly well-timed), Thompson also balances what has, in the Thor universe, largely been a boys' own club. Along with her Marvel compatriots including Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Valkyrie promises to correct Marvel's gender imbalance going forward.

Standout scene

Proof, as if it were needed, that Waititi relishes skewering the pomposity of the earlier Thor movies comes in the delightful exchange between the title character and rock monster Korg (played by the director himself via motion capture). The irreverent tone of the humour, resonating with all the deadpan intonation of What We Do In The Shadows, is so different from what's come before, the effect is jolting. Ironically, by playing things for big belly laughs, Waititi manages to humanise the Thunder God to an even greater extent – now that's smart.

The soundtrack

As mentioned, Ragnarok veers off-piste, both in terms of its day-glo colour palatte and joyously nutty humour. The score, too, derives inspiration from different areas, composer Mark Mothersbaugh assimiliating the influence of 80s synth-meister Jean-Michel Jarre. The end result fuses pulsating retro tones with the symphonic might we've come to expect from superhero movies, soaring melodies and soprano vocals delivering a fresh sound for the Marvel universe.

And yes, that inclusion of 'Immigrant Song' during the final onslaught against the cackling Hela kicks major butt.

Stan Lee cameo

Post credits scenes

Did you know?

  • Ragnarok is the most successful Thor movie at the box office, having grossed a mighty $853m worldwide.
  • Odin's death scene was originally meant to take place in New York, before being moved to Norway to honour the ancestry of the Marvel characters.
  • Taika Waititi performed the motion capture for fire demon Surtur.
  • The now-famous line "He’s a friend from work" came from a child who visited the set with Make-a-Wish foundation, and suggested it to Chris Hemsworth.

General observations

  • Mark Mothersbaugh utilised synthesised elements for Sakaar and symphony orchestra for Asgard, fusing the two styles together during the final battle
  • Waititi based his Korg performance on Polynesian bouncers he'd met in New Zealand nightclubs, his experience being one of unfailing politeness
  • The bickering dynamic of British classic Withnail and I, starring Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann, informed the partnership between Thor and Hulk

What the critics said

  • "In a world of portentous blockbusters getting ever darker, it's a joy to see one throwing on the disco lights." – Phil De Semylen, Time Out
  • "It makes an ageless space god with the nobility of King Arthur and the bodacious abs of a supermodel look like an underdog. Fallibility, not lightning, is his secret weapon." – A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
  • "The idea of pairing the oft-dull Thor with a series of oddball companions is an inspired, if necessary, move – so much so that it's baffling it has taken Marvel this long to smarten up." – Barry Hurtz, Globe and Mail
  • "Daft as a badger sandwich and twice as funny, this is vintage Waititi, and the boldest, most outrageously fun film Marvel has yet produced." – James Dyer, Empire

And now, it's time for Avengers: Infinity War

After 16 weeks, the time has come: click here to book your tickets for Avengers: Infinity War. Also don't forget to tweet us your reactions to the movie, plus your favourite Marvel moments, @Cineworld.