Thor lightens up: New version of Marvel superhero takes charge in Ragnarok

PHOTO: WALT DISNEY PICTURES

Discarding the usual brooding image, the god of thunder and lightning in Thor: Ragnarok gets funny

The Thor featured in Ragnarok, the latest film in the Marvel Studios franchise, is unlike the Thors that came before him - this superhero is very, very funny.

Full of quips and with a silly grin plastered on his face, the new Thor is more like the brawny but idiotic receptionist Kevin in Ghostbusters (2016) than the brooding character audiences have come to know in the previous two films in the series, Thor (2011) and The Dark World (2013).

Chris Hemsworth, who was a hoot to watch as Kevin in Ghostbusters, was certainly eager to put the old version of the Asgardian thunder god behind him.

"I was sick of doing the same thing over and over again, and I talked about this with (director) Taika, who agreed," he tells The Straits Times and other regional press at a recent interview in Sydney, referring to Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi.

"This time, it's about wanting to make Thor more relatable and more human. So any time we think we're heading in the same direction as before, we just do the opposite."

That meant plenty of improvisational comedy on set, particularly in his scenes opposite American actor Mark Ruffalo, who reprises the role of Bruce Banner/superhero Hulk.

Hemsworth gushes: "When Mark and I are together, it just feels like we're an old married couple.

It's about wanting to make Thor more relatable and more human.

CHRIS HEMSWORTH, who plays Thor, on making the character funny weekend

"Hulk can get sulky, so it was like getting to banter and talk with a bratty three-year-old kid whenever we did our scenes together. I just loved it."

He had so much fun getting Thor to lighten up here that he also happily threw in a line that he borrowed from a child he met in real life - a boy named Darcy, whom he interacted with on the film set, thanks to non-profit organisation Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children who are ill.

The line is featured in a scene where Thor learns that his opponent in a gladiatorial battle is none other than Hulk, whom he had not seen in years.

 

Excited, Thor says goofily: "We know each other - he's a friend from work."

In an Instagram post on his account @chrishemsworth, the actor credited it as "the best line in the movie".

 

Although Hemsworth was given free rein to show off his comedic talents, it was originally Waititi's idea to have a funny Thor.

The New Zealand film-maker is known for his humorous indie films such as vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows (2014) and Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016).

The 42-year-old film-maker says: "Chris and I are friends from before and I've always known him to be very funny. But I don't think they exploited that enough in the other Avengers films. I felt like it was time that that needed to be showcased."

Waititi himself voices the hilarious scene-stealing Korg, a rock beast with a dry sense of humour and an unmistakable Kiwi accent.

The character made such a huge impact in early test screenings that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced earlier this week that Korg would likely appear in the Marvel Universe again in some form in the future.

Waititi deadpans: "Korg was meant to be a very small part before I took on the role, but once I put myself in the film, it just became bigger and bigger. I injected so much life into it."

In fact, the film-maker was given so much autonomy making this US$180-million (S$245-million) movie - his first Hollywood blockbuster - it surprised him more than anybody else.

He says: "I used to make a lot of commercials, and, whenever I did those, I had 20 or 30 executives chatting over me as I worked.

"But this was different. Every time I thought we went too far, I turned around, expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder to tell me to stop. But there was no one standing behind me. Kevin Feige didn't even come on set until the end of the shooting.

"I thought that they lost their mind when they picked me. It felt like I won a huge competition. And it was so great because I got to confront my fears every single day.

"Things had been getting too familiar for me; making Hunt was almost too easy, which made me worried. I needed a huge and different sort of challenge, and the scale of this one alone gave me that."

He adds: "Plus, the catering on this set was better."

Ruffalo, 49, also had some of the most fun he has had on a Marvel film, he says, because he and Hemsworth get along so well.

He says: "This entire Thor versus Hulk thing actually came out of a previous press junket. We were paired together for interviews and we had so much fun that we were like, 'Hey, let's do a movie together, our own.' And so when it was time to make a new Thor movie, Chris roped me in. I love that guy."

Ruffalo does not play as nice when asked who would win should Thor and Hulk ever get into a real fight.

Without hesitation, he says: "Obviously Hulk would win. Come on. He would smash Thor so easily."

His favourite part about playing the role is being considered cool in the eyes of young children everywhere.

"Kids recognise me now. I was at my daughter's school the other day, and this kid was like, 'You're Hulk.'

"I said, 'No, I'm not', and he's like, 'Yes, you're Hulk'. So I pretended to start transforming and he just screamed and ran away," says Ruffalo, a father of three children aged 16, 12 and 10.

As much as he would like to play Hulk in a standalone movie eventually, it is not possible right now as Universal owns the movie rights for Hulk, not Disney's Marvel.

He says: "I have so many ideas for where Hulk can go in the future, so Kevin Feige just said that we could put them into Thor 3 and Avengers 4 and so on.

"Maybe someone, some day, will edit all my parts from the different movies and piece them together - that's when I'll finally get my own Hulk movie."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•Thor: Ragnarok is showing in cinemas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2017, with the headline 'Thor strikes with humour'. Print Edition | Subscribe