Thor: Ragnarok—From Myth to Comic to Film
Warning: Spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok follow.
If you’re a fan or Marvel, or even if you’re not, Thor: Ragnarok is a fun romp through distant worlds featuring characters that many have come to love. It is, as many have pointed out, similar in tone to the equally absurd and lighthearted Guardians of the Galaxy, an aesthetic brought to the Thor universe by director Taika Waititi, previously acclaimed for movies such as Boy and What We Do In The Shadows.
It’s worth a watch—it’s always been somewhat difficult to take the boisterous, hyper-masculine Thor seriously, and this film fully embraces that along with the general absurdity of the superhero genre. However, I’d like to talk a little bit about the mythology behind the film—both in the Marvel universe and in the mythological Ragnarok.
Let’s start closest to the source. As with most Marvel movies, Thor: Ragnarok is not a one to one recreation of any particular comic or storyline. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the expansiveness of comics leads to a kudzu of both good and bad elements that screenwriters can then choose from.
Thor’s story arc of inadvertent exile from his homeland, the loss of his iconic hammer, and a journey through the cosmos all seem to reference Unworthy Thor. His shorter hair is seemingly lifted directly from this series, as is him being held prisoner by an alien (but human looking) entity. In the film, it’s the Grand Master, played by Jeff Goldblum playing… well, himself, in a lot of ways.
Other details include the Incredible Hulk crashing on Sakaar, his bouts in a gladiatorial arena reminiscent of the Planet Hulk series, as well as the Asgardian Skurge wielding a pair of M-16 assault rifles. However, the most obvious influence is the existence of Ragnarok, which in the comics is a cyclical event in which the characters killed are eventually reincarnated. Other elements from the film include Surt the fire giant and the Asgardians seeking a new home.
Needless to say, the mythological Ragnarok is extremely different, with parts both familiar and bizarre. Like other mythologies and religions, it talks of a prophesized end of the world—or, more accurately, end of the worlds, as both Asgard and Midgard (Earth) are destroyed in the cataclysm.
Oh, and there’s a ship made out of fingernails. Can’t forget about that.
There’s a lot to cover here, so I’ll stick with some of the basics. Odin, on Midgard, witnesses a long winter, and realizes that Ragnarok, the Doom of the Gods, is upon them. This is not dissimilar to his banishment to earth (by Loki) in the film, and his warnings to Thor and Loki alike. In the legend, Loki and the great wolf Fenrir, previously imprisoned for their prior mischief, are freed to wreak havoc on Asgard.
While Loki plays a heroic(ish) role in the film, in the legend, he is the primary villain(though the forces of Hel, Norse Goddess of Death, make an appearance), leading an army of giants against the gods. This is where Naglfar, a ship made of the fingernails and toenails of the dead, makes an appearance, ferrying the invading army to Asgard. Needless to say, this does not make it into the movie.
What follows is wholesale destruction that ends with most of the major figures in Norse mythology dead. Fenrir devours the very earth and sky, Surt burns the world (an element of the myth that plays an important role in the film), and Jormungandr, the serpent that encircles the world, causes massive storms.
In the end, as with most mythological prophecies, the efforts of the gods to prevent this calamity only wind up cause it, and only a few humans and gods are left alive to rebuild the world. Thor himself dies in the legend, falling after a protracted battle with Jormungandr. Heimdall and Loki slay each other, and Odin is killed by Fenrir and subsequently avenged by his son.
This is, of course, the most cursory examination of the Ragnarok myth, and I wholly recommend reading more about it. Ragnarok implies a sort of rebirth after the end, unlike many other apocalyptic myths, and a cycle in which Ragnarok will eventually come again.
Sadly, Mark Ruffalo does not cameo in any Norse myths. Sorry about that.