As one of Marvel’s worldbeating superhero movies, you know what you’re getting with Thor: Ragnarok. Plenty of laughs, bash-em-up action, some emotional closure and a bit where a big energy beam shoots up into the sky. Classic stuff.
But perhaps most enjoyable of all, Marvel films also almost always boast a huge pile of hidden Easter Eggs scattered throughout the story, hinting back to the original comic-books, earlier films in the series or even things that exist in our own, non-superheroic world.
Happily, Thor: Ragnarok is no exception to this trend – and so we sat down with the film’s director Taika Waititi to chat a bit about the hidden references he managed to slip under the radar.
“That sort of stuff is less for the fans and more sort of for me,” he told us.
“What I really wanted to do was put an actual Easter Egg in there, somewhere. There might be an egg! No, there’s no egg.”
Instead, we just had to make do with THESE callbacks and references instead…
1. Beta Ray Bill
When Thor crash-lands on the junk planet of Sakaar, he finds himself thrust into a brutal, gladiatorial society – and while it’s Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk who is the current champion of the arena, vast metal busts on a central building on the planet reveal that a former champ was none other than Beta Ray Bill, a classic heroic character from the original Thor comic-books.
“The Beta Ray Bill one for sure was one of my favourites,” Waititi said of the reference.
A member of the alien Korbinite race transferred into the body of a powerful horse-like cyborg (yes, comics are weird, get over it), Bill famously battled Thor to a standstill in the 1980s before accidentally doing something truly momentous – picking up Thor’s usually-unliftable hammer Mjolnir, proving that he was worthy of the power of Thor and receiving the God of Thunder’s abilities and appearance as a result.
Later, after some contesting over who would truly hold Mjolnir, Thor’s father Odin created a duplicate hammer with all the same abilities called Stormbreaker, allowing Bill to keep his newfound abilities and forging a lifelong bond between the two men.
As a pretty weird character, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see Bill in the Marvel movies properly, but it’s nice he got a little shout-out – especially considering he does have a bit of a connection to the story thanks to the character’s appearance in the animated version of the Planet Hulk storyline, which was the inspiration for some of Thor: Ragnarok (and of which, more later).
2. Donald Blake’s tap dance
Another comic-book callback to the Thor of yesteryear comes a little earlier in the film, in a scene where Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) go incognito in New York to look for their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
During this part of the film, Thor has disguised his hammer as an umbrella, later tapping it on the ground to resume his godly form and return the hammer to its usual state.
In of itself, this is a neat little moment – but this trick will also be very familiar to fans of the older Thor comics, when the God of Thunder often transformed into a civilian doctor called Donald Blake (an alias the movie Thor used in the first film) and disguised his hammer as a cane.
To transform back into Thor, Dr Blake would perform this exact tapping motion with the cane – an idea that Waititi says he was delighted to adapt for his finished film.
“The Donald Blake!” Waititi said. “I like how you got that, that’s good.”
3. Thor’s helmet
On a similar theme, another part of Thor’s classic appearances was acknowledged by the film during its gladiatorial scenes, where Thor donned a version of his iconic winged helmet from the comics.
Another version of this headgear was also glimpsed at the very start of the original Thor film but not used by the character thereafter, so it’s good to know Chris Hemsworth can still pop on some canonical accessories from time to time.
4. Australian spaceships
Not a Marvel reference this, but definitely one that might have passed you by. Throughout the film, several Sakaarian spaceships (which can be glimpsed in the above trailer) are mentioned by name by various characters, and according to Waititi they might have a surprising resonance to Australian audiences of his own generation.
“The spaceships are named after GM cars that are specific to Australia and New Zealand,” he told us. “Commodore, Statesman, Kingswood, lots of things like that.”
“And the Commodore, the paintjob is actually the Aboriginal flag colours, which I thought was particularly cool.”
5. Planet Hulk
One of the most overt comic-book callbacks in Thor: Ragnarok is actually the part of the storyline that sees Hulk competing in Sakaar’s gladiatorial arena, which was heavily based on the popular Planet Hulk comic-book series from 2006-2007.
In that story, Hulk is accidentally transported to the warlike world of Sakaar by a coalition of heroes (who were actually just trying to send him somewhere peaceful), subsequently being forced into slavery and arena fighting by the sadistic ruling classes and donning a gladiator outfit almost identical to the one worn by Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk in this movie.
A couple of Hulk’s gladiator allies, rock-like Korg (played by Waititi as “a Maori guy from New Zealand,” he told us) and insectoid Miek are also transported to Thor: Ragnarok, but apart from that the rest of the story is vastly different to how it’s adapted in this movie.
For one thing, Thor’s not in it at all, and the story ends with Hulk becoming King, getting married and expecting a baby – before his new family is wiped out by a surprise explosion Hulk blames on the Avengers, leading him back to Earth to enact vengeance. Bet they’re glad that storyline didn’t pan out…
6. Asgardian cameos
In one very meta moment early on in the film, Thor finds Loki (above, in disguise as their father Odin) watching a play he’s put on about his life, with some very surprising stars portraying the actors bringing the God of Mischief and his family to life.
In the play, Loki’s actor is portrayed by none other than Hollywood A-lister Matt Damon, with Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill appearing as the play’s Odin and theatrical Thor brought to life by actor Chris Hemsworth’s real-life brother Luke, best known for his role in HBO series Westworld (and not to be confused with their third brother, The Hunger Games’ Liam Hemsworth).
“That was just through contacts,” Waititi told RadioTimes.com of how he pulled off the hilarious casting coup.
“If Loki was gonna write a play about his death, then he would want to get the most talented actors he could, the biggest stars of Asgardian theatre, to come and do this thing.”
“And incidentally, is it the first film since Jurassic Park that Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill have both appeared in the same movie? This is cross-universe stuff here.”
And Waititi also slipped in a couple of roles for some of his favourite actors from other films that he’s made, with Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Rachel House and Cohen Holloway turning up as The Grandmaster’s assistant and the Lead Junker (not to mention Hunt for the Wilderpeople lead Neill as Odin).
“You know, I often put in a lot of my actors from my other films… that for me makes it more of my film.” Waititi explained of the castings.
“It makes me feel more grounded, and a bit more relaxed.”
As usual, a couple of other Marvel heroes also turn up in small roles during the film – Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, who helps Thor locate his father in an early scene, and Scarlett Johanssen’s Black Widow, who appears as a pre-recorded video in the Avengers Quinjet that first brought Hulk to Sakaar.
7. Stan Lee
And of course, as usual Marvel supremo Stan Lee (and creator of many of the comic-book company’s superhero characters) gets a short cameo in the finished movie, playing the outer-space barber (yes, really) who cuts short Thor’s long locks before his first arena bout.
8. Hulk sleepy
Throughout the film, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor attempts to calm the Hulk (and his Bruce Banner form) by reciting a few words previously introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron as a way of reverting the Jade giant back to his human appearance.
“Hey there, big guy. The sun’s gettin’ real low,” Scarlett Johannsen’s Black Widow usually began the speech, before placing her hand delicately on Hulk’s – but when Thor tries the same trick in this film, he just ends up smashed around on the arena in an intentional mirroring of Hulk’s attack on Loki in the first Avengers movie (below).
And just in case you missed THAT particular callback, Hiddleston’s Loki underlines it by crying out “Yes, THAT’S how it feels!” when the same fate befalls his brother in Thor: Ragnarok.
9. “He’s adopted”
And this isn’t even the only joke callback to the first Avengers film involving Loki, with Thor’s defence in that movie as to his brother’s bad behaviour (stuttering “he’s adopted”) reutilised by Loki in Ragnarok to distance himself from Thor while dependant on the Grandmaster’s favour.
Iconic Marvel artist Jack Kirby (who often drew Thor comics) is paid tribute to throughout Thor: Ragnarok, with the production team adopting much of his iconic style for the weird and wonderful alien world of Sakaar and the people who live on it.
“Jack Kirby is a big part of this film in the design of a lot of the Sakaarian work that we’re creating,” Waititi said in official production notes for the film.
“He’s a huge hero to all of us. Kirby created so many incredible characters and designs and ships and costumes. We’re heavily influenced by a lot of what he did. He really blazed the trail and the tribute to him in our film was a huge honor. ”
And there were a couple of more overt references to Kirby as well, with a final logo from the film (above) based specifically on Kirby’s drawing style and a piece of Fantastic Four artwork drawn by the great man visible in the Grandmaster’s booth during the gladiatorial bouts.
11. Infinity Gauntlet
One of the biggest plot holes in Marvel movie history is finally resolved in Thor: Ragnarok – and it’s been a long time coming.
Way back in the very first Thor film, the all-important Infinity Gauntlet used to unite all six Infinity Stones (most of which have cropped up in various Marvel movies thus far) could be glimpsed in the vaults of Asgard, a subtle tease to the major storyline set to face the Avengers (and the main plot of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War).
However, in later films it was revealed that Thanos actually already had the Infinity Gauntlet, with the Mad Titan grumbling that he’d have to “do it himself” and claim the stones while donning the legendary metal mitten.
So was the Asgardian gauntlet the second of the pair, or just a knock-off? Well, as it turns out, it’s the latter – according to Cate Blanchett’s evil Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, this particular gauntlet is fake, and had no business being in the vaults in the first place. There’s that mystery solved, then.
12. The Tesseract
Another vault item glimpsed in the new film worth highlighting is the MacGuffin for the very first Avengers film (and Captain America: The First Avenger) – the Tesseract, a cube-like energy source capable of creating energy and creating teleporting gateways between worlds created from the Space Infinity Stone (based on the Cosmic Cube from the original comics).
At the end of The Avengers, the Tesseract was returned to Asgard (where it had resided prior to World War II) and left alone – until the events of Thor: Ragnarok, when Loki glimpses it covetously on his way to access another artefact.
Now, given the events at the end of Thor: Ragnarok where the realm of Asgard is destroyed, it could be that the Tesseract may be lost for good – but we reckon it’s far more likely that Loki (whose theft of the Tesseract in the first place created the Avengers back in 2012) popped it into his coat on his way out. After all, it wouldn’t be much of an Infinity War without one of the Infinity Stones…
13. Post-credits scenes
We’ve gone into Thor: Ragnarok’s post-credits scenes in more detail elsewhere, but it’s still worth bringing one of them up here – the first “mid-credits” scene, which features Thor and Loki and hints at the future of the Marvel films in general (the second scene, while enjoyable, just features some Jeff Goldblum improv).
Flying through space in a newly-acquired starship and wondering what sort of reception Loki will face on Earth, the Asgardian brothers find their (fairly large) spaceship utterly dwarfed by the arrival of a much larger, dark grey vessel with nefarious appearance, before the scene ends with no resolution.
So, what does this all mean? While we don’t have a definitive answer, we’d be willing to put a couple of uru hammers on the possibility that this ship belongs to none other than Thanos, Josh Brolin’s outer-space tyrant whose quest to find and unite the powerful Infinity Stones will bring him into conflict with the Avengers in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War.
After all, sneak-peek footage of Infinity War shown to fans at San Diego Comic-con earlier this year began with Thor smashing into the windshield of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship in outer space – so who’s to say that this intergalactic fender-bender doesn’t come right before a battle, whereby Thor is thrown into some other heroes (and one of the OTHER Hollywood Chris-es, Mr Pratt)?
We’d bet a couple of Infinity Stones on that one, for sure.