Warning: SPOILER content for Thor: Ragnarok ahead!
While it has been clear for some time that Marvel solo threequel Thor: Ragnarok was set to bring more amped action sequences and humor than its predecessors, no one could have anticipated the way it would recap crucial events. With the film being tonally divergent from 2013’s second film, Thor: The Dark World, the necessary exposition left in that film’s wake was handled in a hilariously creative manner that yielded some memorable star-studded cameos.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige recently spoke to Collider about one particular sequence in the new film that caps off the closing events of the morose Thor: The Dark World with the energy, levity and attitude that’s proven be a staple of director Taika Waititi’s raucous Ragnarok. The scene, a Hamlet-esque play-within-a-play, depicts a group of players – Matt Damon, Sam Neill and Luke Hemsworth – on a makeshift stage on Asgard, acting out the crucial climactic events of The Dark World, namely the “death” of Loki and his heroic sacrifice.
Indeed, The Dark World ended with a presumed-dead Loki (Tom Hiddleston) revealed to be impersonating Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and ruling Asgard as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) leaves the home world to investigate his apocalyptic visions, unaware of the ruse. With a substantial amount of necessary backstory to cover that could easily risk sidetracking the film, Feige reveals the process that inspired the play approach. As he explains:
“There was an idea in the script phase. I don’t remember if it was our writer, Eric Pearson’s or if it was Taika [Waititi]’s or if it was our executive producer, Brad Winderbaum to bring the audience up to speed on the fact that everybody thinks Loki is dead. So that when it was revealed that he was Odin, it would make some semblance of sense to people who weren’t following along from all the films. There was this idea to do it in this funny sort of stage play which Loki/Odin had put on to celebrate himself. We then watched whatever was the season before last Game of Thrones. They did a similar thing where they had a stage play with some events from other episodes, not that we were like, “Oh crap.” But then it’s different enough.”
While the role of Thor was, poetically enough, filled by Liam Hemsworth, the Westworld actor and oldest of the trio of Hemsworth Aussie actor brothers, the appointment of Sam Neill for the role of Odin was also a fan-servicing Jurassic Park reunion of sorts, since co-star Jeff Goldblum is present in Ragnarok as co-villain the Grandmaster. However, it seems that the acquisition of megastar Matt Damon for Loki was a happy accident. As Feige continues:
“There was a fun idea of ‘Let’s get Luke Hemsworth to play Thor,’ Taika had worked with Sam Neill in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. He was willing to come in and do Odin. So who could be Loki? Who could be Loki? Who could be Loki? We didn’t have any brilliant ideas. At one point, off handedly, Mr. Hemsworth goes, ‘Well what if I ask my friend Matt?’ I said, ‘Matt who?’ He said, ‘My friend, Matt Damon.’ ‘Okay. Sure. Sure Chris, ask your friend Matt Damon. He’s not doing this. Oh he’s gonna do it. He’s flying down.’ The next thing I know, Matt Damon is on set in a full Loki costume, full Loki wig. We have pictures that maybe we’ll share some day of Tom Hiddleston in a full Loki outfit standing next to Matt Damon in full Loki outfit. It is very surreal and very amazing. What a testament to, I just met him for the first time, I wasn’t there when he shot this. I just met him for the first time last night. What an awesome thing, for him to come down here for his friend. It was purely based on his friendship with Hemsworth that he came and did this.”
Yet, the idea of Matt Damon playing Marvel’s God of Mischief Loki, even if it’s an ersatz version, is especially poetic for fans of director Kevin Smith’s 1999 comedy Dogma, in which Damon played a scheming fallen angel who happened to be named Loki. Like Hiddleston’s Marvel character, Damon’s Loki started as a ruthless revenge-seeker, rebelling against God, until the violently over-the-top measures of his angelic partner in crime Bartleby (Ben Affleck) makes him (like Loki,) have a change of heart and realize the error of his ways.
However, lest anyone think that this role as the Loki player eliminated Damon’s contention for any future Marvel Cinematic Universe roles, Feige makes the following assurance:
“I think, as he said to me on the carpet last night, that look, there he is now a stock as Asgardian player somewhere wandering the universe with, spoiler, Asgard gone. Who knows? It could be the adventures of a hard-working actor, Asgardian actor, in the future.”
Fortunately for Thor: Ragnarok, the action-packed approach, wielding humorous sequences like the play scene, paid off tremendously at the box office, with the film grossing $121 million domestic, boosted by a $306 million foreign haul, making it the seventh-largest opening for an MCU movie, even topping the $117 million weekend of this past summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.