Why Thor: Ragnarok may be a pivotal film in Marvel’s phase 3

Thor 3 may have been overshadowed by other announcements, but it might just mark a huge shift in the Marvel cinematic universe.

This article contains spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World and Marvel’s Civil War, as well as a reveal of two characters appearing in Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

When Marvel unveiled its entire phase three slate, a lot of the focus understandably went on the new characters we’d be seeing and the dual-part finale in Avengers: Infinity War. But what about Thor 3? It’s been hinted that the film will mark a major change in the Marvel cinematic universe on at least the same scale as the fall of SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier – so what change could be so pivotal?

Given the title – Ragnarok is the Norse Apocalypse – it’s perhaps fair to assume that the film will involve the destruction of Asgard, which could mean the death of some, if not all of the peripheral Asgardians. The Warriors Three, Heimdall, Sif and even Odin and Loki are likely candidates. It is, after all, fated for the gods to die. In the Marvel cinematic universe, Thor is unique in having a much wider supporting cast than most of Marvel’s solo heroes, and that would make it a pretty big deal if they were to be killed off.

But at the same time, the Asgardian side of Marvel has largely kept itself to itself. The destruction of Asgard and the death of the Asgardians might be a big deal for Thor, but for the bulk of the Marvel universe it’s going to make little tangible difference. Could we be looking at something more serious? Perhaps even the death of Thor?

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That, to us, seems unlikely. Hemsworth is one of the MCU’s biggest (and most licensable!) names, and he’s under contract until Avengers: Infinity War at least. Dispatching him early might be a huge surprise, but if we might put our cynical business hat on for a moment, it doesn’t make sense – especially when Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans are also unlikely to stick around after the last Avengers film. If nothing else, Marvel needs a last hurrah for that trio of characters, and it won’t work if Thor isn’t around to complete it.

What could happen is that Thor finally takes his place as King of Asgard, following the death of Odin. This would fit with the current status quo, which has Loki on the throne waiting to be discovered – and it’s also the role Thor’s been groomed for ever since his first cinematic appearance. If Thor: Ragnarok ends with him ruling (and rebuilding) Asgard, he’d naturally have to quit the Avengers (for a bit) and probably grow a full, Odin-style beard like he does in the comics whenever the time comes to signify that he’s matured a bit. Again, that would be a seismic change.

That said, Loki’s status for Thor 3 is in doubt. Idris Elba recently exploded a giant can of beans by mentioning that he’s shot a scene for Avengers: Age Of Ultron with Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. At the moment, Thor thinks Loki is dead, which would be a hard illusion to maintain if he’s palling around with Captain America and Heimdall. It’s possible that Hiddleston only appears in a way that renders his status secret from the other characters – perhaps he’s controlling Heimdall and stays invisible to Captain America – but it does mean that one way or the other, Loki’s situation is going to be addressed and potentially altered by Avengers: Age of Ultron.

At present there’s not a lot of concrete information about Thor: Ragnarok – it is several years away – but it’s a near-certainty that the main villain will be Surtur (pictured above), the fire-giant ruler of Muspelheim. As well as playing a significant role in ragnarok according to Norse myth, Surtur is also one of Thor’s deadliest foes in the comics. He was the presumed antagonist of Thor 3 even before the film’s title was announced.

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It’s not the only theory – some have suggested that ‘Ragnarok’ might refer to the clone of Thor introduced during Civil War – but we’re not so hot on that idea. It’s not completely off-piste, given that Marvel is adapting Civil War into Captain America 3, but we’d be surprised if it went down that route. The clone in Civil War was created because Thor was dead after the gods had fallen. Assuming he survives Avengers: Age Of Ultron, there won’t be a huge need for a Thor clone in Captain America: Civil War – they could ask the original. And even if he is dead by then, Captain America 3 would be an odd place to introduce the ‘new’ Thor.

There’s one final matter to deal with as well, and that’s Jane Foster. It’s widely known that Natalie Portman wasn’t exactly thrilled with the contractual necessity of appearing in Thor: The Dark World, not least because her preferred director – Patty Jenkins – parted ways with the project. The post-credits scene of Thor: The Dark World ended with Thor and Foster reuniting, their relationship finally unobstructed by circumstance.

But is that how they’ll appear in Thor: Ragnarok? At least one rumour says that Portman will be written out of the franchise in the opening scenes of Age Of Ultron, which involve Thor bemoaning his recent break-up. A scene in the Age Of Ultron trailer (pictured above) showed him standing pointedly close to another woman played by Claudia Kim, who is reportedly playing a scientist friend of Tony Stark. Maybe now that he’s been dumped, Thor’s out playing the field.

Admittedly, it’d be strange if Portman disappeared from the franchise entirely given her importance so far – but then stranger things have happened, like the Red Skull not turning up in a Captain America sequel, Ed Norton being replaced by Mark Ruffalo, and Kat Dennings being left out of the Avengers. We’d expect to see her in some capacity for Thor: Ragnarok, if only to wrap up that relationship once and for all – but if the destruction of Asgard is what’s on Thor’s mind, that would justify her playing only a minor part in the film.

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Still, it’s a few more years yet until all becomes clear, which leaves us plenty of time to develop these theories. Thor: Ragnarok is due for release on July 28th, 2017. We’ll see then just how crucial it is to the ongoing Marvel cinematic universe narrative…