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Thor’s Expendable Supporting Cast

Imagine a Spider-Man story where some super-villain proceeded to round up the staff of the Daily Bugle and kill off most of the recognizable faces like J. Jonah Jameson, while Aunt May and Mary Jane Watson suddenly vanished from the story altogether with no explanation for their disappearance except perhaps a throwaway line from Peter Parker joking about how he and Mary Jane had decided to dump each other.

That is how Thor: Ragnarok chooses to approach the son of Odin’s previous supporting cast. Simply put: the movie is not interested in those characters anymore. It tosses aside Jane Foster and Lady Sif, played by Natalie Portman and Jamie Alexander, respectively, with little or no mention of the characters. In true Marvel movie fashion, supporting females seem to be utterly disposable. Another example of this would be Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, who thankfully returned in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but who looked very much in danger of being written out of the MCU as another off-screen break-up when Captain America: Civil War came out.

Granted, real-life scheduling issues with actresses (or them simply not caring to return) have played a part in some of these character disappearances. But perhaps if Marvel’s female characters were written as more interesting and given meatier parts to play in the story, actresses would be more inclined to find time in their busy schedules to reprise these roles.

Until recently, my significant other had never watched any of the Thor movies. In preparation for Thor: Ragnarok, she rented Thor and Thor: The Dark World and it was amazing to me to hear how invested she was in the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster after she watched those movies. I was worried this might detract from her enjoyment of Thor: Ragnarok since I knew Natalie Portman would not be returning. But after we saw the film on opening weekend, I asked her if she missed the presence of Jane Foster, and she promptly said no. She had taken an instant liking to Tessa Thompson’s hard-drinking Valkyrie and Cate Blanchett’s nigh-invincible Hela. In the year of Wonder Woman, with the introduction of these two new warrior women as peers to Thor, Jane Foster had been quickly forgotten.

Also gone: Dr. Erik Selvig, played by Stellan Skarsgard, and Jane’s assistant, Darcy, played by Kat Dennings. Their exclusion is more understandable since most of the movie takes place off-Earth and obviously, neither of them were in a romantic relationship with Thor (that we know of). But if you missed those characters, if you wondered where they were, then you have a better memory for them than I did. It was not until I came home from the movie that I realized they were not in the movie, either. I had not thought of them once during the whole film.

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Should we talk about the Warriors Three? As Ben Pearson reported on Thor: Ragnarok’s opening day, this is something that Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige has been pressed to comment on already. When asked to explain what happened to the Warriors Three, specifically, the manner of their untimely deaths, Feige began with a slightly stammering response of, “Well, it was a – they, they had noble ends …”

Did they? Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun are characters with a long comics history dating back over fifty years, and the first two Thor movies had taken great pains to show camaraderie between them and Thor. So to see two of them killed off unceremoniously the minute they show up on-screen in the Bifrost chamber in Thor: Ragnarok is somewhat jarring. That is not to say that characters should be regarded as sacred icons whose lives are untouchable for storytelling purposes, but there are ways to do death in a more meaningful context (an example would be when the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil killed off a character with a similarly long comics history). Alas, of the three warriors, only Hogun, played by Tadanobu Asano (Ichi the Killer, Silence) receives anything close to a proper send-off, as he comes back from his home of Vanaheim to lead the forces of Asgard against Hela.

Besides the fact that the last movie left him mysteriously side-lined in another realm, why is it that Hogun receives such special consideration here? Well, it may have something to do with marketing. In Japan, Thor was marketed with Hogun-heavy trailers and Hogun-centric character posters. Banners in theater lobbies switched out Heimdall for Hogun, prominently displaying the Japanese actor’s face next to that of star Chris Hemsworth and Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman.

To kill off such a character with zero fanfare, the way Volstagg and Fandral are killed off, would have potentially alienated some historically underrepresented Asian fans and at the very least been a slap in the face to Japanese audiences who were rooting for Asano as sort of a local celebrity. Ergo, concordantly, vis-a-vis, Hogun gets to make his last stand against Hela before she cartoonishly impales him.

But let’s face it: the Warriors Three were never the best movie characters. When juxtaposed with colorful new characters like Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster,  the aforementioned Valkyrie, and Taiki Waititi’s Korg (whose mellifluous Kiwi voice sounds like that of Rhys Darby from Flight of the Conchords), the Warriors Three just come off as bland and uninteresting. For Fandral the Dashing, they had already switched out the actors who played him, having Zachary Levi take over for Josh Dallas after the first movie. Be honest, did anyone really notice?

At least Levi can take solace in knowing that he will soon play the lead in his own superhero movie, Shazam!, for Marvel’s “Distinguished Competition,” DC. As for Volstagg the Voluminous (or Not-So-Voluminous, as the movies depicted him), well, the actor who played him, Ray Wise, already had his chance at playing the lead in another comic book movie: Punisher: War Zone.

Hey, at least Anthony Hopkins’ Odin gets to go out with some grace and dignity. No thanks to Loki, ever the trickster, whose machinations have now inadvertently brought about the deaths of his own adoptive mother and father.

Speaking of Loki…

Continue Reading Thor Ragnarok Comic Changes >>

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