Movie vs Myth: Thor Ragnarök
Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Thor film series is, of course, based on the Marvel comics, which are, in turn, based on the Norse Gods. The godly realm of Asgard is reimagined as an alien realm, and the titular character, Thor (though he keeps his title, God of Thunder) is reimagined as the alien prince of this interstellar realm.
With this in mind, it is perhaps a bit foolish to expect mythological accuracy from a film based on a comic book, particularly when the comic already deviates from the myth. The most obvious deviation being that Loki is reimagined as Thor’s tricky (accurate), silver-tongued (also accurate) adopted brother (Not quite). In Norse myth however, Loki was the sworn blood-brother of Thor’s father, Odin, and so more akin to an uncle.
Despite this, however, Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarök does have some key similarities to the Norse myths that a keen mythology fan might pick up on.
The first of these is, perhaps, the most obvious. Similarly to the word Apocalypse, the word Ragnarök describes the destruction of the world. The Norse myths of Ragnarök depict the ends of the nine realms, including Asgard, during a legendary battle of the gods. During this battle, the seas rise and drown the earth, three years of winter take over the land, and the world is consumed by fire when giants and other monsters rage war against the gods. The monsters were led by Loki, and by the Jotun, Surtr.
Like in the myths, Thor Ragnarök does tell the story of the destruction of Asgard. Rather than two armies destroying themselves, the end of days begins when Hela, Thor and Loki’s secret sister (not entirely accurate, but we’ll get to that later) escapes from her prison and returns to wreak death and destruction across the nine realms. Her first stop is Asgard, where she recruits those she can into her service, and begins killing the citizens who object to her forced rule. Fan favourite, Heimdall, manages to rescue several civilians and absconds with them into the woods, doing their best to avoid Hela’s soldiers.
Realising that Hela will destroy the known realms if they do not stop her and realising that she is drawing her powers from Asgard, Thor makes the decision to evacuate the citizens and destroy the planet. Loki is the one to carry out the plan, sneaking into Asgard’s palace and summoning the Fire Giant Surtur. The giant then destroys the planet, killing himself and, presumably, Hela, in the process. So, while the details may have changed significantly, technically as in the Norse myths, Loki and Surtr did cause the destruction of Asgard.
Another two names that you might recognise are Hela and Fenrir (or Fenris, as he is called in the film). In the movie Hela is the older sister of Thor and Loki, while Fenrir is her loyal animal companion. During the most climactic scene of the movie, Fenrir fights the Hulk, on top of the rainbow bridge.
In the original mythology however, they were not just companions, they were siblings – two of Loki’s monstrous children. Hela was ruler of Helheim, a realm of the dead, one half of her body living, the other half deceased and rotting. Fenrir, as in the movie, did take the form of a giant wolf. He was not the only of Loki’s children to be born as a beast – is brother Sleipnir took the form of a many legged horse, while his other brother, Jormungandr was a serpent so large he could encircle the whole earth in his coils.
Unlike her counterpart in the film, the Hela of mythology did not play a large role in Ragnarök mythology and did not appear during the battles of the gods. Fenrir, however, did. The wolf killed and devoured Odin, king of the gods, only to then be killed himself by Vidar, one of Thor’s younger half-siblings, and one of the only people to survive Ragnarök.
That’s right – it shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Ragnarök describes an apocalyptic event, but sadly many of your favourite characters did not survive the myth the most recent Thor film was based on. Many of the old gods died, Loki and Thor among them. Loki was killed by Heimdall, the two gods clashing and ultimately killing each other. Meanwhile, another fight ends in mutual destruction – the battle between Thor and Jormungandr. While Thor is ultimately successful in defeating the giant serpent, he is poisoned during the fight, and can only take a few steps away from his enemy’s corpse before succumbing to the venom and dying.
Of course, the movie would have been a tad depressing if it had ended with the unilateral slaughter of every character, so fortunately the main characters – Loki, Thor, Valkyrie, the Hulk and Heimdall – all escape on a spaceship, along with a crowd of lucky civilians. Having survived the destruction of their home, they are determined to head off towards Midgard (or ‘Earth’ as we know it.) an ending that echoes the final resolution of the Ragnarök myths.
After the destruction of the worlds, the earth was covered in water. Some time later, the flood waters receded, and a new fresh world rose from the water. Two humans, who had managed to sleep through the destruction, woke to find the new world and became the first man and women of this new earth. Other survivors included a few lucky gods, Thor’s sons, Modi and Magni, as well as his half-brothers, Vidar and Vali, so while most of the more popular gods may have been wiped out, at least there was a happy ending for some.
While the Thor films are only loosely based on the Norse myths, they still make a fun and enjoyable watch. Though Thor Ragnarök did not have too much in common with the actual mythology of Ragnarök, it does not claim to be an authentic recounting of the myths, and certainly includes enough Easter Eggs that fans of Norse myth can appreciate the fun nod to the source material.