While there’s a great deal to be said about the fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has waited nine years and sixteen films to include a woman as a leading villain, Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett is keen for audiences to appreciate that her character, Hela – the Goddess of Death – may not strictly adhere to the traditional ‘Marvel villain’ template, when Thor: Ragnarok finally opens in theatres around the world. When Hela goes to work on Asgard, and seeks to bring about the ‘Ragnarok’ event, her motivations may surprise some.
“She’s been banished for a very long time– I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say… I think if you were locked under the Asgardian stairs for 5,000 years you’d be a little bit cross. But I think it’s very interesting to bring the concept of Death into a world that’s ostensibly immortal. You know, you look at the Western world and in most cultures, Death has been banished from the world in which most Western people live. And as a result, I think it’s made life rather screwed up.
“You know, there’s a side of death which can be gentle and kind and there’s a side of death which can be brutal and savage, depending on whose death it is. But I think that there’s a lot of unresolved issues that she has with Asgard, that each step of the way, she doesn’t meet people who are receptive to her. And I think she’s quite bewildered as to why people are frightened of her. But the more havoc she wreaks, the stronger she becomes.”
The key point here is the human interpretation of death. As mortal beings, the idea of death is one of our biggest fears, and a great deal of our existence is spent trying to avoid it. As the human race has evolved, we have become further and further removed from the notion of dying, and this has impacted upon our daily lives in a variety of ways.
This is the idea, when applied to the Marvel invention of Asgard and its Gods, that’s incredibly fascinating. The Asgardian Gods – Odin, Thor, Loki, and their brethren – are immortal, and Death has literally been banished. That being the case, her return is essentially a re-balancing action, and from her perspective, that is exactly what she intends.
If the end result of ‘Ragnarok’ is a ‘clean slate’ and a fresh start, that start will be balanced by the presence of the newly liberated Death. In that sense, you could argue that her increasing strength and power, as she “wreaks havoc,” is a consequence of the realm being unbalanced when she arrived. And that’s Odin’s fault for locking her up in the first place.
These are complex ideas and it is, perhaps, unexpected for audiences to be asked to ponder the true nature of mortality while watching a Marvel movie. This is a Taika Waititi Marvel movie, though, so we can expect these big themes to be deftly handled with an irreverent approach. More importantly, these big themes herald a ‘Ragnarok’ of sorts within the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself, as it’s about to enter a new phase – with new faces, and new talents being put to work, both onscreen, and behind the scenes.
All things being equal, Thor: Ragnarok cannot come soon enough.