Jeff Goldblum has been stealing scenes on silver screens for a long time now, and so it should come as no surprise that he was at it again in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok as the eccentric Grandmaster. Sporting dashing blue eyeliner, glamorous robes and an entirely apathetic attitude to killing people with a ‘melt stick’, there’s no denying that his scenes were the highlight of an already highly enjoyable film. To celebrate Goldblum’s return as Ian Malcolm in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (out on 6th June), we’re going to take a look at just how he managed to rip the comic rug out from under Hemsworth’s feet in Thor: Ragnarok.
To be clear, even without Jeff Goldblum’s fantastic performance as the Grandmaster, Thor: Ragnarok would still be a high-quality film by anyone’s standards. Injected with Taika Waititi’s quirky humour, Ragnarok far exceeded audience expectations even against the relatively low standards set by Thor (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013). But one of the main features that sets Ragnarok far above its predecessors (and maybe even above all other films in the MCU – but that’s a discussion for another feature), is Jeff Goldblum’s skilled performance as the Grandmaster, the unhinged (yet strangely likeable) founding father of Sakaar.
There’s no doubting that Goldblum was an inspired pick for the Grandmaster, and he’s exactly the type of eccentric, odd-ball character that Goldblum is skilled at playing. But even after being warned to “prepare yourself” before being confronted with the Grandmaster on the screen for the first time, there was no real way for audiences to prepare for this particular spectacle. But to understand why Goldblum is such a great casting choice for one of Marvel’s more eccentric characters (even by comic book standards), you have to go right back to the source material.
In Ragnarok, the Grandmaster is depicted as the founder and leader of Sakaar, and father of the ‘contest of champions’, where gladiators are unwillingly pitted against each other in a fight to the death. This element is somewhat aligned with the comic books, but there’s certainly a lot more to this character than that. The Grandmaster actually crops up fairly frequently throughout various Marvel comic series, and, along with the Collector (who first appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014) is part of a group called ‘The Elders of the Universe.’ Basically, he’s very old and very powerful. He also, as you’ve probably noticed, has a bit of a thing for games, and as a result is an ongoing antagonist for a lot of Marvel heroes, including the Avengers. It’s also worth remembering that the Grandmaster is no stranger to the Infinity Stones either, and he even has the ability to travel between time and dimensions (something omitted from Ragnarok). So, the good news is that we could potentially see a lot more of the Grandmaster’s scene-stealing in future MCU movies, or at least there’s precedent for it – so it’s a good job they cast the role so perfectly first time round. You also have to commend Marvel for the clever linkage between the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers universes, with a blink-and-you-miss-it dancing bubble cameo from the Grandmaster during the end credits of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). This is purely a nod at things to come in Ragnarok later the same year, and if nothing else, this small cameo links the universes together and shows audiences that perhaps the Grandmaster has more relevance to wider MCU sagas than you might initially think.
Goldblum has made a career out of playing obnoxious yet likable characters, and his natural drollness has always made him a good casting for such roles. In fact, Goldblum has always made more of a mark playing the scene-stealing secondary characters than he has the starring roles. Ian Malcom in the Jurassic Park franchise (1993-2018) and David Levinson in Independence Day (1996) both shared the arrogant and slightly aloof trait that makes his characters so memorable. And so, when it comes to the Grandmaster, this natural air of entitlement that Goldblum is so good at injecting was a perfect fit for the tyrannical, immature overlord of Sakaar. The very first scene where we’re introduced to the Grandmaster is littered with examples of this pompousness, from clarifying with Valkyrie that “it is a he?” in reference to Thor’s gender, to his disinterest with Thor’s thunder-making capabilities (“I didn’t hear any thunder but out of your fingers was that like… sparkles?”). And it’s this cavalier attitude that makes him so entertaining to watch.
Whilst Hemsworth is a natural comic, slipping straight into Waititi’s style of comedy with ease, he still pales in comparison to Goldblum who offers the presence and comfort of a veteran. Goldblum brings something almost grotesque to the role of the Grandmaster, from his eyelash flickers, to his sly, sideways smiles. Taika Waititi has perfectly harnessed Goldblum’s natural style as well as paying special attention to the Grandmaster’s comic book back story to build a character that offers both comedy, and a nod to the comic books for die-hard fans. Waititi and Goldblum have essentially given the Grandmaster the mannerisms of an aging movie star – a great approach when he really is just a bored elder, with only his ‘contest of champions’ for entertainment.
But honestly, an eccentric tyrant is nothing without his sidekicks, and the way in which Goldblum engages with other players in Ragnarok is yet another scene-stealing quality of his performance. Special mention also has to go to Rachel House as the Grandmaster’s enforcer, Topaz; it would be easy to pale into insignificance next to Goldblum’s vibrancy but House very much holds her own. While there are many comedic Grandmaster moments in Ragnarok that could be singled out for special mention, the most memorable derive from his witty repartee with Topaz – who we now know does not like booze-hags, but certainly enjoys a ‘melt stick.’
Whether the Grandmaster will be making another appearance in the MCU remains to be seen. But it’s clear that Goldblum was the ultimate scene stealer in Ragnarok, perfectly embodying the bored and powerful ‘elder’ by fusing his flair for eccentricity with Taika Waititi’s dry humour. And, of course, he rocks the blue eyeliner.