Thor: Ragnarok is a blast. It’s Thor’s best solo outing thus far, and one of the most fun Marvel movies yet. It may not be the most emotional movie in the MCU, nor does it pack the biggest punch despite the two heavy hitters Thor and Hulk leading the way, but it’s stylish, hilarious, and unique. Ragnarok may have been one of the Marvel “Phase 3” films I was looking forward to the least, but it has rapidly become one of my favorites and I can’t wait to see it again. Overall, I’d give it a solid A-, but instead of writing a normal review I’m instead going to give you 5 Things from Thor: Ragnarok that made a difference to me, good or bad. I might work this format into future reviews, or try to use it to take care of some of my review backlog. In this case, I’ve got 4 Things I liked about Thor: Ragnarok and 1 Thing I didn’t like. Read on, and let me know if you agree with any of my picks, or what you liked or disliked about the God of Thunder’s latest adventure.
4 Things I Liked
Jeff Goldblum has long been my favorite living actor, dating back to Jurassic Park if not before, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight this, his most Goldblumiest of roles. He may be a villain, or at least an antagonist, in Ragnarok, but every moment he’s onscreen is a joy to watch. It helps that he’s been allowed to go full-Goldblum as the Grandmaster, improvising and giving in to his acting instincts, so that it feels like we’re watching the actor play a version of himself, with only the slightest of exaggeration. Perhaps the only thing better than this example of peak Goldblumness is the recognition that he’s been getting because of it. Honestly, had Independence Day: Resurgence not been one of the worst movies ever then this might have happened last year, as he was far and away the best thing about that horror show (and was legitimately good despite its awfulness), perhaps its better off that he’s getting this recognition alongside a better film. It makes me excited to see how he’ll be used in the Jurassic World sequel, despite despising the first one. But for now I’ll eagerly await the news of a spinoff film for the Grandmaster that’s just two hours of him making flirty small talk with those around him and giving them all nicknames.
Out with the Old
Thor: Ragnarok is a very different beast from the previous Thor films, and it goes out of its way at times to emphasize that point. With the team-up of Thor and the Hulk (plus an extended cameo from Doctor Strange), it’s more like a mini-Avengers movie than a Thor film, and its tone and style are more akin to Guardians of the Galaxy than either of the previous solo outings from the God of Thunder. But what really surprised me was the movie’s willingness and even eagerness to wipe out much of what had become familiar from the Thor series or even the comic books. In the first 20 minutes a handful of Thor mainstays are killed off in quick succession, Thor’s previous romance is discarded, dangling plot threads are tied up, continuity problems for Marvel are wiped out, and many of the sources of drama from the previous films are resolved. It makes the first chunk of the film drag a bit, but it ensures a mostly clean slate for Ragnarok, which by film’s end has served as a reboot for the Thor side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is a smart move all around. I enjoyed both of the previous Thor movies, perhaps more than the average Marvel fan, but I’ll happily admit that they weren’t stunning successes. Both have some excellent moments, talented casts, and lots of potential, but their stories and their tone never meshed very well with the MCU. I definitely do not want all future Marvel movies be homogeneous by any stretch of the imagination, and I think within the established Marvel framework there is a lot of room for creativity and variety, but the movies still need to fit together and feel like they belong and contribute to the greater whole. The first two Thor movies couldn’t decide what they wanted to be. At times they were Shakespeare, at others they were Lord of the Rings, while never quite committing to either the fish-out-of-water story of a god stranded on Earth or to the science fiction/fantasy dichotomy that they tried to create. We were left with an interesting Thor/Loki dynamic, some fun action and occasional comedy, and little else. But now Ragnarok has struck out on its own, discarding Thor’s baggage and sending him off in a new direction as a fully science fiction franchise with a distinct flavor all its own, while still maintaining the best bits of what that corner of the universe has to offer.
The man responsible for that shift in tone is director Taika Watiti, whose unique sense of humor, lack of reverence for the Thor mythology, and visual style combine to make this the best Thor movie as well as the second-best film in Marvel’s Phase 3 so far (following Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). I particularly loved the feeling of improvisation he brought to the film, not only from Jeff Goldblum but pretty much all around. Many of the moments between Thor and the Hulk (or Thor and Banner) felt much more natural than we’re used to seeing from Marvel movies, and it made the comedy much better as a result, rather than just a string of funny jokes. It’s undoubtedly one of the silliest Marvel movies, but that’s not a bad thing at all. I think in the year or two ahead we’ll be overburdened with more serious stuff from Marvel so the humor from Ragnarok will turn out to be a blessing. And to top it all off, Watiti gave himself perhaps the best role in the film as Korg, the stone gladiator with a very non-sequitur sense of humor that serves as a microcosm of the film as a whole.
Valkyrie and Hela
Two of the best new additions to the Thor universe and the Marvel universe as a whole from Ragnarok are a pair of female badasses the MCU could certainly use more of. One of them, Hela, is the film’s villain and far and away one of the better villains in the MCU. She has an interesting backstory and motivation, is a serious threat to our heroes, and isn’t stiff or boring in the style of Marvel villains past (I’m looking at you, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Thor: The Dark World, etc.). She has major swagger, and is brought to life by the incomparable Cate Blanchett. She’s also the first villain in the MCU, something that was supposed to happen back in the otherwise wonderful Iron Man 3, but which was supposedly cut because of fears over toy sales. On the other hand is Valkyrie, the former hero who works for the Grandmaster and drinks to forget the pain in her past. Valkyrie has an entirely distinct style from Hela, but makes just as big an impression, with no patience for dealing with Thor or his quest for revenge. Actress Tessa Thompson is also, significantly, the first woman of color to play a superhero on the big screen in the MCU, and as a character she’s more than just another set of muscle fighting the good fight. Thor may be a bit on the bland side as a leading man, but he’s been surrounded in Ragnarok by a variety of interesting teammates and antagonists that help to elevate the movie immensely. And while it may fail the Bechdel Test, it’s still a step forward for strong female characters who do more than simply serve the story of the male lead.
1 Thing I Didn’t Like
As great an addition as Valkyrie is to the MCU, I can’t overlook the fact that the character’s bisexuality was erased in the editing room. Tessa Thompson stated that she played Valkyrie as bi, which is how the character has been written in the comics, but a scene explicitly stating that fact was cut from the film. Of course. The reason was something about how it “distracted” from the rest of the scene, but that’s a load of crap. More character development is almost never a distraction, and the powers that be had to know they were erasing the bisexuality of Valkyrie. It’s inexcusable, though not surprising, that in 2017 and after 17 Marvel films there hasn’t been a single non-straight character on the big screen in the MCU. I understand how big these movies are and that Disney/Marvel wants to avoid any possible controversy that might hurt their bottom line or bring bad press. But people need to get over it. LGBT people exist and deserve to see themselves as superheroes as much as straight people do. Add in the fact that Valkyrie being bi would conform to her depiction in the comics and the fact that bi erasure is a common theme in Hollywood and it all adds up to a black mark against Thor: Ragnarok.