Wow! It’s hard to think that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is nearly 10 years old, with Marvel Studios just releasing their seventeenth film within their hugely successful franchise (unless you live in America, in which case, the waiting game still ensues). A lot of people have approached this latest instalment with confusion, and a very long stick, because it’s a Thor film, and most people didn’t like the last one back in 2013 [Thor: The Dark World], to which I must be one of the very few people that actually liked that flick and enjoyed it above a lot of other Marvel Studio features.
Regardless of opinion, a lot of the confusion revolved around the new direction in which Thor’s character would be taken within his third solo adventure, dubbed Thor: Ragnarok, in which would feature a more comical approach to both story and character development, along with more emphasis on the Cosmic Universe (similar to Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). This goes against the traditional fantasy approach devised within the previous Thor instalments, as well as the mythological emphasis and more serious tones.
However, this new direction turned out to be the best possible outcome for Thor’s next stage within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, reinventing him to fit in with the increasingly introduced newbies that are quickly taking the spotlight away from the oldies that established the very superhero franchise we know and love today. Instead of Thor: Ragnarok feeling like a swansong for Thor’s character, gently shoving him under the carpet to make room for newer, younger characters (similar to what was done for Iron Man and Captain America within Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War respectfully) this third instalment was more of a re-charge, allowing the old God of Thunder to come back into the fold with high spirit and energy.
The tragedy of Thor: Ragnarok is that it was so damn good, to the point where it really shines light on all the flaws within Thor and Thor: The Dark World, making them both feel rather stale and inferior, as well as re-emphasising how poorly Thor’s character was handled. He was devised as a rather bland character, specifically because of his “fish-out-of-water” characteristics, and naturally felt like the least interesting out of all the heroes slatted within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to the point where he received the least attention within both Avengers Assemble and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
I’m really glad that Chris Hemsworth was allowed to cut lose and re-invent his approach to tackling Thor, pushing the character in a new direction that made him feel more developed and likable. This was both aided by Hemsworth’s persistence in refocusing their efforts on Thor’s character and director Taika Waititi wanting to harness Hemsworth’s comical nature, bringing both these elements together to bring us a new variation of Thor that not only works better, but also grants us a more engaging character that we feel at ease with.
Thor is now very fun to follow. He’s not so serious anymore and relies heavily on his wit and humour, adding in some rather sarcastic moments that helps us to establish the fact that Thor has come a long way since Thor and has learnt a lot from his time on Earth and being around his fellow Avengers. Thor now fits in with the more updated formula to the Marvel Cinematic Universe were the script is filled with plenty of wit, pushing the boundaries of how far you can take the humour by using underlayed adult content that slips past the usual radar (making the execution all the more hilarious because you can’t believe they’ve gotten away with it in a 12A rating [PG-13 for the USA]).
This film is certainly more daft in places, almost mirroring the strange sense of humour within the Guardians of the Galaxy films, throwing continuous slap-stick and banter in your face but it all pays off really nicely. What makes this film even stranger is it was directed to be a straight-up comedy, but don’t let that idea fool you into thinking that this is a fob-off Marvel Studios flick which isn’t meant to be taken seriously (especially since it’s a Thor film, and most people haven’t enjoyed his solo outings thus far) because let me tell you now that Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t hold back on the dramatic moments.
There are many scenes in this film that come out of nowhere and really strike you when you least expect it. I think it works well here because the narrative itself is fairly gentle throughout and tries to play things for laughs in order to give you a fun and adventurous vibe, but sown into this are many dark ideas which are implemented perfectly, cutting through the comedy to hit your emotional cords in order to remind you that shit is going down. After-all, Ragnarok means the end of Asgard. Doomsday is upon them and so naturally this element is taken very seriously.
Although I will admit that the film does throw you into a false sense of security, in which I was made to believe that the tone was going to be rather lapse in its seriousness, to the point were maybe the comedy was too in your face, thus taking away any real tension or threatening nature when it was supposed to be taken seriously. This was down to the fact that Thor was captured by Surtur (quickly revealed as a ruse by Thor to gain information about the Infinity Stones), a powerful demonic creature [voiced by Clancy Brown] who is supposed to be imposing, and keeps getting shut-down by Thor’s somewhat questionable comedic additions as he swings around on a chain.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t become the case and the comedy and drama are perfectly balanced throughout, with the comedy taking centre stage to give you an enjoyable experience whilst the drama pokes its head up at just the right moment to remind you about the darker undertones that serve as the main motivators for Thor’s journey. It’s great that Thor: Ragnarok tackles the confusing sub-plots introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron, thus giving us clarity on what Thor has been up to and where he currently stands within the greater narrative.
His visions were warning him about Ragnarok, which he first becomes aware of through Surtur, the very being that will destroy Asgard. It is also through Surtur that he becomes aware of the fact that Odin is no longer on Asgard and that his adoptive brother, Loki, is actually on the throne in disguise (as established at the end of Thor: The Dark World). This also explains a lot of the activities revolving around Thor and the universes established with the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
Thor spends time on Earth because he is allowed to by Loki, a ploy to get rid of him so that he can rule Asgard in secret, before he eventually wonders the universe during the two years between Avengers: Age of Ultron and Thor: Ragnarok as he tries to make sense of his visions and the surfacing of the Infinity Stones. Within the Guardians of the Galaxy films I often wondered why things were in such disarray if Odin was supposed to be maintaining the Nine Realms in perfect balance, but of course has been absent since the conclusion of Thor: The Dark World, with the subsequent Guardians films chronologically taking place afterwards, thus Loki’s carelessness has led to the rise in hostile behaviour across the universe.
This all comes back to bite him in the arse as his mischievous scheme ultimately brings about Ragnarok. By exiling Odin for his own selfish gain he in fact caused his adoptive father to die, with Thor eventually finding him in Norway as he prepares to be reunited with his wife Frigga (who perished in the last instalment). This was one of the first dramatic moments that felt unexpected but it certainly enhanced the narrative and the greater structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, setting in motion many dynamic changes that would shake up the entire playing field.
Another interesting aspect was how this film enjoyed to incorporate elements from other films and characters, thus making Thor: Ragnarok much larger and expansive. The first incorporation was Dr. Stephen Strange, whom was introduced last year  in Doctor Strange. The newly appointed Sorcerer Supreme now monitors the Earth, and the many realms and dimensions that may threaten to harm his home (after The Ancient One was killed in his introduction feature) which brings him into contact with Thor as he tries searching for Odin, adding in a neat little cross-over that opens the doors to the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s greatest asset: it’s ability to intertwine this massive universe in order to create a larger narrative beyond any other movie franchise.
Benedict Cumberbatch is great in his short appearance and takes pride in showing Thor who is in-charge within the moment, exploiting his abilities in order to demonstrate the growing nature of the superhero world on Earth, now added by the knowledge of stranger elements that bend the very existence of the known world as introduced in Doctor Strange. These two elements come together perfectly and I can’t wait to see Dr. Strange incorporated more into the Marvel Cinematic Universe down the line. Also it was hilarious to see Loki put in his place by Dr. Strange who was taking no shit from the God of Mischief.
A massive game-changer that was added to the film was the sudden revelation that Thor had a sister, Odin’s first born Hela, the Goddess of Death. This ultimately changes the way we perceive the previous instalments, particularly Odin, as it’s revealed that the mighty ruler of Asgard was once malevolent in his pursuit for control, slaughtering millions in order to seize the Nine Realms, before finally turning into the man we came to understand in the first two Thor instalments. Hela, who became Odin’s weapon of death, wanted to proceed further in their blood-thirsty conquest to which forced Odin to imprison his daughter in order to protect the universe from her lust for power, while erasing any evidence of her existence and his part within those dark events.
With Odin dead Hela is freed and this is where shit goes down. Thor loses Mjolnir and he and Loki are temporarily separated, exiled from Asgard as Hela returns home to claim her throne, slaughtering many Asgardians in the process. Things become even more twisted when we bare witness to the death of each member of the Warriors Three.
It happens so suddenly, a sort of blink and you’ll miss it moment, to which you haven’t really got much time to digest the horrific imagery in front of you. Characters you had come to respect and love, kind and loyal warriors, and good friends to Thor had now perished in cold-blood, adding to Thor’s depressing journey as he is helpless to stop his sister’s act of vengeance due to being trapped at the other side of the universe, forced to become a gladiator in a sick game for the purposes of entertainment.
Oh, and how can I forget about one of the best parts of the film: Hulk! As the trailers clearly showcased Mark Ruffalo was back to play Bruce Banner and The Hulk, but what was most surprising was the amount of time we got to see The Hulk onscreen. Now it was made very clear that The Hulk would have a larger role in this film but I didn’t expect him to have as long as he did which merely added to the awesomeness of this narrative. It added greatly to The Hulk’s character, making him less of a tool for narrative purposes and rather a fully fleshed-out character.
I found that The Avengers films didn’t do him, or Bruce, much justice and merely used him as a plot-device when required, i.e. Bruce did some scientific technical stuff and The Hulk smashed things, leaving little room for actual development beyond a view fleeting moments (the mention of suicide and the idea of having nowhere to exist within the world due to Hulk) and a really forced, and not too convincing, love story. Here, however, we get to learn more about the two characters, particularly Hulk because of the amount of screen-time he receives, with the added bonus that he actually talks now, allowing him to interact with Thor and expand himself even further.
As predicted the fight between Thor and The Hulk was awesome and lasted longer than expected, holding some great action sequences, a few hard blows on either side, and just a great vibe for fun, added by a few stand-out laughs (Loki’s reaction to seeing Hulk is priceless!). From there the two of them begin to bond in a really interesting way with Thor trying to convince the beast to help him reach Asgard whilst Hulk comes to terms with his situation and the idea of evolving further, demonstrated with Hulk actually acknowledging that he’s always angry and wanting to smash things (with a latter scene showcasing his progression of control when he actually listens to Thor when he tells him to stop smashing).
The Hulk is a lot more intelligent in this film and shows signs of learning, demonstrating a comparison to a toddler especially through his sudden tantrums and limited words, but he does manage to get some interesting conversations between himself and Thor. It takes a while for Bruce to show up and that adds even more depth to the narrative, Bruce’s character (and his dynamic with Hulk), and his relationship with Thor. They seem like an unlikely duo but work together really well, shown through Ruffalo and Hemsworth’s great chemistry.
Learning that he has been Hulk for two full years is a massive shock to Bruce, worryingly so since he felt like he had no control of the driving seat and was simply tucked away at the back of Hulk’s mind, almost forgotten. He begins to worry that if he becomes The Hulk again that he may lose himself forever. Of course it is neat seeing both of these characters out of their comfort zone and thrown into a larger universe and different scenarios, ultimately pushing them further than ever before and this was really enjoyable to see unfold.
Like I said earlier, Bruce and The Hulk’s characters were just being misused before and seeing them both handled right was just what the doctor ordered. The same with Thor. Both of these characters got the narrative they rightfully deserved and thus got the perfect amount of expansion, making both characters feel reinvigorated, to the point where I’d be more than happy to see their stories continue well past Avengers: Infinity War (and its yet untitled sequel) because now Marvel Studios knows what to do with these characters they can now take them to better, and more exciting places as they did in this instalment.
Also, interestingly enough, Hela doesn’t actually feature that much throughout the entire film. Despite being the main antagonist she’s pushed to the back as the side-plot unfolds, similar to how the narrative worked in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But unlike that film, which (as much as I freaking love that film) I’ll admit had some pacing and structural issues, Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t suffer because the side-plot focuses on its main protagonist instead one of the many ensemble characters. But as I mentioned above she has a lot of backstory given to her in a few short descriptive scenes and that basically defines her character.
She’s a massive threat shown through her strength, unstoppable power, and complete ruthlessness. Hela is definitely one of the better villains in terms of threat because you feel really unsure throughout as to how Thor can defeat such a monster, particularly when you witnessed her destroy Mjolnir and take out the entire Asgardian army single-handily. Christ, she even ends up taking out one of Thor’s fucking eyes! Like father like son I suppose. In the end the beast has to be stopped via another unstoppable force which just goes to show that even Thor with his true powers unlocked can’t stop Death itself, requiring a mighty demon (and doomsday itself) to end his sister’s reign of terror.
As always I enjoyed the chemistry and development between Thor and Loki. The two of them still serve as my favourite hero and villain relationship within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and for good reason). Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston just work perfectly together and it’s a joy to see them share screen time, especially since they had a bit more banter in this film and goofed off more. It was less about them fighting one another and actually learning to work together.
Sure, Loki is reluctant at first and is out for himself but as time goes on Thor makes him realise that time hasn’t changed him, meaning he hasn’t grown as a person (remaining predictable and unsure of himself) compared to how far Thor himself has evolved and grown constantly to meet his required mark of duty. In the end this inspires Loki to (for once) do the right thing and in many ways allows him to finally move forward and find himself in this chaotic relationship. Before he was uncertain about his feelings towards Thor, his family, and home-world, but now he’s begun to feel at peace with himself by embracing change and finally accepting the fact that Thor simply doesn’t care about their differences and will always love and admire his brother come what may.
And how can I talk about Thor: Ragnarok without mentioning the side-characters introduced. Valkyrie is extraordinary. Tessa Thompson plays the perfect embodiment of a strong, independent female character, portraying as a total badass who can easily best every man in the room (including Hulk, who is in fact his sparring partner). What makes her fun to watch is her wit and excessive drinking, which lands her a rather amusing entrance. Plus, her backstory is very interesting and tells a lot about her current personality, allowing her to have a strong connection with Thor through pride and honour instead of the usual romantic nonsense, making them a good pairing.
Then there’s The Grandmaster played by Jeff Goldblum. He’s a very odd character in both his behaviour and mannerisms, which ultimately makes him this quirky antagonist that you don’t fully view as a villain because he never really comes across as a bad-guy despite being (in reality) a collosal dick who holds himself way too highly. Egotistical and full of himself, The Grandmaster is a somewhat despicable enemy that revels on seeing the innocent placed within his gladiator arena in order to entertain him, even if it means their death at the hands of his favourite pet, The Incredible Hulk. Plus, it’s Goldblum. Who doesn’t love watching Goldblum be Goldblum, and this role suits him to a tee.
And then there’s Korg, a newly invented character that could take full advantage of Waititi’s sense of humour and boy was he a delight from start to finish. At first you expect him to be quite a macho character, seeing as he is an alien made of rock (almost reminiscent of The Thing [perhaps Marvel Studio’s subtle way of having him in their universe without having him in their universe]) but when he talks he’s so gentle and sweet, and often quite naïve, but that’s what makes him so appealing and hilarious. He’s simply there to make you laugh and I’m okay with that. Plus, he’s played by Waititi himself which adds more hilarity to the film.
Heck, even Idris Elba gets plenty of time to show off his badass nature as Heimdall who is forced into exile by Loki but quickly returns to Asgard when Hela shows up, stealing the Bifröst sword in order to prevent the Goddess of Death from reaching the Nine Realms, as well as building a resistance against her with the surviving Asgardians. He feels more expanded upon within this film, and that’s something Thor: Ragnarok does best at, expanding previously un-invested characters and making them have a greater purpose within the larger narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Thor: Ragnarok is ultimately a bloody good film that had me wowed, excited, and smiling from start to finish. Maybe it wasn’t as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which literally had me giggling my arse off throughout, it certainly made up for it with a really engaging narrative that expanded upon so many important plot-points in order to make way for the future of the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. The visuals were definitely gorgeous, and Sakaar was certainly a brilliant setting, creating an overwhelming pleasing science-fiction vibe that only helped to elevate this film higher in its already existing high quality.
This film is certainly a fresh start for the Thor franchise and I really do hope that this is an indication to even more greater narratives down the road. Plus, this film changed so many key elements within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, elements that have been there since the start, and now that they are gone certainly adds even more excitement and dread as to how this expansive universe will go from here. Trust me, you’ll no doubt walk away from this film having had a great time, as well as being surprised at just how right they got Thor, Hulk, and the overall feel of this aspect of the Marvel universe, and how much this film exceeds expectations.