– By J.W. Fox –
Thor has not enjoyed the same critical and box office success as his Avenger brethren. To turn it around, Marvel decided to take the character in a different direction in Thor: Ragnarok. To put it simply, the writers toned down the epic fantasy elements and amped up the jokes.
It worked. Thor: Ragnarok chose not to take itself seriously and, in the process, delivered the best Thor movie of the three.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW
Off to Distant Worlds with Enemies Close to Home
After defeating Ultron, Thor flew off trying to discover the truth behind the sudden emergence of the infinity stones. He is surprised to find another strange development, Asgard’s enemies are on the march, emboldened for some reason.
He returns to discover part of the answer: Loki is pretending to be Odin. Sadly, Loki has little talent or interest in actually ruling Asgard. Instead, he is enjoying thee comforts of wealth and power.
The real Odin was under a spell, hidden away in a nursing home in New York. When Thor finds him, Odin reveals that another great threat is on the horizon: Hela the goddess of death (Cate Blanchett).
Thor and Loki are easily defeated and thrown across the galaxy to a very strange planet called Sakaar. There they get into all sorts of trouble and meet some friends, old and new.
The sins of the Father are visited on the son, or sons. Hela reveals how Asgard became a superpower, which involved a lot of slaughter. Odin and Hela conquered the nine realms together. At some point during this bloody period, Odin had Thor and changed his entire governing philosophy. Asgard became a benevolent laisse faire protector of the nine realms. As you could imagine, the goddess of death was not on board. When she opposed Odin, he imprisoned her, and all mention of her in the records stricken.
There was certainly an opportunity to play up the family drama with some intense exchanges between the three siblings. Ragnarok didn’t do that. It took only one scene for Thor and Loki to be thrown off to Sakaar while Hela goes to conquer Asgard. What few lines are exchanged are all pretty cliché. In the end, she’s just your typical psychopathic bad guy.
Although she turned out to be a one-dimensional character, she was still better than the previous Thor villains. It is her role in the Asgardian apocalypse and the return of Odin’s sins that makes her more interesting than frost giants or dark elves. Cate Blanchett was also much more compelling than Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith and whoever played that frost giant king guy.
Can’t Stop the Ragnarok
After centuries of peace and security, Asgard seems to be under constant threat. Ever since Thor’s aborted coronation, bad guys are coming out of the woodwork.
Surprisingly, the movie acknowledges this confluence of events. The movie introduces the concept of Ragnarok. In mythology, Ragnarok is the apocalyptic end of the Norse gods and Asgard. Thor hears from one of Asgard’s enemies that Ragnarok is approaching. Odin later confirms it is coming just before he dies.
So what is Thor supposed to do about the end of the world? Instead of defying the prophecy through some deus ex machina force, the end of Asgard comes. In a powerful and symbolic declaration, Thor and the others realize that Asgard is a people, not a place. After the destruction of their home, what is left of Asgard boards a ship and begins their journey to find a new home, possibly on Earth.
An ending with nuance, who would’ve thought? Kudos to the writers for not taking the usual superhero way out of a tough situation.
The Apocalypse Has Never Been So Fun
Ragnarok t isn’t just fun, it is hilarious. Sounds weird to say an apocalyptic movie was hilarious, but it was. The movie has more wit and clever one-liners than any other Avenger movie. Thor takes himself a lot less seriously and gains a new level of self-deprecation. Loki is his usual charming self. Throw in an eccentric Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), a meathead Hulk with real dialogue, and an amusing scene with Doctor Strange, you got the funniest Avenger movie so far.
As far as the comedy, it was fairly original. Some of it was fan service but not all of it. Yes, it basically throws out the Thor we’ve come to know over four movies (two Avengers, two Thors). He is much more lighthearted, plain-spoken, and humble. The movie begins with him in an alien prison, talking to a skeleton then trading barbs with a fire monster. His exchange with Doctor Strange is almost worth the price of admission alone, as was the scene in the Grandmaster’s arena.
Also, the shift in aesthetics from idyllic golden halls to colorful 80s sci-fi was a great choice, abandoning the cheesy Lord of the Rings feel of the first two films. The planet Sakaar looks like a classic music video, similar to the visuals in Guardians of the Galaxy. Another good creative change.
A Fantasy World with No Rules
Okay, so the movie is funny and looks amazing. Should be a 5-star classic right? Not so fast.
The Avenger movies started with at least a token attempt at plausibility. They never used real science but also did not use magic as the basis of the fantastic things. In a way, they invoked their own version of the ancient astronaut theory, which claims nearly all human myth and legend was actually our attempts at explaining advanced technologies being used in our past.
Not anymore. With the inclusion of death goddesses and prophecies, the tiny modicum of plausibility has been destroyed. Thor: Ragnarok is pure fantasy. It is also a fantasy that takes place far from Earth and deals in magical powers that seem to have no limits.
Earlier movies had much more balance. There were rules. Not anymore. After all these movies, I have no idea what, if anything, can kill Thor. There is no sense of scale or relative strength and power among these characters. They shift depending on whatever the plot needs.
The biggest example is Thor’s sudden discovery of his true powers. Apparently the hammer was just there to help him focus the lightning and thunder. He had it within him all along! That was convenient.
The Gladiator arena on Sakaar was an awesome middle scene. Watching Thor and Hulk go at it was great fan service and managed to generate some laughs of its own (“Loki! Look who it is!”). Aside from the fight itself, which was pretty amazing, we got a big character reveal. During and right after the fight we get to hear Hulk speak as if he is more than just a mindless rage monster. In essence, a new character was created one separate from Bruce Banner.
It seems the uncontrollable, mindless Hulk is gone and a new one has come forth. It isn’t Banner with strength. It is an entirely new personality. When he returns to human form, Banner relays his fears that Hulk may be taking over permanently.
Did that ever happen in the comics or TV show? If so, I do not remember. Another change in the rules for the sake of plot.
Somewhere inside the comedy and spectacular action, there was the completion of Thor’s story arc. The loss of his hammer, which may have symbolized a child finally getting rid of his favorite toy, was a crossing of a threshold. The loss of his eye was another. With that, Thor has become his father. This incredible moment of personal growth and self-actualization is buried deep within a CGI orgy of pulse-pounding action.
Ragnarok moves away from Avengers and tries to be more like Guardians of the Galaxy, with success. It does not try to emulate the personal drama of Civil War and the first two Iron Man movies. It also lacks deep philosophical themes like Winter Soldier or Age of Ultron.
It is a lot of fun and worth a movie ticket. I saw it in standard but I imagine the 3D version is amazing. The movie also succeeded in introducing some great new characters like Valkyrie and Hulk. Yes, Hulk has been around but not this Hulk. Grandmaster and Kurge were also strong additions to the Avenger movie universe.
Thor: Ragnarok is a lighthearted detour from the other Thor movies and the Avenger movies. If you are okay with that, you will love it.
J. W. Fox is the Editor of Prescientscifi.com and author of two novels under the pen name Jacob Foxx: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.