Thor: Ragnarok is the highly entertaining conclusive threequel of this branch of a solo superhero story, wrapping things in a nice little bow a la Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Civil War while still propelling its best cast onwards to The Avengers and other characters’ stories. More interestingly, it is the seventeenth chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the three quarter point of the twenty-two episode story that culminates in 2019’s Avengers 4.
It’s certainly the best Thor movie by a long stretch – they will be incontrovertibly ranked as Ragnarok, the original, The Dark World. The reason it excels is that the movie is more self-aware and the studio is more conscientious of it’s previous pitfalls. The original’s mix of pompous and circumstance with fish-out-of-water silliness was a soft success that could not be outright repeated without inducing sequel cynicism, so The Dark World went full Norse with more Asgard, more royalty and more lore. Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor delivered a four hour epic too far astray from what Disney were promised when they bought Marvel and the edit was brutal. What remained was an overcomplicated revenge flick with an Infinity Stone shoehorned in for good measure, but not without a few saving graces.
Ragnarok picks and chooses what it wants to be. It’s still got a studio-sanctioned cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, but it’s early in the piece and quick, if a little disorientating and redundant. It knows Thor and Loki are the stars of the show and quickly dispatches Anthony Hopkins’ Odin and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster to accommodate. The Odin death was done quite well – as a consequence to Loki’s scheme, Frigga’s death in The Dark World and a kickstarter for Ragnarok. To die in Norway surrounded by family was a nice touch too. In contrast, Jane’s absence is given a throwaway line with even less poignance than either Avengers movies due to her character’s overwhelming uselessness. Natalie Portman is not a bad actress – in a perfect world she could be a next-gen Thor similar to the comics – but this role was always an impediment to original storytelling.
But before any of these chess pieces are moved the film jolts the audience out of whatever formulaic affair envisioned. The fire-demon-monster-entity Satur that causes Ragnarok is realised wonderfully in the opening scene as a villain-of-the-week with a bland plan to bring about the movie’s title. That he never colluded with Hela, that he was so easily foiled and that the end of Asgard was ultimately Thor’s decision with Satur a mere means to an end jolts the audience awake and stops the franchise from getting boorish and predictable. Thought the Winter Soldier was the villain of Captain America: The Winter Solider? Well yes, but also HYDRA 2.0 and Robert Redford’s murdery Helicarriers. Thought Thor: Ragnarok would feature Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse of Asgard? Well yes, but only to kill Thor’s unknown evil sister Hela via Part 1 of Planet Hulk.
Ah yes, Hulk. The Jade Giant. The Green Goliath. In the nitty-gritty paperwork side of things, Marvel owns the majority of its characters sans the ones noted here. Fox owns the X-Men and Fantastic Four, and formerly owned Daredevil before the rights reverted to Marvel. Sony owns Spiderman but shares him with Disney in an attempt to salvage his sullied reputation. The Hulk’s rights have reverted however there is a clause in perpetuity (forever!) that states Universal will distribute a standalone Hulk film, and it’s bad business for Disney to give Universal all that money. But how does this affect the fans and this movie?
The second act of Thor: Ragnarok is Thor cast out from his world. Could have been anywhere, but especially due to the parallels with the original, it best be bombastic. Planet Hulk focuses on Hulk leaving Earth for Sakaar and becoming the champion of a battling arena. There’s pieces about humanity’s resentment to Hulk and the big guy’s dislike of Bruce Banner, maybe not given the gravitas it deserved. But it’s the bones of Planet Hulk, no doubt about it. The fact that Thor is the throughline of the entire film doesn’t take away any of the character development afforded to the giant green rage monster.
The team-up is a raging success, and suddenly the Thor trilogy could almost be seen as a trio of duos. The original is Thor and Jane, the sequel is Thor and Loki, and the threequel is Thor and Hulk. Thor is such a textbook hero, a soldier similar to Captain America, that he needs these contrasts to enhance him. In this viewing pattern it makes Tom Hiddleston’s Loki to step back – from antagonist to accomplice to… brother? His role was more distant this time around and strangely didn’t steal every scene he was in. Maybe there’s just stiffer competition – from a more confident (read: relaxed) Thor to Hulk to the Grandmaster to Valkyrie to Hela.
It’s symptomatic of the few flaws in the movie. Hela works as a villain. An unknown sister released from her prison for not absolutely contrived reasons has plenty of reasons to take of Asgard and then… the universe! Double Oscar winner Cate Blanchett eats up the okay-enough script despite spending the majority of the film with campy anti-villain Skurge. She looks slick.. It’s very clean… and maybe it’s because she is not the reason Ragnarok comes to fruition or perhaps something else but something or another doesn’t click. She ranks around Zemo on the villian list, far above Malekith and Ronan but below Loki or Stane.
Elsewhere new addition Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie does better at being a character in one movie than Jane, Sif or the Warrior Three’s trilogy screentime combined. Kudos for Marvel for putting a bullet (or rather a knife) in the silly side characters and not affording them the opportunity to bloat up Ragnarok. Jamie Alexander’s Sif wasn’t available for filming, genuinely, and Fiege notes her absence allowed them to spare her from Hela’s wrath.
Korg the rock monster is the breakout star of the whole ordeal, a chummy and joyful character voiced by director Taika Waititi. And Idris Elba is finally granted a plot worthy of his cast. In the same way it’s hard to pinpoint what doesn’t quantify Hela as the best villain that ever was it’s hard to pinpoint what went so right with this Heimdell. Mostly just a shepherd for the refugees fleeing their wartorn land, Elba knocks it out of the park with one hand tied behind his back. On a bigger picture scale, it was surprising that the sixth Infinity Stone wasn’t revealed to be in the Asgardian’s possession. Many believe his powers are aligned with the Soul Stone the mad titan Thanos is seeking, and while that still may be the case, time is running out to showcase it before Avengers: Infinity War.
It is the best Thor movie due to the relentless humour that some accuse is photocopied from Guardians of the Galaxy. Firstly, that’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t seem to be the rip-off insinuated. Guardians cares, and goes out of its way to build a ‘family’ of misfits’ relationships. Thor’s humour doesn’t care, is irreverent to almost everything going on and doesn’t pause for everything. That works 97% of the time, a resounding score, but it would remiss not to mention the 3%. Banner was trapped as the Hulk for two years, which he is trying to process during the escape of Sakaar. He tells Thor and company that transforming into the Hulk could be permanent and that this frightens him. Later on he is prepared to risk this eventuality to save the citizens of Asgard and in his big heroic moment the music swells, the camera pans wide and Banner’s face smashes into whatever the Norse/Marvel word is for Mariokart’s Rainbow Road. It felt disrespectful to an important moment in the character’s history for a cheap laugh. The humour saved Thor: Ragnarok and the Thor trilogy in general, but this joke should never have made the final cut.
Aside from this the film lands another tick in the win column for Marvel. It is the final film of any of the Phase One foursome (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America) and in that sense, lends a really penultimate feel to the sprawling arc that began when I was thirteen years old. Sure, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Spiderman, Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel have been added to the roster of original solo series but these were the original four.
As a final note, congratulations to the Gold Coast and any Australians that participated in this production. It was a big coup and Chris Hemsworth is worth every cent of taxpayer money to be a fair dinkum ambassador for us. And a little shoutout to lovers of independent cinema too, because it is phenomenal Taika Waititi was afforded this opportunity. He did as finer job as Whedon, Gunn or the Russo Brothers and it is likely Marvel will utilise him elsewhere down the line.
Thor: Ragnarok is a fun time at the movies with a good story, entertaining characters, lots of jokes and a Hulk. What more do you want?