Anticipation for Thor: Ragnarok was high for me as an avid MCU fan and an admirer of director Taika Waititi. Excitement might be an understatement, however part of me worried my expectations may be too high (simply put, Thor: The Dark World). As I watched the film, however, any trepidation I might have had quickly melted away. The colorful blend of 70s & 80s sci-fi/fantasy aesthetics, the inspired performances, the inherent weirdness, the humor, the deeper and more serious bits – it all just worked for me.
I don’t necessarily want to break down every aspect of the film – one could find this on countless other reviews – but I will say that Waititi seems to have cracked the code as to what makes a good Thor film. It’s a hard movie to hate simply because it’s such fun to watch. Chris Hemsworth has proven before that he has the comedic chops (i.e. Ghostbusters), so it was great to see that finally fully realized in the MCU. Idris Elba’s Heimdall had a significantly better arc than in past outings, and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie was a breath of fresh air and a much welcomed addition to the greater universe. It’s great to see more characters of color (particularly female) given the opportunities to shine and simply be formidable.
While there definitely felt like a missed presence with the lack Jaimie Alexander’s Sif, (although I believe we can expect to see her again in the future) there were several notable additions to the cast including Waititi’s own rock-based creature, Korg (who quickly became scene-stealer), Karl Urban’s Skurge, and Cate Blanchett’s Hela. Hela – going against the grain of most Marvel villains – felt like a worthwhile antagonist. Her familial connection to Thor, Loki, and Odin added an interesting layer to each of their characters and seemed to naturally build on the greater mythos. I only wish she had more to do.
The Guardians of the Galaxy films have done a lot to give a broader scope to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of world building; and while the stories surrounding the character of Thor seemed ripe to do the same, prior outings have felt somewhat confined and small. Not so with Ragnarok – the locations and the central conflict did a lot to naturally expand the universe as well as build on and challenge pre-existing conventions.
An important theme that’s gently interwoven into the plot explores concepts of revisionist history and the dangers of imperialism. As Emily Asher-Perrin writes in her review of the film for Tor.com, “for all that Ragnarok seems like an exuberant romp through the Marvel galactic-sphere, its conflict is powered by the lies told by empires when they decide that they would prefer to forget their past misdeeds.” This is true of Odin’s attempts to gloss over Asgard’s (as well as his own) past as conquerers of the nine realms rather than protecters, as well as the complete erasure of his firstborn daughter. The acknowledgment of these past deeds and the character of his daughter would muddy the waters of Odin’s present-day, utopic vision of Asgard thus he simply chooses to ignore the uncomfortable reflections of the past.
Similar notions can be made for Sakaar and Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster who clearly promotes and allows countless atrocities on his planet to persist while maintaining a charismatic and cool outward appearance. Most evident of this is the exchange between the Grandmaster and one of his assistants, Topaz, in which Goldblum’s character proclaims that he doesn’t like the “s-word” (meaning slaves), and Topaz corrects herself by referring to them as, “prisoners…with jobs.” The joke itself was quite funny, but also telling and reflective of a larger problem of detachment from aspects of one’s existence and history that are uncomfortable to face and discuss.
On top of this, the film presents us with the much more direct theme of one’s true home and its relationship to the communities and families that make it up. The line, “Asgard isn’t a place, it’s a people,” is repeated a few times throughout the movie, and characters such as Valkyrie, Bruce Banner/Hulk, and even Loki feel estranged from their respective homes and struggle to feel acceptance and a sense of belonging. Thor himself grapples with the true meaning of home, not only with the revelation of his estranged sister and his family’s untold history but also with the challenge of relocating the people of Asgard to a new physical location after the coming of Ragnarok (the destruction of Asgard).
The consistent comedy will undoubtedly be what stands out to most viewers of Thor: Ragnarok, and the humor is definitely one of the film’s strengths – but the few deeper scenes throughout its run time carry a significant amount of weight as well. In particular, Thor and Loki’s final scenes with Odin are touching, poignant, and beautifully shot. It’s also important to note the representation we see in the film. The introduction of Valkyrie and the expanded badassery of Heimdall have already been mentioned but Ragnarok also marks the cinematic side of MCU’s first major female villain in Hela, and Taika Waititi’s strong desire to diversify behind the scenes as well (particularly his push for indigenous representation on set). All of this, along with the deeper thematic layers underneath the humor and action, encourage the viewers to think just a bit more than they might during other blockbusters of this caliber, making Thor: Ragnarok not only a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a great movie as well.