I’m going to buck the trend when I say this, but I wasn’t all that impressed with Thor: Ragnarok. That’s not to say it was terrible, and that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. But I was simply not impressed with the movie.
Going in, I had heard a lot about how funny the movie is. One friend even said that they thought Thor was perhaps too funny, and therefore far out of character. And it was one of the funniest Marvel movies to date, up there with the first Guardians of the Galaxy. And it was by far the best Thor movie (though that is one of the lowest bars one could set). Taika Waititi did a splendid job with what he was tasked with, which was to A) make a Thor movie enjoyable and B) create a bridge from the somewhat drab terrestrial part of the MCU and the bright and bombastic celestial aspect. A rainbow bridge, if you will. But in the end Thor, the character, was still relatively dull. In fact, he felt like a hindrance to many of the characters in his own film.
The person I came to see is Hela. It’s Cate Blanchett given carte blanche to chew scenery. That alone will get my to buy a ticket to most anything. Hela is the banished first-born child of Odin, now returned to take her place as ruler of Asgard, as she sees her birthright. She half-halfheartedly reaches out to Loki and Thor to join her, which they clearly do not, before casting them off into space while she attempts her coup. What’s strange is that she reaches out to Thor, practically ignoring Loki. While this may make sense as far as birthrights go (Loki being both younger and adopted), it doesn’t make sense from a character standpoint.
It would appear that at some point Odin felt some sort of remorse over losing a child, even though it was by his own choice, and decides to make some sort of amends by taking in an infant frost giant and dressing it up like Hela. Dark haired, wiry, and with a penchant for green, Thor is actually the odd one out as far as a sibling resemblance goes. Not only that, but he too has the same feelings of entitlement and rejection that fuel Hela. Had she ignored Thor and reached out to Loki there is a pretty fair chance she could have established an alliance and possibly taken the realm. Hela is driven and a bit single-minded, but she’s not rash or stupid, and it’s a bit bizarre that not only is this not her initial approach, but that these themes are never developed.
And then there’s Valkyrie. The last of the Asgardian warriors collectively known as the Valkyries, she apparently takes the name as she’s the only surviving member. The rest of them were all killed in a battle against, you guessed it, Hela. She only managed to survive because another Valkyrie threw herself in front of an attack. She then fled the realm and makes her way with shady business on the planet Sakaar. One would think this is the perfect setup to carry a movie, right? High status, a brutal downfall, it’s the tragic half of a redemption arc. And yet… she’s relegated to sidekick. This could make sense if the central character, Thor, somehow had more of a claim to battling Hela, but he doesn’t. Her presence in the movie feels odd and off, not because she’s poorly set up, but because her introduction sets her up for so much more that is never delivered.
So if Loki has the character-driven connection to Hela and her motivations, and Valkyrie has the story-based connection driving her to revenge/atonement then what does Thor bring to the table? Well, he has some daddy issues since Hela’s return is enabled by Odin’s passing. But that happened either naturally or, in part, due to Loki. So when he dubs the assembled warriors “The Revengers”, it feels like a flat joke as he has nothing to revenge. That’s Valkyrie’s position in the group. He’s just there because he’s supposed to be in charge of Asgard due to divine right and lineage. He literally serves no purpose that would not be better fulfilled by someone else in the party. As far as story structure goes, Loki could provide the character arc, Valkyrie the sense of plot and closure, and Banner/Hulk the comic relief. Instead we are served up Thor, weakly taking on all these duties and not quite satisfying any of them.
Again, none of this is to say that Thor: Ragnarok isn’t enjoyable. It is. It’s also the best Thor movie to date. It’s also in the top half of Marvel movies. But Marvel has come a long way and released a lot of moves (this falls right into the middle of Marvel’s Phase 3 line of films). They can’t get by on fun and serviceable, and at some point need to actually make an effort with their releases. Handing the reins to Taika Waititi was a pleasant surprise, but the writing really needs to be the focus going forward.
Thor: Ragnarok gets a +2 on a scale of -5 to +5.
Thor is currently playing at a theater near you because it’s frakking everywhere.