Earlier this year, around the time of the D23 Expo I think, Screen Junkies commentator Spencer Gilbert refered to Thor Ragnarok as “MCU Crack”. Meaning that it was to be a laboratorial condensation of everything that Marvel Studios has become known for. Things like quippy humor and overblown action sequences have made The Marvel Cinematic Universe readily accessible to both comic readers and uninitiated moviegoers alike. I was wary of this, Civil War proved last year that bigger isn’t necessarily better, and the undeniable big-ness of the ad campaign for Ragnarok had me somewhat turned off to the movie. However, I had no real expectations for it either. Thor was decent, but The Dark World was thoroughly mediocre. Thor isn’t my most favorite character anyway, and if it weren’t for some friends of mine going to see it, I probably wouldn’t have purchased a ticket. But HOLY CRAP, was I pleased with what I got.
After a dangerous encounter with Hela, goddess of death, Thor and Loki are estranged on a backwater world called Sakkar. A planet littered with the galaxy’s trash, and inhabited by deadly gladiators. While they look for a way back, Hela lays waste to Asgard seeking to fulfill the ancient prophecy of Ragnarok.
There is no shortage of action in this story. It doesn’t really feel like an action based movie, but it is almost impossible to be bored watching it. There is always something electric going on, but Taika Waititi’s writing is so perfectly on point that one leaves the theater not thinking of one or two defining action setpieces, but picking up their jaw at the intensity of the movie as a whole. The thing flows like a river, its comedy, action, and dialogue intertwining and becoming indistinguishable in some cases. It isn’t until after the credits roll that one really considers the magnitude of this truly epic story.
Subplot material at best, but extremely satisfying is Heimdall’s (Idris Elba’s) role in the story. Robbed of his armor, he looks somehow even cooler with dreads and a leather robe. In the absence of Thor, he takes it upon himself to be the protector of the citizens of Asgard who are being subjugated by Hela. A man of the people to Chris Hemsworth’s elite warrior. Similarly, Thor’s new gladiator armor minus Mjolnir but with the addition of face paint is fantastic. Thor’s lightning charged rampage in the finale set to blaring Led Zeppelin may be the greatest sequence ever included in a marvel film (not directed by James Gunn of course. He’s still a genius).
Here is a movie that doesn’t just combine excellent cinematography, visual effects, and writing, but that also has the guts to step out of the familiar box that superhero flicks have long been trapped in. Instead, this film aligns perfectly with the tone of Thor’s zany and psychedelic comic book origin. As I said before, Thor is a competently produced piece of filmmaking. As a matter of fact, It’s the first superhero film that I actually saw in a theater so I will always love it. However, it is remarkably closed-minded when the character’s actual history is taken into consideration. Hero falls to earth, meets humans, interacts with their culture (to hilarious results), and battles an enemy from his own. Textbook “fish-out-of-water story” beats. Thor is a larger than life character, and while entertaining when we first see him, he’s pretty, well… life-sized.
In great contrast Ragnarok opens with a 4th wall breaking monologue, and then finds The god of thunder battling Surtur, a demonic giant with an enormous flaming sword. He then takes on an enormous horde of smaller enemies before strapping the head of his bested foe (yes, his head) to his back and flying off with it. This would probably not have been well received back in 2010. The films were closed-minded because we as a moviegoing public were as well. 2017 finds us in a more mature state of mind. This movie isn’t “MCU Crack”, its “Comic Film Rehab” steering away from the norm and saving us from more of the same; yanking the wheel closer to the true spirit of the character. Wolverine let loose in Logan, and we saw the most accurate depiction of Peter Parker to date in Spider Man Homecoming. Why shouldn’t there be a Thor story as ridiculous and far-fetched as the mythology from which he hails?