Spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok incoming.
About 4 years ago I was obsessed with the MCU. No doubt the bright colours and myriad of explosions kept my then teenage brain engaged but the characters and stories felt fresh and exciting. Then my enjoyment of the film series trailed off. I watched the movies and Agents of Shield and the Netflix shows but I found myself getting bored of the franchise. At first, I thought it was me. That I was turning into a grumpy old man as soon as I hit my twenties and the childish delights of Marvel were now somewhat beneath me and I would rather spend my time analysing Mad Men or trying to figure out what the hell was going on in Twin Peaks. Then I went to see Thor: Ragnarok. My excitement was merely tepid and I was dragged along by my sister who is a fan of Chris Hemsworth, or at least of his physical attributes. Exiting the cinema, I was in a state of shock at a self-revelatory epiphany. I wasn’t too grumpy or old to enjoy the MCU (I am just 22 after all), it was that the last few years of Marvel movies had been stagnant and uninspired: conveyor-belted weapons of mass consumption. Thor: Ragnarok was different though. Different enough to get me invested in the MCU once again.
So many of the recent MCU entries feel like carbon copies. A script written by committee with the function to set up the next film in the endless cycle of the cinematic universe flow chart. What Thor: Ragnarok gets right is that it has a sense of individuality in every aspect which has to be credited to director Taika Waititi. While Waititi isn’t one of the three credited writers on the script, his style and humour reverberate throughout the film, brought forth by the huge amounts of improvisation he suggested. Some may think the film relied too greatly on humour but for me it worked because, quite simply, it made me laugh (I’m a huge fan of Waititi’s other film What We Do in The Shadows) and it was well balanced with the drama. Balance really is the key word here as the film perfectly blends the sensibilities of Taika Waititi and the MCU. The movie connects to the wider universe but that is not what defines it as it feels untethered from the often-overenthusiastic interconnectedness.
Hulk is a fantastic example of this as a character who is handled really well. Ragnarok is still clearly Thor’s movie but Hulk/Banner is explored just the right amount. This is not ‘a Civil War’ or ‘an Avengers’ where we have to check in with everybody and every character has to have their moment in the spotlight. Hulk never overshadows Thor but is still a memorable and compelling character. Once again, the word ‘balance’ springs to mind. Between individual movie and shared universe and between humour and drama.
A big step forward Thor: Ragnarok takes for the MCU is that it is not afraid to change the status quo which has stayed the same for far too long. Despite most MCU movies dealing with the possibility of world destruction there is often very little upset remaining as the credits roll. Ragnarok is different however and isn’t afraid to kill off major characters like Odin and permanently destroy locations we have become invested in like Asgard. The destruction of Asgard and the death of most Asgardians feels suitably big and full of consequences. One of the major reasons that Ragnarok has got me invested in the MCU again is to see those consequences play out. I want Asgard’s destruction to be similar to Vulcan’s in the Star Trek Kelvin Timeline. I desperately want to see a Thor 4 explore Thor being torn between his royal duties over his vulnerable populace and his role as an Avenger just like Spock’s dilemma between Vulcan and Starfleet in Star Trek Beyond. I’m also interested to see if the Asgardians will settle on a new planet (‘New Asgard’) or maybe even stay on, and expand, the ship we leave them on at the end of the movie which they could dub ‘The Asgard’.
While every Marvel movie has this I still have to mention what an incredible supporting cast of characters Thor: Ragnarok has. Jeff Goldblum offers his most-Jeff-Goldblum performance to date as the Grandmaster who I would love to see return to the MCU in the future; he is connected to the Collector from Guardians of the Galaxy but thankfully they didn’t feel the need to push that connection in his first appearance. Valkyrie was a fun character who was well utilised and I’m a big fan of Tessa Thompson although her accent wasn’t the best. Korg, played by Taika Waititi himself, is already a fan favourite and rightly so, hilarious and he brings some unexpected heart to the film. My favourite new character however might actually have been Skurge, played by Karl Urban (insert yet another Star Trek reference here). Him showing off his “stuff” at the beginning might have been my favourite joke of the whole film and his arc over the movie, while generic, was well executed. RIP Skurge (and Des and Troy).
It’s not all rainbows and Goldblums however because I do have some issues with Thor: Ragnarok even if they do little to lessen the overall fun experience. I would have liked a little more of the gladiator arena; Thor and Hulk’s battle was great but with so much of the plot set around the arena I would have liked to have seen more than one battle. Odin’s death feels a bit too glossed over but I understand that they needed to progress the plot quite rapidly in the first act. While the humour worked for me there was one joke at the very end with Korg that felt a little too self-indulgent and took away from the drama of Asgard being destroyed.
I’m sure some people will point to Hela as a weakness of the film but I disagree. Sure, she has the same problems all the MCU villains have but not to the same extremes. She’s underdeveloped but, unlike say Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy, I understood her motivations and liked their personal nature and you can’t go wrong with Cate Blanchett (we’re not going to talk about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Having said all that, I guess I did choose a Hela scene to go to the toilet so she was probably my least favourite part of the movie. If all other logic fails then rely on toilet logic.
I hope Ragnarok is a sign for what is to come in the MCU: giving talented filmmakers a chance (and space) to make a film they can add their sense of individuality to instead of relying purely on the complacent MCU assembly line. So, there you have it. My reasons for why Thor: Ragnarok got me invested in the MCU again. What did you think of Thor: Ragnarok? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about TV, movies and videogames on Twitter @kylebrrtt.