Thor: Ragnarok redefines an apocalypse. Is it the end of the world or is it harming people to keep toxic traditions alive? The seventeenth Marvel movie and the third and best Thor standalone film is the Snowpiercer of the franchise and rests the responsibility of heritage squarely on the shoulders of the titular Norse god-the blondest, buffest and funniest superhero that makes Spider-Man seem like a bore, which it was not. Because Thor is essentially an affable jock who awkwardly, enthusiastically and optimistically stumbles into situations, this journey feels light, not freighted with intellectual guilt and angst-ridden musings. Thor never tries to deflect this responsibility by arguing that he never created the problem because he knows that he benefited from it and has to deal with its consequences. The character’s persona simplifies moral problems. The answer is a no brainer, but in the real world, we artificially make the issues more complex to excuse and continue the oppression.
The moral answers are easy, but the costs are high. Waititi repeatedly makes an important point using conventional action film narrative tropes. Whenever you have privilege, you are unaware that there is always another system that can erase your privilege, and it will try to destroy you so giving up privilege for the right reasons is always the best move. Thor: Ragnarok takes everything that we know about Thor and strips those things from him, which strengthens the franchise. Even a god can be vulnerable and find a new way to be strong. There is an ongoing joke about Korg trying to start a revolution, but Waititi is not joking. Sometimes doing the right thing can lead to great personal loss even if it is taken good-naturedly.
Thor: Ragnarok gives us a reboot of Thor’s narrative without being a reboot. The platitude “Life is about growth and change” encapsulates the mood of the film. Instead of fearing change or harming others to hold on to what you have, Thor urges us to cheerfully stumble forward with anyone who wants to join you. Waititi finds a way to be faithful to the characters while making enough adjustments to feasibly have them coexist despite a thick history of rivalry and betrayal.
Thor: Ragnarok confronts revisionist versus actual history. Waititi suggests that the way to move forward is not to continue to enjoy the fruits of a now benevolent conqueror’s war crimes at all costs or successfully navigate the Grandmaster’s hierarchy, but actually tearing down the lying frescoes or overthrowing the hierarchy because both systems are literally trash. The hopeful part of Waititi’s narrative is that redemption is possible as long as one is willing to accept the consequences. Loki plays a pivotal role as the butt of a lot of jokes and a questionable ally, but no one ever erases his past. Karl Urban has a supporting role that is a microcosm of Loki’s story arc and must face his poor choices. Forgiveness and redemption are not about forgetting, but requires an ongoing cost. To destroy evil, don’t cover up its role in your past. Destroy it.
Funny is hard, but looks easy. Thor: Ragnarok is hilarious, action-filled and as close as some Americans will get to a foreign film in their lifetimes. Taika Waititi, a New Zealand director and actor, directs and appears in a small, but endearing role as Korg. He brings his version of local humor and some of his favorite actors from such independent films as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople to his first Hollywood film. Waititi never forgets who he is and where he came from and subtly addresses some depressing themes such as PTSD and the refugee crisis in this raucous space adventure.
For those of you that just want to turn off your mind and get entertained, Thor: Ragnarok is also the movie for you. Marvel finally gives us a movie where gods fought like gods, but their awkwardness humanizes the super beings and punctuates the action with humor. Thor even had a Wonder Woman-esque revelation complete with an excellent rock theme that I adored and made him look better, which is possible. The action and the jokes are incessant. We finally got a perfect villain, Hela, played by a slinky, elegant Cate Blanchett, and the stakes were believably high. Her storyline felt ripped right out of The Mummy reboot, including her army, but since she wore it better, I’ll sign a waiver though the ambitious woman as evil trope deserves a brief side eye. Tessa Thompson as a real life legend never stopped being impressive. On a shallow note, everyone was hot: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba.
You will be relieved that none of the major women characters suddenly became tacked on love interests or dames in distress. Thor: Ragnarok actually depicts the swaggering alpha male trying to impress the ladies then deflates that dynamic by showing it as useless, demeaning to both parties and ultimately destructive. Gender norms exist in this world, but are used to laugh at, not with a character, but ultimately needing others’ approval leads to tragedy or alienation.
Marvel finally found a way to devote time to the Hulk without making it depressing or redundant. I can almost hear Ang Lee or Louis Leterrier ask, “How?” Most Marvel films favor scientists as heroes, but Thor: Ragnarok is the jock movie, and as a nerd, I want to reassure you that I am not using that term in a derogatory fashion. The locker room camaraderie is not sinister or darkly sexual, but is filled with rough housing and insecurity that others are only exploiting you so the Hulk should be the first one to benefit from it instead of receive derision. I had never considered the innate logic that as jocks, they incorporate physicality into every part of their social interactions so it is wise to surround themselves with others who have similar physical gifts so you do not inadvertently hurt someone when expressing yourself. The interactions between the Hulk, Thor and Valkyrie show competitiveness, but also appreciation that they cannot intimidate or hurt each other so they can create an intimacy that is not possible with others. Mark Ruffalo has to play two characters convincingly and also manages to depict a reasonable reaction to the insanity of his special circumstances.
Clearly Marvel learned how to reinvigorate Thor’s world from its other successful space pop opera film, Guardians of the Galaxy, with a dash of the Capitol from The Hunger Games and 300 fight sequences. If you are looking for homework, though it is not required, you could watch Marvel’s lesser films such as Dr. Strange or Avengers: Age of Ultron, the beginning of the end of Joss Whedon’s winning streak.
If your first instinct at seeing the phrase Thor: Ragnarok is to respond haughtily, “I do not watch THOSE kind of movies,” then congratulations, it is not a requirement, and you can get your reward for being above it all elsewhere. For the rest of us, prepare for a good time with tons of laughter and action with a deeper message hidden underneath the spectacle.
Sarah G. Vincent is an infovore who is originally from NYC and has lived in Massachusetts since 1993. She received an A.B., cum laude, in History and Film Studies from Harvard University in 1997 and received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000, where she was also an editor and arts reporter at the Crimson/FM and worked at the Harvard Film Archives. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she published “The Cultural Context of the Shopping Mall: Tension Between The Patron’s Right of Access and the Owner’s Right to Exclude.” She is in a committed, exclusive spiritual relationship with the Triune God and for more information, directs readers to look at the Apostle’s Creed.