The first two phases of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe weren’t all that kind to Thor. As much as I enjoy the first Thor movie, and I still do despite how it hasn’t aged well, I admit that it’s not the best MCU movie. In fact it’s not even close to being the best Phase 1 MCU movie. Thor: The Dark World is the weakest movie in this incredibly successful film franchise by a noticeable margin. Despite this, they both earned a fair amount of money, and both Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom HIddleston (Loki) are consistently praised by critics and audiences within the movies.
In 2014, a year after Thor: The Dark World’s release, Marvel Studios announced that a third movie was in the works. Right away, long-time comic writing partners Craig Kyle and Chris Yost were writing the script together. The Dark World Alan Taylor soon decided not to return, instead focusing on Terminator Genesys and directing an episode for Game of Thrones. I’d say we should be thankful considering how Genesys turned out, but apparently the episode he directed for GOT was really good. It’s also true that the movie he filmed was drastically changed in post-production. For all we know, the movie he filmed could have been a lot better. Of the experience, he said “that is something I hope never to repeat and don’t wish upon anyone else.”
Popular New Zealand director Taika Waititi soon signed on to direct the film. It was also announced that Mark Ruffalo would return to play The Hulk in Thor: Ragnorok, his first movie appearance outside of the Avengers movies. Not long after he joined the cast, the writers started exploring the idea of adapting Planet Hulk, except starring Thor more than the Hulk. Several major actors from the previous Thor movies would not return, including Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Stellan Skarsgard as scientist Erik Selvig (neither would have really worked for the plot), and Jaime Alexander as Sif (due to a scheduling conflict).
From the start, Waititi wanted to reinvent the Thor movies. “A lot of what we’re doing with the film is, in a way, kind of dismantling and destroying the old idea and rebuilding it into a new way that’s fresh.” And the movie certainly feels different from the other Thor movies. Instead of a soundtrack that’s out of a fantasy movie, it often feels like an 80’s sci-fi movie. The very first scene sets a much lighter tone than the more dramatic first two entries, preparing us for a movie full of a sense of adventure and fun. Hemsworth, who said he grew a bit bored of the character after four movies, was fully on board with this reinvention.
To help this general sense of fun, Jeff Goldblum portrays the Grandmaster, an Elder of the Universe who rules Sakaar. Goldblum is clearly having fun with the role, oozing with a sense of sarcasm, pleasure seeking and a touch hedonistic. Waititi explained that he let Goldblum improvise a lot, making the character his own. Other additions to the cast include Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, a tough, hard drinking warrior who for a while is working with Grandmaster, but eventually joins Thor’s quest to save Asgard. And of course there’s Cate Blanchett as Hela, who is one of the better MCU villains we’ve seen so far. In this universe, she’s the oldest of Odin’s children. She’s charismatic, merciless and seems to be in love with how evil she is, the way that Malekith should have been in The Dark World. They changed her from being Loki’s sister in the comics and North Mythology to Thor’s biological sister to help make the climactic fight more impactful, and it definitely succeeds. She’s over the top in a way that’s simultaneously entertaining and intimidating. That’s not easy to do.
It’s also worth noting that, due to being in Hulk form for several years between Age of Ultron and Ragnorok in-universe, The Hulk has developed more of a personality and a capacity for talking. Waititi worked with Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios a lot in this, especially since Hulk’s portrayal in this movie starts a character arc that continues through Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. He’s basically got the vocabulary of a toddler, of course a very violent toddler at that.
Thor: Ragnorok ended up earning $854 million on a $180 million budget, easily beating out the previous two Thor movies. Ragnorok also garnered a lot of praise, earning a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.5/10. Richard Roeper called all of the performances “outstanding”, and enjoyed Waititi’s “goofy and campy and marvelously self-referential” directing. Los Angeles Times compared the movie’s tone to Star Wars, Flash Gordon and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, stating this as a good thing. It’s also worth noting that Hemsworth said he would happily work with Waititi again for a fourth Thor movie as long as a good enough script comes along.
As for myself, I like this one. This is a thoroughly entertaining movie from start to finish, whether it be the clever and varied humour, a faithful yet fresh adaptation of Planet Hulk, or an overall brilliant set of performances from all of the major actors. The action is well choreographed and it’s well varied in scale and tempo. The main villain is a serious threat, leading to a climax where it kind of feels like the heroes can’t win. In fact, they can’t win this fight by any normal means. In case you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil what happens, but they make a massive sacrifice to defeat Hela.
With all that said, I do have some complaints about this movie. This first one is kind of a complaint regarding the entire trilogy, but still. The Warriors Three never really get to do all that much in these movies. The first movie gives them a larger role than the other two, with at least a bit of a speaking role and several action scenes, but with most of the movie taking place on Earth while they’re on Asgard, you don’t see them much. While the second movie greatly expands on Sif’s character, it reduces the Warriors Three to little more than bit parts, despite a longer portion of the movie taking place in Asgard. In this movie, all three of them are unceremoniously killed just to show how powerful Hela is. If I remember correctly, you don’t even seen them interacting with Thor.
On a somewhat related note, Fandral of the Warriors Three is played by Zachary Levi, who voices Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert in Tangled and the ongoing Tangled TV series. Surtr, the giant fire demon Thor fights at the start of the movie, and also has a major role in the climax, is voiced by Clancy Brown. Brown happens to voice Rapunzel’s king father in Tangled: The Series. Levi was originally supposed to portray Fandral in the first Thor, but was replaced due to a scheduling conflict. His replacement had to leave The Dark World due to a scheduling conflict, so Levi took over in both sequels. That actor, Josh Dallas, also voices “Frantic Pig” in Zootopia. This is the point where I say that my movie blogathons are really starting to blend together. Because of this, I’ll post a random video I found online that takes a Tangled: The Series song and matches it up with Thor: Ragnorok footage. I doubt the person who made this video realizes that two of the people singing in this song are in Thor: Ragnorok yet don’t even appear in the video.
Anyway, my other complaint about Ragnorok, and this is a more minor one, is that there really isn’t all that much drama. There are small moments, like when the Hulk switches back to Bruce Banner for the first time in-universe since Avengers: Age of Ultron, or when Odin passes away early on in the film. But even with these little moments of drama, they’re soon broken up by either jokes about Bruce being confused, or Hela showing up and immediately stealing the show. The third moment that’s supposed to be dramatic, right at the end, doesn’t work as well as it should because it feels like we’ve barely got to know Asgard throughout this trilogy. It’s just kind of there. And even then, there are a couple jokes that get in the way of the moment.
Considering how entertaining this movie is, the drama complaint is a fairly minor one. Yet at the same time, I can’t help but feel that if they toned down the humour in a couple scenes, the movie would have been stronger as a whole. You could still have a very entertaining movie while letting these dramatic moments breathe.
This is still easily the best of the Thor movies; in fact it’s not even close. But it feels like Thor: Ragnorok could have been that much better with a more balanced tone. All three Thor movies have flaws that hold them back from what they could have been. The first movie had weak action that’s aged poorly, and it spent too much time on Earth when the better part of the movie was in Asgard. Thor: The Dark World just didn’t tell enough of a story to work, plus the villain was a complete bore. It tried to be more dramatic than it actually was. But at least the action was pretty good.
Thor: Ragnorok has the opposite problem of The Dark World, but it’s kind of the best problem to have. Despite its shortcomings, it’s a very entertaining movie that also helps set up several characters for their Infinity War/Endgame character arcs. Sometimes, being entertaining is all that you need. It also contains what might be the best Stan Lee cameo we’ve seen yet, although with a couple more cameos to come (there’s reportedly one in both Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home), it might still be surpassed.
Next up is Black Panther, which, regardless of what you think of the movie, became the first debut superhero movie to earn over $1 billion. It earned well over. After that, it’s Avengers: Infinity War, and then Ant Man and the Wasp. There’s only one movie after that before we’re all caught up with the MCU, Captain Marvel. I’m on pace to reaching that movie before Avengers: Endgame releases.