Movie Review : Thor - Ragnarok (2017)
The first two Thor movies are the forgettable cousins of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They feature a supervillain trying to destroy the universe, people punching each other for obscene amount of times and... not much else, really. They're companions pieces to Avengers movies where Thor is featured for no other reason than he was in the comic book version too. Well, someone in Disney must've heard of that, because Thor : Ragnarok is kind of lit. Don't get me wrong, it's still a corporate movie, but it openly challenges the way Marvel has been doing things and that it cool.
Objectively speaking, the plot of Thor : Ragnarok is somewhat similar to its predecessors. Hela, Thor and Loki's estranged sister and aforementioned supervillain, is coming back to Asgard to wreck shit up and take over the throne after Odin's passing. They first meet on Earth where she kicks Thor and Loki's asses and break Thor's hammer. When they attempt to flee using the bifrost, Hela hitches a ride and kicks them out into space. So, Thor lands on a zany trash planet where he'll have to punch his way out of if he wants to make it back to Asgard in time to stop Hela.
See what I mean?
But Thor : Ragnarok shines through the details and not necessarily for its originality. Sure, there is a doomsday supervillain in this movie too, but the concept of her being an estranged family member and a consequence of Odin's decision to forsake his own past complicates things. It confronts the myth of the noble warrior, the one that's "born to fight". And that's a pretty bold move to make in an industry that's more or less build on that logic. I'm pretty sure director Taika Waititi and the screenwriting team figured out no one would care and well, they were almost right.
Thor : Ragnarok shrewdly argues that if you're born to bathe in the glory of the battlefield, your battles aren't going to be just. That seeking war and conquest will eventually lead you to destroy peaceful people and eventually turn against your own. Because if the purpose if your war is to wage war and conquer, being the good guy doesn't really matter. And you know what? That's pretty much in line with the prophecy of the Ragnarok in Norse mythology, which is where, you know, Thor comes from. The empire built on blood and death that eventually self-combusts and everything.
So, I thought that was new.
Another thing that Thor : Ragnarok solved for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it (almost) ends the long, useless group punching scenes. There are... welp, I can't believe I'm saying that... fight scenes with emotional stakes, guys! Do you know how exciting this is that actual Marvel screenwriters passed their storytelling 101 class? Here's the thing. If you want the audience to give a shit about a fight scene, you need to understand why the opposing factions are actually going at it. Because he appeal of superhero X kicking some guy's ass just because he's fucking cool started waning when Tobey Maguire was still Spider-Man.
So, the fight scenes in Thor : Ragnarok almost all have emotional stakes in them. When he fights Hulk in the zany trash planet arena, he has to hurt a friend in order to go back to personal pursuits while Hulk wants to confront the painful memories of being in the Avengers. That kept me engaged throughout the long and intricate scene. There's another great fight scene at the end where Hulk faces Fenris, a giant wolf. There are absolutely no stakes in that fight for the latter, but for Hulk it's about leaning to control his anger. There also is a really cool Loki moment in that fight scene, which I'm not going to spoil because it's during that Ragnarok "everything is fucking burning" moment.
I'll admit it: I got a kick out of Thor : Ragnarok. While it's still very much formatted for mainstream audiences and features a lot of mandatory passages, it's a movie that still has fun within these boundaries, tries new things and dares disturbing the sacro-sanct staleness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is a clear influence from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, which are the other Marvel movies worth a shit, but I'd argue that Thor : Ragnarok is tonally more consistent and willing to test the boundaries of the corporate formula. Not exactly a can't-miss movie, but it's one hell of a good time. It definitely didn't make me any dumber, unlike other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.