I’m actually somewhat surprised that Thor: Ragnarok is doing well. As I write this, it is sitting at a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and is poised to clear $100M+ for the weekend. It deserves every penny. More than any Marvel film — hell, more than any superhero film — since Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this movie found a way to do the thing that I love most about the modern superhero movie genre. Unfortunately, it’s a thing that a lot of fans tend to hate. or at least they say they do. It completely forgets that it is a superhero movie. It completely forgets that it is based on a comic book. And in doing so it thrives at being both a superhero movie and a comic book movie.
I want to do this one without spoilers because it’s very much worth watching. However, I will reveal something that has been shown since the very first trailer. During the course of the film, Mjolnir is destroyed and Thor’s hair gets cut. These things are both important not only narratively, but symbolically. Essentially, this film crushes the Thor film franchise and starts it fresh. By taking a bold move and dispensing with the most iconic and recognizable signifiers of the Thor character, director Taika Waititi has opened the door to imagine the character however he wanted. And in doing so he makes a super fun space opera that is not only makes the most fun of all the Thor movies, but what I would call a spiritual sequel to Flash Gordon with Chris Hemsworth as Sam Jones and Tom Hiddleston as Timothy Dalton. It worked.
One of the things I have been working on for my dissertation lately is the idea of what I call multiple histories. Comics fans like to assume a single canon-history – that a publisher has a single shared universe with a consistent narrative. Obviously, that isn’t true. Continuity errors just exist. However, there are also discrepancies introduced simply by having multiple creators spread out across decades. Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Batman is only similar to Frank Miller’s in the most trivial of ways. And both differ from Dennis O’Neil’s version which is different than the Adam West TV version. Even more confusing, in the current comic era of constant supercrossvers, it’s possible for one character to be written in a different way by several different authors, each with their own style, in the same storyline. And it happens all the time. Even though comic fans complain about it, in many ways, it’s actually part of the fun of the medium.
Thor: Ragnarok proved that this could also be brought to the MCU. Movie Thor has never been the same character as comic Thor. Like all MCU heroes, he has a certain quippy flare. But here, it’s been even more than that. If this is a space opera first and foremost, then it is a buddy comedy second. Superheroics don’t matter til third, at best. And it’s enjoyable all the way through. I expected it to not work. From the second I saw “he’s a friend from work promo,” as much as I loved it, I was afraid that it would be just too silly and slapsticky. I thought, but Thor is supposed to be serious… overly serious. Self-important. This isn’t Walt Simonson‘s Thor. It’s not Stan Lee‘s Thor either. This is a goofball on a goofball comedy romp. Through space. And it works
What made Winter Soldier work is that it was a spy-movie first, with Captain America, Falcon and Black Widow inserted into it. But the spy story always took precedence. The same thing happens here with Ragnarok. This is essentially a standalone movie… a very funny one, about two brothers in a crazy space opera. The previous history of the Thor movies or Avengers movies doesn’t really mater. It’s there. In fact, this movie quite possible has more easter eggs and callbacks to other MCU films than any one that has come before it. But they don’t matter. It may very well be the most watchable of any of the movies since Phase One, without context. In fact, I’d argue that there is really only one scene that feels forced into the film and doesn’t work without the context of the other movies.
And there were times here where I honestly forgot that I was watching an MCU movie or that anything outside of the context of this film mattered. It’s just too different from everything else. But that’s a good thing. In the Avengers movies, Thor is so much more powerful than everyone around him that situations need to be invented just to keep him occupied (magic hot tubs?). Here, there is a very real feeling of peril for him. Everyone is on the god level, so everyone might as well just be human. There are some weird inconsistencies that happen because of this. Sometimes it feels like people are only exactly as powerful (or unpowerful) as necessary to make a scene work. It doesn’t matter. The scenes work. The entire movie works.
It’s not really a Thor movie. But we just got two of those. This is something better. This is Flash Gordon… God of Thunder. I’ll allow it.
★★★★☆+⚡️-? (4 out of 5 stars, plus a a lighting bolt minus a hammer… look it’s just good clean fun.)