SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok follows.
When it comes to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I appear to be a bit of an outlier in the sense that I’ve actually enjoyed the Thor movies thus far and have always felt they were under-rated. In fact, I enjoyed the first two Thor movies more than I did Iron Man 2 and 3. Some people consider Thor bland, but I actually found his character interesting. As opposed to the eternal “goody two-shoes” Steve Rogers and the endlessly snarky and impulsive Tony Stark, the Thor movies have given us a flawed character with actual growth as he goes from an arrogant hot-head to a more humble and thoughtful hero worthy of wielding Mjölnir. The Thor movies also gave us one of the MCU’s most iconic non-hero characters so far in Loki, and for my money the Thor/Jane Foster romance was one of the best developed romances. The 2nd movie also gave us tragic death of Frigga and possible signs of redemption for Loki, in addition to one of the most intriguing cliff-hangers yet when it was discovered that he had somehow stolen the Asgardian throne from Odin.
All of this was despite the fact that the Thor movies also had to do some heavy lifting in the MCU in terms of introducing magic and aliens, explaining the concept of the infinity stones and setting up Loki as the big bad of the first Avengers movie.
So I had perhaps some higher hopes for the third stand-alone Thor movie, especially since it seemed like it would continue what I consider to be a great balance of humor and sci-fi/fantasy action that the first movies established.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: This movie is hilarious and probably the funniest MCU movie since the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Hardly a minute goes by without some clever wisecrack or bit of slapstick comedy, and most of the jokes land. Chris Hemsworth has some great comic timing and a great rapport with Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo (both as Bruce Banner as the Hulk).
What are you, Thor, god of hammers?
Speaking of Hiddleston, Loki remains one of Marvel’s most fleshed out and all around best villains, even if he hasn’t been a true antagonist for a few movies now. Despite rightfully not being trusted by anybody, he still manages to surprise and keep the audience on their toes. Is he on the path to redemption? Still a villainous trickster god fooling everybody? A shade of grey anti-hero? He’s all of these things at different points in the movies, and even by the end, it’s still hard to tell where he falls and what his role will be in the coming Infinity War. Hiddleston does a great job of conveying the mix of emotions that Loki is feeling throughout the movie, particularly regarding the death of Odin and his strained partnership with his brother.
For starters, the beginning of the movie felt incredibly rushed, as if director Taika Waititi wanted to squeeze as much plot into as short an amount of time as possible so he could get to Sakaar and get the crazy misadventures going. Thor returns to Asgard after defeating Surtur and immediately uncovers Loki’s betrayal (despite seeming to have been utterly fooled by it at the end of The Dark World). From there, we have a quick visit to Earth, a brief encounter with the Sorcerer Supreme, and then a reunion with Odin. Their father bluntly tells his sons that he’s dying, that they have an older sister, and that she’s coming to kill them all. Odin then immediately turns into a sparkling cloud (dies?). Hela arrives mere seconds later, smashes Mjölnir, and Thor and Loki get sent off to the far reaches of spaces while trying to escape. That’s a lot of major revelations and events that happen in the space of maybe 15 minutes. The giant cliff-hanger of Loki having usurped the Asgardian throne is tossed aside as an inconvenient plot-line. Odin, the great protector of the Nine Realms, is unceremoniously killed off without any explanation as to how or why. Even the bombshell of a revelation that Thor has an older sister is barely addressed through the remainder of the movie.
Despite all that happens to Thor, none of it ever seems to register emotionally with him. Death must be even tougher for an Asgardian who lives for hundreds (thousands?) of years, and yet Odin’s passing hardly seems to register at all. There were no tears shed, which was quite a change from how devastated Thor was in the first movie when Loki lied to him and told him Odin had died. Frankly, throughout the movie Thor seems more concerned about the destruction of Mjölnir than his father’s death and Hela’s invasion of Asgard, as he mentions the destruction of his hammer multiple times (including to the vision of his deceased father!).
Speaking of unresolved emotional arcs, a word has to be said about Bruce Banner/Hulk. The discovery that Bruce had been the Hulk for two years without ever changing back seemed like a huge development in his character (that and Hulk is apparently capable of saying more than just “Puny God“). Later, Bruce confesses his worry to Thor that the next time he changes into the Hulk, he might never come back. That adds extra weight to his decision to save the Asgardians in the climactic battle, but it leaves Bruce Banner’s ultimate fate strangely unresolved. We don’t see Bruce Banner again in the movie and given his Wile E Coyote type splat moments before that final transformation, there’s a very good reason to think that not only is the transformation to the Hulk permanent, but Bruce Banner might very well be dead. This seems like a giant unresolved thread to be left hanging.
Death all around was treated too flippantly for my liking in Ragnarok. While I understand the need to emphasize the threat of Hela, I found it a little odd how quickly the entire forces of Asgard were defeated. And while the callousness with which Hela dispatched the Warriors Three isn’t surprising, the lack of regard that Ragnarok had for treating their deaths with a modicum of respect is. While never major characters, the Three were far from random extras to be dispatched in mere seconds and with absolutely zero time allowed to process their deaths. It also would’ve been nice to have had a moment of recognition or reflection from Thor about the deaths of his friends at some point. Also, where was Lady Sif? It felt odd that the movie dwelled more on the death of Skurge than it did on any of the Warriors Three (or frankly, even Odin’s death).
I mentioned Loki in the “Pros”, but I felt like the way he was treated by the plot was very much a “Con”. Ragnarok totally defanged Loki and turned the fearsome villain that required assembling Earth’s mightiest heroes to stop him into a punch-line whose purpose was to get endlessly humiliated. He was portrayed as a bumbling buffoon while pretending to be Odin and then was so soundly and easily defeated by Doctor Strange, that it really begs the question of why Loki’s Chitauri invasion wasn’t quickly and easily stopped by The Ancient One previously. And about “The Tragedy of Loki” play that ultimately proved to be Loki’s undoing? Count me as somebody who wasn’t a fan of all of the cameos. It’s one thing to have Stan Lee cameos (especially if he is, in fact, a watcher), but throwing in such a recognizable actor in such a blatant way really felt like too much in terms of pulling the audience out of the movie and it felt like one step too close to outright parody.
In Ragnarok, there is no dramatic moment that isn’t either rushed through or capped with a joke.
This is legitimately tough. Casual superhero movie fans (or even those who don’t consider themselves fans) who enjoy a good laugh will almost certainly like this movie. Hardcore fans of the MCU movies simply have to see this movie because of the universe-shaking events that take place in it, but I imagine they might be fairly disappointed with the irreverence shown towards some characters. Those who are critical of Marvel movies for being too comedic and prefer the gritty realism of Nolan’s Batman trilogy should definitely stay away. I’m glad I saw it, and I enjoyed myself while watching it, but I really wish it was a different type of movie. If this is Thor’s last stand-alone movie, then it’s a disappointing way to go out.