No matter how Marvel tried to normalize the character, Thor has always been the weirdest thing in the MCU: and I say this knowing full well that Howard the Duck, Cosmo the dog and Uatu the Watcher have all appeared across the expansive mega-franchise. Marvel’s magical space Viking straddles the seemingly incompatible ideas of Superman and polytheism: existing somewhere in the cross-section of a Nordic Captain America and a near-omnipotent deity.
What’s more is that the publisher never quite seemed to know what to do with the character. While it’s always good to have a strongman in the wings for team-ups and especially difficult fights, their approach to him has ranged from being a total goofus to being caught in the throes of Shakespearian tragedy. He’s been both the world-ending instrument of Armageddon (sorry, Ragnarok) and played completely straight after being transformed into a frog. The same volume of his comic series saw him destroying “Gor the God-Butcher” in the dystopic final days of the far-future as well as him taking on an environmentally unfriendly corporation in a small US town.
His film appearances have fared no more consistently. 2011’s Thor was an awkward half-measure against the inevitable weirdness that comes from putting a literal god on the same playing field as an archer, a WWII soldier and former Russian spy. Instead of its operatic story of noble brothers vying for their father’s cosmic throne playing out as a high-concept political thriller, its title character is stripped of his powers and marooned in a backwater, desert town for almost the entirety of the movie’s run-time. Except for its final, action-packed act, most of the movie is a fairly low-stakes, fish-out-of-water, romantic comedy.
Thor: The Dark World leaned more heavily into the weird, cosmic side of the character and was far better for it. We spent more time in Asgard and its associated realms, the chief McGuffin was revealed to be one of the centrally important infinity stones and the character’s terrestrial supporting cast were downgraded to considerably lesser status than the likes of Odin, Loki and the Warriors Three. Similarly, his crossover appearances in the two Avengers movies emphasized his alien origins and cultural distance from his Earthbound teammates.
But it’s only now, with Ragnarok — the literal end of all things — that Marvel finally had its “Eureka” moment. While certainly a standout in the Earth-set crossovers, particularly because of how his Viking mannerisms play off of his more recognizably normal costars, Thor is undoubtedly at his best when fully immersed in the bizarre context of Asgard, aliens and the far-reaches of the cosmos.
To this end, Thor: Ragnarok goes all-in on its own nonsensical premise. Earth is only seen in passing — the final point in a fetch-quest to lock down the unaddressed plot points leftover from The Dark World — and his Earthbound supporting cast — except for fun Doctor Strange cameo hinted at in a post-credit scene last year — are completely absent. This movie is all about Thor.
Although ostensibly about the fall of Asgard — and, by extension, the sins of Colonialism eventually coming to bear upon those that committed them — much of the film’s events take place on Sakaar, a planet ruled over by the tyrannical Grandmaster. It’s Junkion-inspired design gives it a fun, mish-mashed aesthetic that is somehow emblematic of the entire franchise: a bit of Thor, a dash of Hulk and a healthy pinch of Tron.
More than anything, Thor: Ragnarok is a fun, retro-inspired movie that perfectly mixes all of the disparate elements of the franchise into a roughly cohesive whole: the fantasy of Norse mythology with retro sci-fi, exhilarating action scenes with gut-busting humor. It even found something to do with Hulk, which has proven to be consistently difficult for Marvel to figure out.
Often, one of these elements do not sync up perfectly with the others. Thor will kill a scene’s forward momentum with an ill-timed joke or the less-interesting B-plot of Hela’s consolidation of power on Asgard will take us out of just how much fun we were having on Sakaar. Being a Thor movie, Banner’s storyline hardly gets the narrative weight that it deserves, and the fact that nobody thought to have the Valkyrie kick ass to the song “Flight of the Valkyries” is downright criminal.
But even if those moments of tonal or narrative dissonance, Thor: Ragnarok is not just the best Thor movie, but easily among the best that MCU has to offer: up there with The Avengers, either Guardians of the Galaxy and the Captain America trilogy. It takes the entire franchise in a bold, fun new direction and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the MCU is at its best when it leans hard into its own weirdness and simply owns its bizarre, internal mythology.
Buy on BluRay: Absolutely!