No-one thinks that Thor movies are the best ones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration, but most people truly don’t. It is a quite widely known fact that among Marvel’s many branches of movies, TV shows and hundreds of characters, the 2011-built Asgardian universe of Thor movies is a middle tier for most of the viewers. Whether you look at them from an angle of criticism (with the former one having a 77% and the sequal having a 66% on Rotten Tomatoes, and both getting an 7 out of 10 in IMDb) or box office success, (The Dark World being tenth among Cinematic Universe with a growth of $644.6 and the original being the four-teenth with $449.3) the movies at best are mediocre stories that relied heavily on visual effects and at worst, nearly two hours long messes of unnecessary scale and so-called fun.
So, when going into it, I didn’t have much of an expectation from the latest installment of the series, named after the North mythology’s version of end-of-all and the comic arc carrying the same name, other than an interest of seeing some well-liked actors and actresses in good costumes, directed by an over-average director. I didn’t know much about Taika Waititi other than the fact that he was famous for the deadpan humour of What We Do in the Shadows (2014). It is also important here to mention that, since 2015’s unsatisfying Age of Ultron, Marvel’s movies had rarely been outright bad, even-though never great either. They all had redeeming qualities about themselves, behind the rather boring formulation of third act and mostly uninspiring villains.
I left the theatre with a feeling of satisfaction. Ragnarok may not be a perfect movie by any means, but it is one of the best Marvel movies — and representative of a change much needed in supherhero movies. It would be foolish to think that they are leaving our screens soon, but it is also obvious that some changes have to be made if they ever want to be something more than just summer blockbusters or CGI machines. Spiderman: Homecoming is successful in its use of highschool as an integral part of titular character’s life better than any other rendition of web-slinger, as is Deadpool with its characteristic form of fourth-wall breaking. The second X-Men movie was a perfect sequal, Iron Man was a great origin story, and Logan was just overall a beatufilly done masterpiece. But these movies’ strenghts often rely on their differences from the basic superhero formula, and not every film has to be per-se “different” to be good, as proven by Thor: Ragnarok.
So, here three things that worked in Ragnarok, and two things that could have been improved.
What worked? Actors.
Marvel movies are known for their impecable casting for titular, or even secondary characters, and Thor franchise is no different. Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and even Anthony Hopkins — who is in this movie for a very little time — all have good qualities for the roles they play; but the ensemble cast becomes even better with the installments of Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum and Mark Ruffolo. The main four has a chemistry that is necessary for this kind of a production — whether you’d take the movie from its heist perspective or the “group of bandits fighting the oppressive bad guy” perspective. Even the likes of Cate Blanchett and Idris Elba, who stay disconnected from other characters for the most part of the movie — do wonderful things with their respective roles as woman scorned coming to destroy it all and magical Moses saving his people from said destruction.
What didn’t? Big villain and the third act.
Trust me, I like Cate Blanchett very much. And I like the idea of Cate Blanchett playing a villain even more. Hell, my favorite part of the trailer for the movie was her stopping Mjolnir and talking to Thor in that extremely condesending voice.
But it didn’t work. Hela is so out of everything til the very last minute, until when Thor finally comes back to Asgard, she feels like an opposite deus ex machina; as if the writers wanted to movie to only focus on their time in Sakaa’r but then felt like it wasn’t enough for a whole feauture lenght movie, and the name was already there, too. This is not to say that she is better than many other villains, but she still had room for improvement — especially with that weird ending (which will be discussed about) and her whole “I am interacting with the main good guys for five seconds in the first act and then ten minutes in the last”. Of course, this problem goes beyond Hela herself, as the third act of the movie; which focuses on the resolution of these said villains; is not that great either.
The problem with the third acts in comic book movies is not just based on the villains themselves, but rather on the relative outcome of those villains. Many times, that outcome happens to be a blue lightning beam shooting up to the sky and our heroes fighting against faceless adverseries, and this happens in Ragnarok, too — expect that it is not a blue lightning beam but a goddess that is literraly the personification of destruction. Of course, Waititi’s use of camera and pacing helps with providing a different look on said third act, but the problematic essense of the storytelling itself stays unchanged. And sure, you can say that this dislike of the last part of the movie partly comes from how perfect the Sakaar scenes were.
What worked? Director.
One of the best parts of Ragnarok was its visuals, there’s no question about this. The colours, the spectrum, the eighties-on-acid vibe, framing. As seen in his video for “Notes on a Scene” for Vanity Fair, his experience in smaller movies — movies that are more focused on characters rather than fight scenes — helps with creating a world of smaller connections; such as the brotherhood between Loki and Thor, and the newly formed romance between the latter and Valkyrie. Tahiti takes a concept that is very much overdone, even just in the first two movies, but serves it with a new twist. And with the addition of a clever script that doesn’t spend its time creating a whole mythology for a villain that will eventually die at the end of it, he creates world full of the best things about the idea of an Asgardian god fighting his sister (or a green giant): colours, lighting, fight sequences.
What didn’t? In-universe ties to Marvel in the last minute.
This is mostly my personal opinion — but I think that one of the worst aspects of having a franchise as big as Marvel Cinematic Universe is the fact that for it to make sense and seem like a “universe” with it characters connected, solo movies have to serve — in some way — as a gateway to the bigger, more ensemble pieces. At one point, this necessity brings up two problems: one that these connections start to take over the real plot of the movie at times, and two, these connections never seem to be satisfying. In Ragnarok, the latter happened, and the last minute of seeing (spoiler) Thanos with his spaceship (spoiler) left a taste of “here is our big villain, remember?”.
What worked? Exclusion of earth.
One of the greatest parts of Ragnarok was that it never visited earth, not for a second. In this trilogy, it is understandable that the first one spends most of its time on earth, so that the characters have some kind of connection to the planet and of course, the viewer has a sense of normalcy and relatability. In the second installment though, it becomes repetitive and worse, boring. Thor is, in the end, our first hero in the Marvel films that gives the audience and the universe itself a bridge to the outer space and cosmic reality and the fact that Guardians of Galaxy, who were put on the big screen many years later than the God of Thunder, got a movie that spent ninety perfect of its time in space before Thor seems ridiculous. Waititi does better than that.
This change not only helps with giving the movie a chance to look at the greater spectrum of things, but it also gives the director and the procuders create a sense of reality that is for more colorful than the earth.
As said in the beginning, Ragnarok was not a perfect movie, but it was a step taken in the right direction if, and it is necessary that this if becomes a reality, superhero movies are going to be able to transform themselves in accordance to our changing attitude toward filmmaking and keep up with the times.