Revisiting Thor: Ragnarok – how the worst Thor film saved the franchise

With Avengers: Infinity War dominating the entire world, Liam Maguren re-watches and re-evaluates Thor: Ragnarok.

Spoilers ahead for Thor: Ragnarok.

I might be a slight defender of Thor: The Dark World, but even I know that sequel did some serious damage to the God of Thunder’s cinematic reputation. As a result, the people were far hungrier for new Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy films in the lead-up to a third Thor. With the release slot already in place, the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed to salvage something from the scraps of this franchise.

Ragnarok doesn’t exactly do this, however. Asgard’s place in the MCU was almost a lost cause at this point, but instead of trying to save it, this third film spends as much time as it can staying away from a burning rubbish heap in order to have the best time possible on – coincidentally – a rubbish heap planet.

This makes Ragnarok both the worst Thor film in the MCU and the best. It’s just easy to let the ‘worst’ part slide.

Thor’s previous films gravitated around family dramas and dynamics. It’s what made Loki such a great villain in Kenneth Branagh’s film and his conflicting brotherhood with Thor is one of the few things The Dark World does decently. Ragnarok also dabbles in whānau woes with the introduction of bloodthirsty half-sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), though this film has little interest exploring this sibling connection. Any potential rapport or tension between them vanishes the moment she says “Kneel.”

Odin’s part has little weight to it, too. Anthony Hopkins doesn’t deliver anywhere near as much gravitas as he used to. Given what his character’s been through and what he unleashed, the former King of Asgard probably should have aimed for an emotion higher than ‘quiet contemplation’.

At least Blanchett put her foot down, adding sinister sass to the slashing and stabbing she commits as the Goddess of Death. It’s a good thing, too, because there’s nothing else making her a memorable villain.

There’s a cool plot point she reveals about the bloody history Odin tried to hide from his kingdom, but this is barely explored. It doesn’t affect Thor. It doesn’t affect Loki. It doesn’t have the opportunity to phase anyone in Asgard, really. It’s a pity because forcing a well-to-do society to face the reality that their empire was built on top of graves could have been really interesting and relevant.

The worst part, though, is how the film unceremoniously kills off major characters in the franchise. Say what you want about the previous movies, but Sif and the Warriors Three were always welcomed inclusions. In Ragnarok however, poor Hogun is turned into a three-minute kebab while Fandral and Volstagg barely finish a sentence before they cark it. Sif may not have gotten the axe, but I’m guessing her contract did – she doesn’t even make an appearance here.

Ragnarok does a poor job building on what the previous films set up. In this sense, that’s what makes it the worst Thor film in the MCU.

Of course, you might be thinking, “Who were those Warrior Three guys again?” And who could blame you? Who could blame any general audience member for not being that invested in this sub-franchise?

In fact, Ragnarok relies on you not giving a shit about any of this Asgardian stuff. This film is a parody of the franchise, pulling off a Deadpool-like judo flip on itself for laughs. We know this because there is a moment that literally re-enacts a Thor: The Dark World scene like an overdramatised high school play.

The film purposely sacrifices itself in order to deliver a different kind of entertainment. And, against all odds, it works.

Chris Hemsworth has never seemed more confident and comfortable playing this kind of Thor, the type whose pride and power is the muscular butt of jokes. Whether it comes in the form of thinking his Avenger code name is The Best Avenger or the wimpy way he reacts to Stan Lee cutting his glorious locks, the Son of Odin learns humility once again. It’s just a different kind of humility that plays perfectly into director Taika Waititi’s comedic mitts.

(This interview from Dazed gives a great breakdown to just how perfect Waititi was for this and Dan Taipua’s exploration into the film’s indigenous ideologies is valuable reading.)

Hulk has his script flipped too, going from “I’m always angry” to “I’m always kinda sensitive about the negative things people on Earth say about me so maybe I should just stay on the violent planet where I’m appreciated”.

This clown mirror also reflects other films in the MCU franchise. Following up the trauma he experienced in The Avengers, Tom Hiddleston gives quite possibly the greatest cut-to-facial-reaction shot ever when the Hulk is first introduced. Black Widow’s “sun getting low” line from Age of Ultron sounds hilariously awkward coming from Thor, who has hardly ever had a conversation with Bruce Banner let alone a meaningful relationship. Even Universal’s The Incredible Hulk gets a noogie, repeating the throw-Banner-out-a-plane trick but with his puny human body hitting the floor like a sock full of playdough.

And then there are the new additions. Valkyrie is a genuinely tragic character, battle-hardened badass and a “booze hag” played superbly by Tessa Thompson who deserves a MOUNTAIN of praise for being an American actor that nails a British accent. Waititi personifies his method of downplaying superhero dramatics through the Kiwi-fied Korg, the chilled-out rock-man who I’m sure will be added to the proud legacy of Space Māori in cinema. And then there’s the Grandmaster, Jeff in full Goldblum whose psychotic Snagglepuss of a leader makes him the most interesting villain in the film.

Almost everything to love about Thor: Ragnarok takes place on Grandmaster’s rubbish planet while all the dull stuff happens on Asgard. That’s pretty telling for a Thor film that actively seeks to not be a Thor film and it comes to no surprise that they blow the whole planet up on the beat of another joke.

For rabid fans of the previous two films, it’s understandable why they’d reject this one for not taking the franchise seriously. For anyone else who finds the idea of a royal caped God-bro with a magic flying hammer to be a bit silly, this is the most entertaining Thor film you’ll ever get.