Thor: Ragnarok came to finish what both Guardians of the Galaxy films started. Instead of honing in on one hero’s dramatic story arc, Ragnarok stars a group of them. The action takes us from planet to planet across all the known galaxy by spaceship and
wormhole anus. But most importantly, Ragnarok acknowledges what we’ve known from the beginning: superheroes are absurd and should be just as ridiculous as they are strong, smart, determined, and attractive. Play is woven into the fabric of the film, from Thor and Loki’s “Get Help” fighting routine to Dr. Strange providing Thor a golden, bottomless beer fit for the Norse god (as promised to us at the end of the sorcerer’s own film). Even more serious topics, like Bannon and Hulk’s brain vs. brawn identity crisis and villain Hela’s description of executioners in Asgard are treated with a jesting lightness.
Ragnarok neatly sidesteps two pitfalls common to recent team-up superhero films: lack of screentime for its individual characters and weakening plot substance for the sake of comedy. In fact, some of the film’s most hysterical moments impressively include dialogue from three or more main characters while simultaneously advancing the story. When Thor, Bannon, and Valkerie discuss Loki’s past mischief while he remains chained but chuckling at their recounting of his past antics, the stratified ages of each character’s relationship with Loki shine: Thor and Loki’s escalating and ongoing brotherly conflict has existed as long as we’ve known them, Bannon last remembers Loki as an alien invader that needed smashing in the first Avengers, and Valkerie — while having as close as possible to a clean slate with Loki — generally mistrusts everyone. This lends itself perfectly to punchlines contrasting Bannon’s concerns with Loki’s murderous moods with Thor’s fond memories of being stabbed by Loki after thinking he was a snake.
The film’s more serious moments feel all the more poignant and starkly emotional against the backdrop of fun and games that dominate most of the dialogue. Watching the Hulk transform back into Bannon after being overcome with rage and grief on seeing Natasha is heartbreaking, and reminds us that the Hulk isn’t the only side of Bannon who carries the weight of his emotions. Heimdall inspires hope in an equally powerful way, and was an unmistakable Jesus figure to me. The way he sees all who are in need and fights for them — often alone in standing against evil and doing so without bravado or recognition — is exactly the kind of hero that inspires me.
So after yet another Marvel movie, what makes Ragnarok stand out? We need look no further than the wonderfully quotable one-liners which litter its script, the well-developed and colorful cast of characters which populate its worlds, the perfected formula of self-aware superhero melodrama that guide its structure, and the underlying lessons of true heroism which are embodied by every main character, major and minor alike. If this is the direction Marvel is taking even a fraction of its future movies, I’m very excited to see what comes next.