Two years have passed since the defeat of Ultron in the battle of Sokovia. Thor has been imprisoned by the fire demon Surtur. While in captivity, the demon reveals that Odin is no longer on Asgard and the realm will soon be destroyed following an event known as the Twilight of the Gods – Ragnarök. Just when Surtur unites his crown with the Eternal Flame burning in Odin’s vault, Thor frees himself. He then battles Surtur’s forces and seizes the demon’s crown. Though he believes he prevented Ragnarök, the battle has only just begun.
WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the series thus far.
Thor realizes upon returning to Asgard that Heimdall is missing. Loki has been posing as Odin, and when Thor exposes him, he forces his exceedingly untrustworthy adopted brother to help him find their father. To this end, they enlist the help of one Stephen Strange, the man who succeeded the Ancient One as the keeper of the Time Stone. With Strange’s help, they find Odin, who has taken refuge in Norway. The King of Asgard is on the verge of death, which is especially unfortunate because his firstborn child, Hela, will escape from a prison once his life has been extinguished.
Naturally, the first question viewers would be asking is why such an important character wouldn’t be mentioned until this installment. Hela, who is based on the mythological figure Hel, had been established in the comics, but in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she effectively didn’t exist until now. It’s not unreasonable for villains to make their debut in their relevant film because knowledgeable characters would have little reason to mention them until they make their move. However, Hela seemingly doesn’t have that excuse, as Thor lived his entire life being unaware he had an older sister. Fortunately, the explanation is a serviceable one. In the distant past, Odin had gone on a campaign to conquer the Nine Realms with Hela by his side. However, he sensed his daughter’s malice, and her ambitions became increasingly extreme. Therefore, he imprisoned Hela and had her erased from history. The bad news is that once Thor and Loki hear the truth from Odin, the king dies, and Hela soon appears on the scene.
Even if her introduction was decidedly abrupt, the Goddess of Death does an amazingly good job establishing herself as a credible threat. Throughout his adventures on Earth and the Nine Realms, Thor had his trusty hammer Mjölnir by his side. Whether he was fending of Loki, the Chitauri, the Dark Elves, or Ultron’s forces, he could count on it to rend any foe foolish enough to oppose him. His encounter with Hela thus marks the end of an era when she effortlessly overpowers Thor, punctuating her triumph by destroying the Mjölnir. The two of them try to make their escape via the Bifröst, but she follows them, pushing them out into space. When she arrives in Asgard, she kills the Warriors Three and revives the ancient dead who once fought with her, including a giant wolf named Fenris. She is now ready to finish what she started eons ago.
When Ragnarok was released, critics considered it to be by far the best film bearing Thor’s name. Although one could argue this perception was bolstered by the original’s missteps and the follow-up’s lack of memorable moments, I can say it is indeed a marked improvement over both. These characters were obviously inspired by Norse mythology, and the fantastic realm of Asgard had a plethora of interesting stories just waiting to be told. The narratives of the first two films then told audiences to disregard all of that in favor of placing Thor on Earth, often focusing on normal humans. To be fair, the Marvel version of Earth is just as otherworldly as Asgard, but the familiar elements make this aspect less obvious. As such, placing Thor on Earth turned out to be a good idea for one film with him as the central focus, but even after reversing the roles between him and Dr. Foster, The Dark World still felt as though it was going through the exact same motions.
Ragnarok, on the other hand, is the film made for those who wanted a Thor story as grand and fantastical as the God of Thunder himself. Once Thor leaves Earth, the rest of his adventures take place in the far reaches of space. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the first film of Thor’s to premiere after Guardians of the Galaxy. James Gunn’s inaugural effort in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a space opera starring a talking raccoon and a mobile tree as two of its lead characters. Nobody expected that film to be as successful as it was – especially given how previous works featuring fairly realistic CGI characters intermixed with live-action ones tended to bomb both critically and commercially. Once it did prove a hit, suddenly, removing Thor from Earth and having him go on an adventure with the Norse mythology facets in the forefront wasn’t too much of a step up from what they previously accomplished. In fact, one could argue it was a step down in terms of wackiness.
This film also answers a question fans following the series had been asking themselves since Age of Ultron. After Ultron took control of the Hulk and made him go on a rampage, the latter opted to leave Earth to parts unknown. Upon being ejected from the Bifröst, Thor crash-lands on the garbage planet Sakaar. He is quickly captured by a slave trader designated Scrapper 142, who sells him to the Grandmaster – the ruler of Sakaar. Loki, true to form, has integrated himself in the Grandmaster’s society, and does nothing to help Thor. The God of Thunder quickly finds himself in gladiatorial combat, with his opponent being none other than Hulk. Loki’s reaction to seeing the Hulk is the single funniest moment in the film, for his previous encounter with the green rage giant left him deeply traumatized – quite jarring for a typically smug character.
The Grandmaster sabotages the fight once Thor gets the upper hand, though both eventually escape. Scrapper 142 is actually one of the Valkrior – the legendary female warriors who died fighting Hela. Although she initially refuses to help, she changes her mind once Loki forces her to relive the deaths of her comrades.
One of my favorite aspects of this film is seeing Thor deal with Loki. The God of Mischief had proven himself a master trickster time and again, effortlessly fooling his adopted brother. That he would ultimately side with the Grandmaster is unsurprising. He would appear to have yet another instance of genuinely repenting when he provides Thor and Valkyrie with information on how to steal one of the Grandmaster’s ships. However, it’s clear he is using their familial relationship to his own ends. In fact, Loki is so predictably disloyal at this point that Thor effortlessly anticipates his inevitable betrayal, and leaves him behind when departing for Asgard.
Although I do think Ragnarok is a significant improvement over its predecessors, it does have one glaring weakness. That is to say, it feels as though the writers tried to cram too many jokes into the film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had no shortage of snappy dialogue, but Ragnarok goes a little too far at times, often ruining otherwise perfectly fine moments. The most obvious example is that the biggest wormhole in Sakaar’s atmosphere is dubbed the Devil’s Anus. While it does admittedly sound like the kind of nomenclature that would exist in certain ancient mythologies, there’s no getting around how infantile it sounds now.
Many of the other jokes fall flat because they are recycled from earlier films. Worse, said recycled jokes were often far more effective in their original contexts. The Hulk thrashing Loki around was a hilarious way of interrupting the latter’s grandiose villain speech. It’s not nearly as amusing seeing Thor on the receiving end of the attack – especially because the punchline was extremely predictable. There’s also a moment in which Bruce Banner attempts to transform into the Hulk by leaping out of the spaceship. Again, I was unsurprised when he crashed into the ground – still Bruce Banner. This moment worked far better in The Incredible Hulk because it was unexpected and even a little dramatic; it made you fear for the character’s life. Here, you’re just counting down the seconds until the Hulk emerges from the Banner-shaped crater.
Nonetheless, in spite of its mistakes, I do believe Ragnarok has an excellent final act. In fact, it was probably the single greatest action sequence the series had since the Battle of New York in The Avengers. It’s definitely a treat for those versed in Norse mythology, as you’ll see many familiar figures battling it out in this incredible sequence. Perhaps the most shocking twist is that not only does Thor fail to prevent Ragnarök, he causes it to happen. Realizing that he and his citizens are Asgard, Thor opts to destroy his homeworld, thus ruining Hela’s plans for conquest. With a little help from Loki, surprisingly enough, they are able to place Surtur’s crown in the Eternal Flame. This causes the fire demon to be reborn, and Asgard is destroyed along with Hela.
With all of the Asgardians aboard the Grandmaster’s spaceship, Thor decides to take his people to Earth whereupon they will establish a new land for themselves. Loki is rightly skeptical of the idea of himself making a return appearance to the planet he tried to subjugate, but goes along with the idea for now. However, just as Thor expresses that everything will work out, a large spacecraft appears before them. It seems as though fate has other plans for the new king of Asgard – especially when he realizes Loki still possesses the Tesseract and, more importantly, the Space Stone contained within it.
If the Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was defined by writers setting up plot points for future films, Phase Three was when the audience’s patience began paying off in the best way possible. This is especially evident in how while The Dark World was often considered the series’ nadir, Ragnarok became a hit with critics. Regardless of the medium, the best works out there tend to be the ones that have no qualms about what they are. Thor was notable for having been one of the few decent fish-out-of-water stories involving a fantasy-themed character in present-day Earth. However, with The Dark World, a disproportionate amount of time was spent focused on characters who didn’t do the fantastical premise justice.
As soon as I saw Thor fighting a horde of demons with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” playing in the background, I knew this subseries finally clicked. Despite its own flaws, Ragnarok was easily the best Thor film issued by Marvel Studios at the time simply by virtue of taking all the fascinating elements of Norse mythology and the Marvel Cinematic Universe and embracing them wholeheartedly. Even if you didn’t care for the first two Thor films, I can easily recommend the third. It has a good mix of humor, action, and drama. Even if some of the jokes are predictable, there are plenty of moments that will catch you off-guard, and the writers’ willingness to make such drastic changes to the status quo is nothing short of admirable.
Final Score: 7/10