By Trevor Robinson-Wong
Marvel’s newest movie, “Thor Ragnarok,” excels at creating a different type of superhero movie that uses comedy as its main storytelling device and relies on areas Marvel has already established itself in furthering the value of the movie: special effects, character development and solid acting performances.
The movie ends the solo character act of Thor movies with an individual plotline, separated from the other ongoing events and characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (except for Bruce Banner/Hulk), and in the process creates an individual story that allows Thor to undergo personal character development on his journey through space, Earth, his homeworld of Asgard, and the new mysterious trash world of Sakkar.
The main basis behind the success of this movie is a changeup from the previous strategy Marvel based its past movies on. Although Marvel has always had a few comedic elements in its prior editions, they had never really made it the primary focal point of a movie like they do in “Ragnarok.” The entire movie is essentially based on comedy. Even in the grimmest and bloodiest fight scenes, a comedic undertone is apparent. At times, this comedy gets a bit in the way of storytelling, but it is ultimately the key element behind the movie entertainment.
Ragnarok is really boosted by the acting performances of new background characters who really effectively deliver their roles. Jeff Goldblum does a spectacular job at exerting a crazed preppy dictator as the Grandmaster, Taika Waititi voices an amazingly funny rock monster Korg, and Benedict Cumberbatch makes a brief but intriguing appearance as Doctor Strange.
A key plot point issue with the movie, however, is the absence of Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. Portman is replaced just fine with Tessa Thompson, who plays Scrapper 142 (Valkyrie) as the new lead female role, but her absence is simply justified as “they broke up.” Seriously? In the last movie, Thor gave up the Kingship of Asgard simply to be with Jane. There needs to be a better justification than just a weak offhand one-line excuse early on in the movie for Marvel’s inability to work out a contract with Natalie Portman.
Ragnarok is truly effective due to its ability to distinguish between what did and didn’t work in the previous Thor installments, and keep the primary parts of those movies that really were effective and worked (Thor and Loki’s back and forth behavior, the storytelling dynamic of Thor losing his hammer, etc.). And through this evolution of the Thor movies, Ragnarok really stands out as its own creation, one not reliant on the Marvel cinematic expanded universe, but instead being its own entity and developing its own story, not entirely based on setting up a future movie plot.
Through this individuality, Ragnarok also creates itself as a movie that can be enjoyed by both the casual observer of movies and a Marvel universe die-hard fan, something that wasn’t really possible in prior Marvel installments, where it felt like one had to keep up with every single movie to totally understand what was going on.