BEWARE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
After a four-year absence, the Thor franchise is back! It’s brighter, bolder and more brazen than ever, packed with more epic family drama than you can shake a hammer at.
No longer an earthbound affair, Ragnarok is a full-on cosmic adventure. It’s primarily a comedic film about sense of duty, friendship, and – armed with the stellar duo of Thor and Loki, brotherly love. A kickass new companion in Valkyrie joins the fray alongside the hilarious secret weapon, Hulk. Rounding out proceedings is a villain who just oozes charisma and menace.
However, in order to talk about Ragnarok, you first have to ask: How did we get here?
The 2011 Thor film is a fish-out-of-water story designed to introduce audiences to the fairly high-concept world of Norse Gods in space. Its standout moments set up the dueling dynamic between a brash young Thor and his backstabbing brother, Loki. As the God of Mischief, Loki has a tendency to steal every scene he appears in. After his turn as the primary foe in 2012’s Avengers Assemble he is still widely regarded as the MCU’s best-loved villain.
Thor’s other greatest accomplishment is the Thunder God’s transformation from arrogant prince to wiser, more considerate (but still hot-tempered) protector of earth.
Its sequel Thor: The Dark World left a lot of loose threads dangling for Ragnarok. Thor relinquished his claim to the throne in order to remain on earth with his scientist girlfriend, Jane Foster. His devious sorcerer brother is presumed dead, at least until we find out that he’s shape-shifted into the All-Father’s form and is currently sitting on the throne of Asgard. Which begs the question: Where the Hel is Odin?
Also shrouded in mystery until now was the fate of Bruce Banner, AKA Hulk. Last seen near the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Banner became so horrified by the Hulk’s destructive actions that he abandoned his teammates and flew off into the unknown.
Age of Ultron was the last time either the Hulk or the Thunder God featured prominently, unless you count Thor’s appearance in one of the post-credits scenes at the end of Doctor Strange. Neither played a role in Captain America: Civil War, so the subsequent splintering of the Avengers doesn’t factor into their interactions. The groundwork set up by all of these films is what sets the stage for Ragnarok.
And Ragnarok itself is simply pure joy from start to finish. It’s incredibly funny, sometimes to the point of absurdity (and I mean that as a compliment). At its heart is a story about family that transcends the silliness and stirs all the right emotions.
Ragnarok, from Norse mythology, means the Twilight (or Doom) of the Gods. In a nutshell, it means the end of all things, specifically for Asgard. In Norse legend, Ragnarok is brought about (surprise, surpise) by Loki.
The movie rolls out of the gates with a very different approach. From the opening scene in which Thor monologues a voice-over, you are in both an MCU film and a Taiki Waititi film. A recipe which turns out to be (ahem) lightning in a bottle.
The film possesses not only a different tone, but also a different cast. Jane Foster and her earthly chums Darcy and Doctor Eric Selvig are notably absent (Thor claims it was a ‘mutual dumping’). Also nowhere to be seen is the Lady Sif. Thor’s loyal companions, the Warriors Three do make a brief but memorable appearance. In turn, new supporting characters are brought in, like Skurge the Executioner and the hilarious Korg (played by Waititi himself). A meatier role is at last bestowed upon Heimdall, who gets to do more than stand at the doorway to the Bifrost this time around. Indeed, Asgard itself is a different place. When Thor returns after a two-year absence, he discover that things are not at as he left them.
Loki has been ruling in Odin’s stead with shortsighted proficiency. He’d been having so much fun on the throne that he’s forgotten to pay attention to the rest of the Nine Realms. Without really meaning to, he paves the way for Hela, the Goddess of Death, to return from exile (therefore fulfilling the prophecy that he would ultimately be responsible for Ragnarok).
The Thor films are all about family ties, so it should come as no surprise when Hela is revealed to be Thor and Loki’s sister. She is the eldest sibling, and the most powerful. When she returns from banishment to take over Asgard, she easily vanquishes her brothers and destroys Thor’s hammer (RIP, Mjolnir).
The clash between brothers and sister results in Thor and Loki being spat out of the Bifrost onto another planet. A scavenger, who happens to be the last surviving member of a forgotten sisterhood of female Asgardian warriors called the Valkyries, captures Thor. She has a chip on her shoulder and her only motivation is to drink and be left alone.
Thor is brought before the louche Grandmaster, enslaved and forced to become a gladiator. This is where he encounters the Hulk, whose story is almost straight from the Planet Hulk comics. During that run, the Hulk was stranded on the planet Sakaar and became its most powerful gladiator. As for poor Bruce Banner, he’s stuck in the metaphorical / psychological backseat, with Hulk refusing to give up the wheel.
Eventually, Thor manages to coax Banner out of the Hulk. They form a little team to escape Sakaar, amusingly dubbed ‘the Revengers’. Comprised of the motley crew of Thor, Loki, Valkyrie and the Hulk, the Revengers join forces to go up against Hela and her undead army.
Throughout it’s two-hour and ten-minute running time, the film just zips along, eliciting laughter and providing wonderful character moments at every turn. It’s perhaps the most feel-good superhero film out there, but that doesn’t shy away from a few darker moments. Many of the jokes and the moments of character growth are reliant on familiarity with the previous films, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this film to a newbie.
My recommendation is to watch all of these films, even if it’s solely for the purpose of getting maximum enjoyment out of Thor: Ragnarok. I guarantee that the journey is worth it / worthy!
Thor: Ragnarok is showing at Cineworld Leicester Square. Join us there at our pop-up “Ragna-shop” Saturday October 28!