At this point in America, there are two types of people: those who enjoy the nearly decadelong series of Marvel Avengers movies ... and deplorables. That’s about it. If you don’t like these movies by now, you’re probably a deplorable who hates everything coming out of Hollywood or you just hate superhero movies because you only watch PBS and C-SPAN. Sorry, those are your only options.
So the question is no longer are the Marvel superhero movies good—Disney’s brand management and quality control of the franchise is up there with apple pie and the iPhone—but how good is the latest installment, Thor: Ragnarok?
More importantly, does this movie actually have black and brown people who are actively a part of the plot, or is it some gentrified diversity trash like Spider-Man: Homecoming?
The answer to both is pretty interesting, and you don’t even need that many spoilers to find out.
Thor: Ragnarok is a visually stunning, loud, bright, hilarious ’80s-throwback film in all the best ways possible. Not in a kitschy, nostalgic, VH1 I Love the 80s type of way; more in a thematic, world-building Stranger Things way. Director Taika Waititi captures the synthesized music, bright neon colors, side-scrolling action and humor of movies like Krull, Highlander, Star Trek: Wrath of Kahn, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and, of course, Flash Gordon, which were all commercial and cult favorites.
Whereas the ham-fisted Guardians of the Galaxy movies try to repackage the age-old “cocky, Midwestern white guy stumbles into heroism and wins over the native/alien/brown woman” shtick with an easy-listening, early-’80s soundtrack, Thor: Ragnarok gives you the ’80s aesthetic without the annoying lovable, lunkhead, white-hero aftertaste. Black people, brown people (even green people) and women all play significant, independent roles in the movie in both action and comedy. It’s glorious.
In the context of the larger Avengers universe, Thor: Ragnarok explains what’s happened to Thor (and the Hulk) in the two years since Avengers: Age of Ultron ended. Thor has been having dreams that Asgard will face ultimate destruction in Ragnarok, which is basically Asgardian Armageddon, and he is traveling around the dimensions trying to stop it. Hulk has ended up on some weird gladiator world, which is a real treat if you read the excellent Planet Hulk comic a few years back.
Over the course of the movie, between witty one-liners and action sequences, Thor is beaten, kidnapped, meets a ton of guest stars, starts his own team, foments a revolution and completes the personal arc you totally forgot he had from the first Thor movie. Will the little god-king son of Odin learn to be anything more than a mead-swilling hot head running from adventure to adventure? The answer is “Yes.”
More importantly, Marvel has finally made a movie where black characters and women aren’t window dressing but actually live in the story. In the first two Thor films, his home planet/dimension of Asgard looked like a gentrified neighborhood during Renaissance Faire weekend. In Thor: Ragnarok, the crowds of Asgardians, the soldiers, even the bad guys, come in all colors and genders. No powerless sidekicks. No agency-free, brown love interests.
This is a new and welcome development across all of the Avengers movies. No black woman had spoken more than about three consecutive lines of dialogue in a Marvel film until 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (the 14th movie in the Marvel movie franchise), so Tessa Thompson as the boozy, haunted Valkyrie was a major improvement.
Idris Elba’s character Heimdall has evolved from the interdimensional doorman in the first Thor movie to a hero in his own right in Thor: Ragnarok. I still don’t understand why Thor’s Heimdall and Bishop from X-Men: Days of Future Past have to shop exclusively at the “Lone Black Revolutionary Guy” section at Hot Topic (maybe they had a sale on tattered capes and colored contact lenses), but that’s a minor complaint.
All of the people of color in the movie managed to get through the film without dying for, worshipping or falling in love with Thor, and for that, I am forever thankful to Waititi.
Speaking of being grateful, even though he’s not black or brown, Jeff Goldblum might be the only technically white man in Hollywood who can cosplay as the Rock and not be in blackface.
I mention this because in addition to Thompson and Elba, Goldblum steals the show as the Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok. Goldblum has achieved that Christopher Walken character-actor status where, at this point in his career, no matter what the role, he only plays an extreme version of his own personality and you love it anyway. Come for the black characters and Thor’s humor, stay for the Jeff Goldblum monologues as Grandmaster.
Unless you’re auto-correcting “covfefe” on your phone or planning evil, you will like Thor: Ragnarok. Is it the best Marvel movie made? Of course not. For all of the action and cinematic beauty, Ragnarok’s ending is somewhat flat. It’s almost as if the director had a more grandiose plan but had to cut it short to fit the movie into next year’s Avengers: Infinity War. (The ending of Ragnarok seems to flow right into the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer.)
Plus, we all know that the best Marvel movie ever made is Black Panther (it doesn’t matter that it hasn’t come out yet—have you seen the trailer?). However, Thor: Ragnarok is the best Thor movie ever made, and if it turns out to be the end of a trilogy, at least this time, all genders, races and species got to come along for the ride.