Thursday night was once again Thor’s day as his third standalone film, “Thor: Ragnarok,” made its theatrical premiere. Leaving behind the tone of the previous films and introducing some fantastic new elements, “Ragnarok” proved that Marvel could do something different. Or is it really just more of the same?
Before getting to the bad stuff, let’s talk about the good. “Thor: Ragnarok” is tons of fun. It’s colorful, exciting, full of action and laughs, and, most importantly, takes the Thor mythology in a different direction. Hemsworth and Hiddleston return as Thor and Loki respectively and give great performances as they continue to explore their sibling rivalry. Many other previous Marvel actors return or make cameos, including Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Idris Elba and, of course, Mark Ruffalo.
In fact, most of the fun and flavor of “Thor: Ragnarok” comes from the inclusion of The Hulk. Following the 2006 comic storyline of “Planet Hulk,” “Ragnarok” pits Thor and The Hulk against one another in a galactic gladiator showdown. It’s no secret that superhero fans love arguing over what characters would win in a fight, but the fun doesn’t stop there. The inclusion of the “Planet Hulk” storyline forces Thor out of his usual elements — away from Earth and away from Asgard. It’s a colorful change of scenery and Jeff Goldblum’s performance as Grandmaster is incredibly entertaining. But this is also where “Ragnarok” shows that it’s not actually as different as it seems.
Most of the environment and characters we meet during the “Planet Hulk” portion of the film is actually incredibly reminiscent of “Guardians of the Galaxy” — right down to the inclusion of pop culture music. “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka plays as Thor transitions into this new world, and “Immigrant Song” by Led Zepplin plays not once, but twice in the movie. We’re also met with a barrage of slap-stick comedy that has not previously been present in a Thor movie to this degree. This, too, is borrowed heavily from “Guardians.” It seems that any time Marvel tries to step out of the normal pattern, they feel the only way to make people like it is to cover it in jokes.
When “Guardians of the Galaxy” came out three years ago, they were a relatively unknown property. Marvel was taking a risk. Chris Pratt’s goofy and funny performance as Star-Lord was definitely a major selling point of the film, and from beginning to end, it’s full of bright colors, weird creatures and tons of laughs. And that’s what made people love it. It was different. It was new. There was almost no connection to the rest of the MCU. The problem is that now Marvel is too afraid to take a risk.
The MCU movies have all been financial successes because people keep going to see them. Even when they are seeing the exact same movie with a slightly different paint job. The villains tend to be one-dimensional and surrounded by hoards of identical CGI goons. No one important stays dead. There’s no risk and no growth. Even when Marvel claims they are trying something new, they are just treading the same old ground.
Is “Thor: Ragnarok” a good movie? Yes.
Is it something entirely new? Not at all.
If Marvel wants to continue expanding their film universe, they need to be willing to make a change. It’s okay to break the formula. If that means that we sometimes get a movie that’s bad, that’s still better than having twenty that are all “okay.”
The key here is that the movies need to be independent. They can’t all be a lead-up to a big Avengers cross-over movie, and they can’t all look like the same film with new characters. Let the standalone films matter. Let them be different. It worked with “Guardians,” but that doesn’t mean that humor and pop culture are the only ways to be different and make a profit.
DC is coming in strong with their own expanded universe, and Marvel will be facing some real competition. If they want to stay on top, they need to be willing to take risks.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is in theaters now. Go see it and tell me what you think. Is it everything you thought it would be? Or does Marvel need to shake things up? Let me know in the comments below.