WASHINGTON, December 24, 2017: “Thor: Ragnarok” is a significantly different film from its predecessors. It various considerably in its approach to the way Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been portrayed thus far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). “Thor: Ragnarok” charts a different plot and character trajectory from the existing canon of MCU films.
When Marvel Studios first launched the MCU, they doled out most of popular, sustainable comic book franchises were to other studios. With the option of direct cinematic control gone, Marvel was forced to lean on its stalwart characters, those who have remained in the comic company’s canon since the ‘60s.
Leaning heavily on the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor offered some measure of control for Marvel, but entailed a large degree of uncertainty as well. Of course, that uncertainty became history after the stunning success of “Iron Man” launched Marvel’s multi-film, multi-billion dollar franchise, one that is unique in cinematic history.
Up to this point – and if word of mouth is any indicator, for the foreseeable future – Marvel Studios has yet to have a failure on their hands. But that doesn’t mean that every Marvel film has been an unqualified success.
The general consensus today is that the Captain America films remain the standard bearers for MCU quality. In addition, the first “Iron Man” film still holds up that quality standard for many fans.
Granted, the two Iron Man films that followed might be debatable in terms of their quality. But even so, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is such a dynamic personality that sometimes “quality” is rendered irrelevant.
Both Iron Man and Captain America have story lines that are defined by their characters. Iron Man strongly reflects Tony Stark’s urge to control/protect everything single detail of his powers and his approach.
When it comes to Captain America, his character is defined by the way Steve Rogers reacts to the world of the past, present and future and how it defines him as both a man and an icon. Both characters’ themes are the bedrock of the Iron Man and Captain America movies and comics.
Unlike Iron Man and Captain America, it’s hard to make similar arguments when it comes to Thor and the way he has been presented in Marvel’s films.
Early Marvel comics once portrayed this superhero-god as being tied to a mortal coil in the form of Dr. Donald Blake. But that was a long time ago. Marvel’s current superhero films don’t acknowledge it, or much else either for that matter. Unlike his Avenger counterparts, Thor remained something of a cypher, character-wise. We know in great detail who and what both Iron Man and Captain America are. As for his character, we’ve remained largely in the dark.
“Thor” and “Thor: Dark World” never did the leg work necessary to form this character outside the notion that this superhero is a muscle-bound, golden haired god. Unlike Iron Man and Captain America, he lacked a distinctive character in Marvel’s films. As a result, the first pair of “Thor” films are among the most forgettable in the Marvel canon as it exists today.
A lot of this has to do with that crucial issue of character. Out of our powerful superhero triumvirate, it is arguable that Thor actually has the most beloved comic book-based story of all. But most of that has to do with the strength of its creator – writer/artist Walt Simonson – rather than anything directly tied to Thor’s character. Sadly, that extra something that Simonson provided for Thor in the comics was MIA in the first pair of this superhero’s films.
The general critical consensus puts both these films squarely at the bottom of the MCU canon. It’s not so much that they’re bad films. Their structure is solid, the visuals are fine, but everything just feels like a paint-by-numbers piece of art.
Part of the problem was that the first pair of Thor films tried to capture the grandiose spectacle of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” adaptations as repackaged into a nominal superhero story. But part of the appeal of “Lord of the Rings” was the rich, complex backstory that made the current events feel huge.
But with these initial Thor films, the title character remained a vague and indefinite figure. That’s why everything he did in both movies ended up falling rather flat from an emotional standpoint.
But all that has changed with the recent debut of “Thor: Ragnarok” on the silver screen.
Next: Taika Waititi’s rollicking new vision for the character of Thor