-pokes head from under covers- we good? Everyone has seen it? No one is going to get spoiled. I’m talking about Thor Ragnarok of course which has FINALLY opened in the US as well. What’s going on America. Has Marvel put you guys on timeout or something? No movies for you until everyone else has seen them? But I digress. My non-spoilers heavy review of the movie is that I love-love-loved it! I’m not saying there weren’t problems, but the overall movie left on the much happy/much feels end of the scale. Any more in-depth analysis will be very spoiler-y so you will find it under the huge-ass poster I am about to attach to this post! See you on the other side!
SPOILERS START HERE!
Ok, that should be enough warning for everyone. Now, this isn’t going to be an essay-length piece. I leave these to the professionals and really, I just want to talk about a few bits and pieces that got me thinking while I was watching the movie.
First things first: Odin’s death leading to Hela’s release:
This may be super headcanon-y on my part but I call bullshit. Odin might have had his (major major) flaws as a character but even with that I doubt he would be arrogant enough to bind the imprisonment of one he considered dangerous enough to kick-start the Apocalypse to his continued existence. Aesir are not immortal and Hela is the goddess of Death. Ragnarok or no Ragnarok, she would inevitably burry them all. What I think was meant was that Hela’s imprisonment was fueled by the power of the king of Asgard (which is all but outright said to be a reflection of the overall state of Asgard the realm. Conversely this is a motif very commonly found on Irish and Welsh legends, a great example being the Mabinogion). So here is what I think happened:
- Loki mind-wipes Odin and drops him on Earth faster than you can say retcon. He assumes his place on the throne therefore ensuring that a king still reigns in Asgard, even if he does so under a glamour. (mid-Dark World until beginning of Ragnarok)
- Thor all but outright rescinds his claim on the throne, pretty much cementing the claim Loki has, if only by virtue of having no one else to assume the throne (end of Dark World)
- Thor returns to Asgard and exposes Loki, effectively nullifying his position as king. At the same time Thor himself does not immediately assume the throne and Odin is off to Earth doing who knows what. (beginning of Ragnarok)
This is where things begin to get complicated. Suddenly we have three different men with pretty equal claims to the throne, none of which is actually king. I think this is where the spell holding Hela back is beginning to unravel. Let us not forget that one of the major points of the movie is that Thor needs to learn to distinguish his own inherent power (and one might say ability to lead his people as king) from that which he has inherited from his father as an aid to get him started on this path (which is why I think they chose to destroy Mjolnir so early in the movie, instead of the final battle). So at this stage, let’s timestamp it as the period between Thor returning to Asgard and the two brothers finding Odin in Norway, the spell is falling apart without any fuel but keeps trying to go on on sheer momentum.
Which brings me to my next point. I think Odin is already dead (and I mean that in the physical sense) by the time they find him. Bear with me, I’m about to get symbolic. Before Frigga’s death in Dark World she jokes that she is the reason Odin has survived as long as he has (which I fully accept since she is made of WIN). Now that could be banter between the two of them but notice how quickly Odin deteriorates after she dies. A large part of that is fuelled from gried (again, entirely understandable) but grief alone does not explain how increasingly unhinged he becomes from one scene to the next. It also doesn’t explain how he doesn’t recognise Loki under the glamour. Far be it from me to diss Loki’s skills but one thing that wasn’t faked in that sequence was the stab wound he got. I figured a good chunck of magic is being used to heal him and keep him standing, and on the throne scene, where he is disguised as a guard, the glamour is slipping a little.
So here is what I think happened. Maybe Loki returned to kill Odin. Maybe he returned to deliver the news of his “death” and see how people would react. Maybe he just decided to pop by to raid the library. I think at that point not even he could make out his motives. Whatever the reason, he manages to trick Odin in thinking him dead. Odin is still grieving the loss of his wife, the one pillar of unquestionable support he had (in chess terms, once you lose the queen, the game is pretty much lost). Add to that the perceived betrayal of Thor who runs off to what for all they know is a suicide mission and now the loss of his other son….well…..after Dark World originally came out many fans theorised that Odin was in the Odinsleep rather than dead. I agree with that theory. It’s not the first time we’ve seen him go into that state when the pressure became too much for his mind to cope (i.e. first Thor movie). The major difference is that now Frigga is not there to protect him as she has done before (I think it’s Loki that says in the first movie that Frigga does not leave her husbands bedside when he Sleeps). What if this guardianship is not just an expression of love but her way of acting as an anchor, allowing him to find his way back to his physical body?
So Loki is lead with an unconscious Odin and a kingdom that someone needs to run. Sound familiar? Only this time he knows better. He works from the shadows. He mind-wiped Odin before dropping him off to earth, ensuring that even after (if ever) he wakes up from his catatonic state he will be powerless to interfere, even if his memories return since everyone would assume his words to be insane ramblings. Odin indeed wakes up as an amnesiac (and off screen dammit). It should have ended there, but clearly some of his magic was still active (perhaps the spell leaching off him since at that point “Odin” was still called king). Dr Strange finds him and lifts the memory spell. And here is where things get interesting. You’d think the second that happened Odin would march straight back to Asgard. He doesn’t. He goes to Norway instead, the site I assume the Asgard-Jotunheim war was waged back in the early Viking era (or the flashback sequence of the first movie, lol). Why? Perhaps he knows he is dieing and it makes him introspective. Perhaps he knows his death would potential release Hela and therefore he is uncharacteristically selflessly trying to draw her away from people. Maybe it’s both.
Or maybe, when Dr Strange lifted the spell, some of Odin was already lost either to the afterlife or to the void. Remember, when he “dies” in front of Thor and Loki, there isn’t a body left. He turns in the same star matter Frigga’s body turns at her funeral (which I thought was some kind of magic or maybe even an indication that she ascends to Valhalla since she died in battle). Odin doesn’t die in battle, he just kinda… fades away. No way he’s going to Valhalla in this continuity, I don’t care if technically it’s his hall. So maybe most of him is already dead and his spirit lingers just long enough to deliver his final messages. After all, Hela’s imprisonment start to visibly break before he’s fully disappeared. And let us not forget that his “mortal” form is the way he appears afterwards in Thor’s visions. If that was Thor’s subconscious trying to knock some sense to him, would Odin appear as a frail man or as the powerful king Thor would remember from his youth? Unless he is as spirit, projecting himself to his son’s mind for the same purpose (and the mythological Odin did have aspects of a chthonic deity so it’s not that unlikely).
Hela. Just. Hela.
My Lady Death was definitely one of the high points of the movie. She kicked ass, took names and looked absolutely flawless in the process. Surely there is nothing wrong with her, even if her death scene was hilariously anticlimactic (and seriously how can the GODDESS OF DEATH die? Oxymoron much?). Except for one tiny little detail. THEY MADE HER THOR’S SISTER! WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL (OR HEL, I’M NOT PICKY AT THIS POINT)??? Why would that be a problem since the Aesir/Vanir family trees had already be torn to shreds by the comics and subsequently the the earlier movies? Because even the comics did not shrink from acknowledging that Hela, Fenrir and (the conspicuously absent) Jormungand are Loki’s children. Through all the deaths, rebirths and universe ends, that fact remained. And yes, I know the Thor and Loki of the movies are meant to be younger than their comics counterparts. (much younger in fact. A fan figured out the Midgard-Asgard age differentiation and, assuming that Jotnar have the same life-span as Aesir, Loki is the equivalent of 18 in the first Thor movie. Let that sink in for a moment) My tendencies towards mythological puritanism aside, there are several other reasons why Hela’s character would have worked better as Loki’s daughter rather than Odin’s.
- It pretty much destroys Frigga’s character as a protective and loving mother. Because let’s be honest, if Frigga was indeed “the only reason [Loki] is still alive”, do you think she would have passively allowed what happened to her first-born daughter? Or went along with her erasure from Asgardian history? I don’t think so. Therefore what happened? If I recall the Eddas correctly, Frigga is not Odin’s only wife so maybe the implication is that the whole Hela episode happened before she and Odin were wed? Notice how she is absent from the mural depicting Asgard’s past.
- Hela as the scorned child of Odin would serve not just as the villain but also as Thor’s foil. A foil that is not necessary since any lesson that might have been learnt from such a conflict has been covered through his love-hate sibling relationship with Loki. To reiterate it is not necessary. I suppose she could be his foil in terms of mastery of their individual powers. After all she also used to wield Mjolnir but clearly grew out of needing it to channel her powers. Thor still relies to his magic hammer until at least halfway through the movie, and even then it’s touch and go for a while.
- Still, villains are necessary for conflict and this is how Hela could have provided a more complex antagonist as Loki’s daughter. We have seen how Odin’s A+ parenting affected not only his children, but also (and since his governing style is similar) the Nine Realms as a whole. These are the immediate effects. But how about long-term effects?
- With as long as the Aesir life-cycle is these long-term effects could have a far greater ripple effect than what we might assume. A vengeful Hela returning to take revenge for her banishment would be one of those effects. It would add a further point of tension between Loki and Odin which would make any retrospective viewing of the Phase 1 and 2 movies more nuanced.
- It would also offer more tangible tension between Loki and Hela (other than the “gods, is that what I sounded like back in the Avengers?” vibe I couldn’t help but get). There would have been an undercurrent of bitterness, a question of why didn’t Loki do something either during his reign in Thor or later after he fell off the Bifrost. It would raise the question of whether he was following on Odin’s footsteps in terms of parenting (a terrifying idea if there ever was one…)
- Thor not knowing who Hela was could still be maintained. You could have Hela been on Asgard for a short time in her childhood, perhaps during one of Thor’s earlier quests. If her presence hadn’t be made known to the general public, it would have been relatively easy to hide her existence and banishment from Thor after the fact. Which, again retrospectively, would provide a further point that would drive apart the two brothers. In both the comics (especially the more modern ones) and the movies one of the major causes of conflict between the two is less Loki being an unrepentant villain and more the secrets kept from one another leading to feelings of mistrust and betrayal on both sides.
- The question of genetics AND character design.Yes, any great diversion on Hela’s character model from her comics counterpart would have probably resulted in riots. And kudos to the costume department for making that headdress look less silly and more intimidating. I was honestly surprised. I mean come on! Look at this! How even?! But I digress. Case in point, she looks like Loki’s daughter in the movies. Dark hair, green eyes, similar armour colour skin, similar fondness for stabbing people…. Unless Odin’s (very) hypothetical first wife also coincidentally looked like Loki then the genetics don’t add. And don’t tell me it’s magic and her shaping her appearance to match her role (which, again, who does it remind you of?). No, what I think happened was that in an earlier draft of the script she was Loki’s daughter and then further down the editing process it was changed for whatever reason.
So yeah, these were my major complaints. Also, not nearly enough Valkyrie, but we dodged a bullet with her not being Thor’s maybe-lady for the movie so thank gods for small mercies. Still wish she had a name. Valkyrie is a title, it doesn’t count. Nor does it make sense since she’s sworn off that kind of life/service/calling/whatever. It just bugged me. And while we’re on the subject of potential love interests, what the hell happened to Jane? Or Sif? I mean yeah, I kinda assumed Sif was at the Collector’s House of Wonders guarding the Aether, since they have confirmed she is alive. But Jane? Her relationship with Thor was on of the core plot threads in Dark World. Even if Natalie Portman couldn’t appear in Ragnarok due to scheduling conflicts or whatever, there are a hundred different ways you can explain away the absence. Like her character or not, she deserved better than a who-dumped-who joke. (Although Loki’s little eyeroll on the side was pretty funny.
While on the subject, Loki as usual stole the show. And it was nice his character (finally) got some closure without him going full Jedi on us.
What do I mean? Well the hope of redemption has been a large part of the character’s wider appeal since he first made puppy eyes on the screen and Tumblr spontaneously spawned an army of fangirls (and boys, let’s be real). But up until this point the implication was that this was unlikely. The dichotomy between good!Thor and evil!Loki was too obvious, never mind both of them are as morally grey as they come. I’m not gonna sit here and say that Thor is Lawful Good when he damn near made a war out of a petty insult. Heck, it’s even been acknowledged by the character himself! In canon! “[Bilge snipe] are repulsive. And they trample everything in their path. When I first came to Earth, Loki’s rage followed me here, and your people paid the price. And now, again. In my youth, I courted war.” Thor’s own character development from movie to movie is also fascinating and I may talk about it more at some point but I seem to have sidetracked myself again…. I blame the gif!
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that the assumption was that Loki could not be redeemed because no way he could be good like Thor was. But Ragnarok proved that that was not necessary. Under his reign Asgard is flourishing (the director’s words, not mine) even there is a certain fatalistic sense to it. Thor accuses him of cutting of the Realm from their allies and basically letting the rest of Yggdrasil to go hang. But unlike Thor, Loki has had first-hand experiences with Thanos. I’m pretty sure he “failed” on Midgard’s invasion in the Avengers partially to get out of Thanos’ thumb (because you cannot tell him that was him trying his best.) I honestly don’t think Loki believes Thanos can be beat. So if all is to end, why not make the last few days or years or centuries happy and idyllic?
What is more, even with all the backstabbing going on in this movie (and wasn’t that a lovely lampshade that particular trope received?) and overall oaths he wants to see Asgard burn to the ground, when he comes back at the triumphant saviour (and that’s what a good payoff looks like by the way) it’s not just for his brother. It’s for the people too. He’s the one who stays close to the ship to make sure the people make it there before he gets called off to deus ex summon Surtur into the climax. Also that final scene between him and Thor before Infinity Wars comes a-knocking to ruin the mood. I can’t have been the only one who got weepy in seeing him finally in peace.
Still a little bitter that my two favourite sorcerers did not get to geek out but I’m holding out for Infinity Wars. And fanfiction.
I just had a look at the word count.
So much for this not being essay-length….
Ok, I’m gonna rapid-fire some more positives at you guys before I get to analysing again and we end up with a thesis to deal with.
- The soundtrack was glorious and I will be getting my hands on it ASAP (which reminds me… I need to get the Dark World one too…)
- Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster. I haven’t seen the character in the comics so I don’t know how loyal the portrayal was but for the MCU? Nailed it. And he wasn’t super-creepy, unlike the Collector, who always reminded me of a demonic David Bowie. You know. Less than…. David Bowie’s actual sorta-demonic, I don’t care if he’s called the Goblin King, performance. Before anyone shoots me, I do in fact love the Labyrinth, in all its cheesy, glittery, potentially LSD induced glory.
- The fact the the Grandmaster and Loki were totally flirting and none of you can take that away from me! HA!
- The Hulk as a character and not a plot device. Also the fact that he got character development and the fact that we don’t sweep under the rug the effect all this had to Bruce Banner.
- Korg. Just. Korg.
- The utter ineffectiveness of Skurge as a replacement!Heimdall. (“You had one job!”)
- Heimdall also kicking ass and taking names.
- The much wider use of magic and runes, because bog-dangit you’re space Vikings! Do something stereotypical already. And yes I will be going back to that scene and trying to translate what the runes actually say.
- Asgard going BOOM
- That fact that Asgard is canonically four elephants and a turtle away from being Discworld.
- Doctor Strange being an absolute sassmaster and teleporting because he can.
- The implication that some of Odin’s trophies are fake. Because, let’s be honest. It’s consistent with the character….
- Alternatively that there were originally two infinity gauntlets. The thought fills me with the appropriate amount of dread
- Surtur not being taking seriously until he must be taken seriously
- Stan Lee as a psychotic cyborg barber. Nothing ever tops the confirmation that he is the Watcher (and the subsequent potential 4th wall breaking) but still pretty close
- The fact that Loki and Thor could finally act as themselves and not the roles those surrounding them expect them to act as.
(note to self: do another blogpost on this)
I could go on but this post is over 3000 words already and I am seriously getting hungry now. See you folks next time!