Throughout its development, one of the most promising pieces of Ragnarok news, even for devout MCU fans, was the revelation that the third installment of Thor would be nothing like the first two. From producer to director to leading man, everyone attached to the film seems to have quietly grappled with the fact that, of all the Avengers, Thor’s standalone franchise has, in the past, squandered the most potential to be interesting.
Two years ago, before a single scene was written for Thor: Ragnarok, which opens in America this Friday (November 3), recalling his first two solo films, Chris Hemsworth confessed “we've done regal, we've done Shakespeare...I think it's time to go ‘okay, cool. Let's try something different.”
That phrase, “something different” also summed up Kevin Feige’s sentiments, as the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s other cosmic franchise, lead the MCU in a direction that felt far from the seriousness of Thor’s gods and myths and prophecies.
Later adding some conviction to Hemsworth and Feige’s vague yet welcomed critiques was eventual Ragnorok director and previous Marvel outsider Taika Waititi, stating what he wants the audience to leave his iteration of Thor carrying is “a sense of joy”—a sharp deviation in tonality from Thor: The Dark World.
Embodying that joy in Ragnarok, wholly and refreshingly, is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and, with a difference in delivery yet similarity in result, Idris Elba as Heimdall—the latter of whom spoke highly of his experience on set this time around, after admitting the first two films felt like “work.”
With the MCU’s newfound commitment—or, at the very least, willingness—to construct diverse casts, Thompson and Elba’s performances felt like continuations of the magic Zendaya enacted in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and preludes to the way we’ll celebrate Black Panther in February.
Before the Run The Jewels and Gil Scott-Heron Black Panther trailers broke Black Twitter this year, the initial Ragnarok trailer was widely recognized as one of the best MCU teasers in recent memory. But despite the bright colors, a boisterous rock anthem, and that delightful “friend from work” bit, what that teaser held beneath its coat was how genuinely funny Tessa Thompson is in her role.
From her very first appearance, the Marvel newcomer inspires laughter in a way that felt both surprising and natural. As one of the most layered and dynamic characters in the film, there’s a persistent charisma to Valkyrie that extends beyond the trope of the “sexy warrior” that’s fallen upon so many women in the genre—women whose only jobs are to kick ass and have tight angle shots of theirs.
Thompson’s character is as endearing as Idris Elba’s is forceful. Even when Heimdall isn’t on screen, his presence is very much felt as a shepherd of both the plot points and the people inhabiting Asgard.
However disparate throughout the build-up, both Valkyrie and Heimdall manage to anchor whole chunks of Ragnarok in consequential action, while still allowing fan favorites like Hulk, Lok, and Thor himself to float in and out of different moods and sequences — the film is a mosaic of great vibes, very much unlike the blandness of its predecessors. Both Thompson and Elba were significant contributors to that remedy.
Between Valkyrie’s presence as a reluctant leader and Heimdall’s presence as a benevolent one, the best parts of Ragnarok were direct responses to the worst parts of its prequels. As Elba campaigns for a larger role in the MCU and Thompson enjoys the fruits of such a successful debut, one can only hope Marvel continues to allow black actors to upgrade their product.