Previously, on Thor
Thor, the first movie starring Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder, was a strange combination of action and Shakespearean dialog. Kenneth Branagh directed Thor. He was the perfect choice because of his extensive experience both acting in and directing Shakespeare’s plays. Because the gods of Asgard spoke in very formal phrasing (which Iron Man parodied beautifully in Avengers), it lent them an otherworldly, and superior, air.
However, the stodgy dialog was slightly at odds with the action sequences. Thor and Loki would spout soliloquies while they were surrounded by explosions and special effects. This strange style set Thor apart from Iron Man and Avengers. The other Marvel movies had a different rhythm and focused mainly on the action.
Thor: The Dark World was better than Thor because Marvel seemed to understand Thor, Loki, Odin and the other characters more by then. Plus, while Thor was an origin story, which can be boring, Thor: The Dark World was a chapter in Marvel’s overall story, introducing another Infinity Stone into the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). By being part of Marvel’s Phase II, Thor: The Dark World built a stronger connection between Thor and the rest of the team.
Still, Thor didn’t have a winning stand-alone movie like the other Avengers. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was an outstanding movie that was hailed by critics and audiences alike. In fact, it’s still considered to be the best of the MCU. And Iron Man had three stellar stand-alone movies that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the MCU. Thor became the red-headed stepchild of Marvel movies.
With Thor: Ragnarok, the Asgardian god is finally one of the cool kids. It’s fun, funny, scary and full of action. Plus, words like “thou” and “thus” are few and far between. Thor: Ragnarok adopted the typical Marvel formula, which includes small doses of goofy humor, dished out between giant action sequences, along with character background and development strung popping up occasionally.
Thor: Ragnarok broke away from the rules of Thor’s previous movies, which set him apart from everyone else. In this movie, he was still a god, but he was far more relatable. He was incredibly strong and powerful, but he had to overcome weaknesses when he suffered a terrible loss, his hammer was destroyed, and he was forced to fight the Incredible Hulk. His dialog even lightened up considerably.
Hemsworth seemed to have a lot more fun too. He got to show off his comedy chops, rather than spend the movie glowering and bellowing, like he did before. Cutting his hair was a genius move, because changing his look also helped the movie and the character set themselves apart from the previous Thor movies. The new ‘do signaled to the audience that this wasn’t the Thor they’d seen before.
Marvel is like an A.I.
I feel like Kevin Feige, the producer who oversees the entire MCU, learns from every director he works with. After the Russo brothers took Captain America: The Winter Soldier to a darker place, the Marvel movies that followed had darker tones. Likewise, the fun-yet-tragic stories of both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, directed by James Gunn, were mimicked in Thor: Ragnarok. It was a rollicking romp through space, with Thor and his cohorts making things up as they went along. It had the same ensemble feel, the same space cowboy vibe, that Guardians did. And it worked marvelously. (See what I did there?)
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