Heather Knight is a comic-shop retailer who loves to read and write about comics, and is very passionate about superheroes and the villains who love them, Greek mythology, and horror films. Other vices include archery, drinking too much coffee, and true crime. Slytherin is the coolest House. She was born to two Trekkies, and pretty much owes most of her nerd passions to her father, who started reading The Hobbit to her when she was nine years old. Catch her on Twitter at @moriarteas for more of these things. Witness her!
For a lot of us, we owe a great deal to parents for helping to shape who we are, and eventually who we become. For better or worse, no matter how big or small, parents leave a mark that we take with us long after they’re gone. There also comes a time in most of our adult lives where we realize that, contrary to what we might have thought when we were younger, our parents are far from perfect. Maybe even especially when they’re gods. Perfect or not, they’re still our parents. And when they leave us, that unanswered question of what to do without them has its moment.
Thor: Ragnarok is many things. Clever, hilarious, thrilling. A bold, Technicolored superhero movie that continues the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ongoing theme of the sins of the father to an even more layered message about the past sins of colonization finally catching up to what your predecessors built at the expense of others. What comes up must come down.
It’s also about the loss of everything you ever knew.
Thor and Loki’s stories are no different than a lot of Marvel origin stories that revolve in some way around a character’s parents. When we first meet them in Thor, Thor himself is a selfish, arrogant brute and Loki is exactly who you would expect him to be — manipulative, cunning, with the face of a friend and the actions of a betrayer. We see how Odin’s two sons have been shaped early on by the lies he’s told, and when those lies start to come out, they change Thor and Loki forever.
In Ragnarok, we now see a Thor we haven’t seen before, one who has fully transformed from the childish and arrogant god prince we met in previous films into a seductive lord of thunder who is a little older and wiser. Someone who finally understands that despite his desire not to be king, there comes a time when you have to own up to your responsibilities and put other people before yourself. A son who is also no longer blindly emulating his father but looking at Odin’s choices with open eyes. As he so eloquently puts it halfway through the film, he chooses to run toward his problems and not away from them because that’s what heroes do.
For much of the film, we see a Loki who does not appear to have made the same strides in personal growth. But if you look closely, he’s already different from the start, and not just because he’s currently wearing Odin’s face and bathrobe. Loki finally has what he wants: Asgard. And what does he do with it? Instead of ruling it with an iron fist, he’s hosting Shakespeare in the park and getting day drunk. A pretty harmless trick for the previously power-hungry, murderous Loki that we met in the first Thor and Avengers films.
Much like Ragnarok as the final of three films, this essay arrives on the heels of two great essays on the movies that came before it. Thor changed everything about the Marvel universe and Thor: The Dark World offered plenty of action on Asgard itself. But Ragnarok is the first time we really see that kingdom for what it really is and get a look at the full scope of its long, bloody imperialistic history. You can’t rewrite the past any more than you can change where you come from, and you can only hide from it for so long.
Almost everyone in Ragnarok is running away from something. Skurge spends most of the film running from his betrayal to Asgard before eventually atoning for it. Valkyrie has been drinking away her problems for years before returning to a place she vowed to never set foot in again. The Hulk doesn’t want to return to Earth where “Earth hates Hulk.” Loki is still relying on his usual, mischievous habits. All Hela does the entire film is try to recreate her glory days.
Trying to bring back the old ways never works, nor does hiding from your past. The only way ever out is forward. The longer you hold onto old pains and old grudges, the more you become the worst version of yourself. Honor the past for the lessons learned, but don’t become trapped by it. You’ll end up getting left behind.
Toward the end of the film, Thor says to Loki, “We’ll never change, so what’s the point?” in reference to the vicious cycle of their historically volatile relationship. Thor trusts Loki, Loki betrays Thor, rinse and repeat. But Thor’s has wised up to it, and in the next scene, he illustrates perfectly how Loki has yet to do so himself. He tells Loki that life is about growth and change, that Loki is the god of mischief, but he could be more. I like to think it’s that conversation with Thor that emboldens Loki to do what he does next.
Ragnarok is all about change, breaking from old traditions and bad habits. Thor begins the movie attempting to stop a prophecy and ends up embracing it to save his people. Even Loki breaks from character and returns to Asgard to help, acknowledging later that maybe he’s not all bad after all. A cycle is broken, and It all starts with losing their father.
Losing a parent is, unfortunately, a reality we all must face someday. I started writing this essay a day after getting some horrible news that my own father had been in a serious accident. It left me suddenly facing that dreaded question: What would I even do without my dad? Nobody really knows the answer to that question until it happens, and then you realize that all you’re left with is yourself, what a parent gives you and what you decide to take with you as you move on. That is Thor’s journey in this film.
Life will always find a way to test us. That test doesn’t always revolve around the death of a parent, but it frequently does and it’s often something that comes to define us. At the beginning of Ragnarok, despite how much Thor has already grown within the MCU since his inception, we still see him ultimately relying on his father to have the answers, as many of us do up until a certain age. Before he passes on, Odin instead tells Thor he’s on a different path now toward a problem he must face alone. Shortly after that, Thor also loses Mjolnir and, thus, in the first 30 minutes, our hero loses the two things that have always grounded him — his father and his hammer.
It’s one of my favorite tropes in a hero’s story, illustrated perfectly in the second-season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Angel taunts Buffy with having no weapons, no friends and no hope. He asks her what is left once you take all of those things away, and her answer is simple: “Me.”
In a similar fashion, a vision of Odin asks Thor if he is the “god of hammers” as Thor anguishes over whether he’ll be able to defeat Hela without his. In a scene that reminded me very much part of a story in Jason Aaron’s beloved Thor: God of Thunder run, Hela asks Thor what he was the god of, and he answers with a clap of thunder and lightning. Strip everything else away from Thor, and he’s still the god of thunder.
Thor: Ragnarok is also a barrel of laughs, but it’s the small, quieter moments of sincerity that are especially poignant and worthwhile for me. The scene of Odin’s passing, where he tells both of his sons that he loves them, and Loki, for the first time, looks like he believes it after several films of acting out and playing into the role of the estranged stepson perpetually wounded by his so-called father’s lies. The turning point between Thor and Loki on Sakaar when they finally allow themselves room to grow, even if it means apart. Their reunion at the end, when it seems as if forgiveness has finally found its way to two of the most stubborn gods in all of the Nine Realms.(Dear Marvel: Show us the hug, you cowards.)
Maybe there are some things you can’t change, but much of Ragnarok is about taking what a parent leaves behind and carving your own path from it. Asgard is not a place, it’s a people, and it was probably about time that the old place built on the blood and tears of entire nations got taken down brick by brick so something new could rise up in its place. Living with the mistakes of parents and learning from them instead of being defined by them is a lesson that Thor and Loki both have had to learn in their own ways since the very first Thor film, and eventually they both get there. Ragnarok does something incredible and makes a movie with near-immortal gods actually relatable. It’s about the circle of life. It also doesn’t hurt that Thor: Ragnarok will officially go down as the sexiest movie in MCU history.
Midwest Film Journal posted new, weekly entries of “The Marvel Decade” leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War on April 27, 2018. (That film’s last-minute release change prompted publication of the final two in the same week.) A different writer wrote each entry, some of them familiar to readers of the site and some fresh faces handpicked by members of the group. Each writer chose a Marvel movie that inspired insights or personal connections that they highlighted in their piece.
The MCU is a franchise that’s popular largely because of what it means to so many people, and that’s something we aimed to capture with “The Marvel Decade.” Please find a complete list of “Marvel Decade” entries below.
“THE MARVEL DECADE” IN FULL
Iron Man (2008) — Evan Dossey
The Incredible Hulk (2008) — Nick Rogers
Iron Man 2 (2010) — Joe Shearer
Thor (2011) — Aly Caviness
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) — Sy Stiner
The Avengers (2012) — Craig McQuinn
Iron Man 3 (2013) — Rachael Derrick
Thor: The Dark World (2013) — Will Norris
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) — Salem
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) — Mitch Ringenberg
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) — Daniel Fidler & Evan Dossey
Ant-Man (2015) — Jeremy Cahnmann
Captain America: Civil War (2016) — John Derrick
Doctor Strange (2016) — Joel “Con” Connell
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) — Dave Gutierrez
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) — Sam Watermeier
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) — Heather Knight
Black Panther (2018) — Angelique Smith