Thor: Ragnarok is not only the best received and most successful of all the Thor films, it’s also the movie that saved Marvel’s Thor franchise. It’s easy to dismiss Taika Waititi’s film as comedic fun, but his soft-reboot of Asgard was a lot smarter than that.
Before Ragnarok, Thor was an ill-defined if likable meathead of a character, used primarily for punching and occasionally fish-out-of-water jokes made at his expense. But now? Thor’s become one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most bankable stars, with Ragnarok breaking into the top ten highest earning MCU movies. It’s the third best reviewed MCU movie, with much of the praise going to Chris Hemsworth’s enthusiastically fun portrayal and Taika Waititi’s stlylish direction.
Thor is now poised to become the shared universe’s lead entering Marvel’s Phase Four, taking up the mantle from his fellow Avengers, Iron Man/Tony Stark and Captain America/Steve Rogers. But without the work made to improve the character and rehabilitate his franchise with Ragnarok and later Avengers: Infinity War, none of this would have been possible.
Phase One of the MCU was a testing ground for ideas, establishing the characters who would form The Avengers and lead Marvel’s shared universe. Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor became franchise superstars, but by Phase Two, Thor began lagging behind. Both Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier were improvements on the previous entries, moving their lead characters into new and interesting territory, while Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man expanded the MCU with new quirky characters and different stakes. Thor: The Dark World, however, was an utter mess.
Before The Dark World, Kenneth Branagh’s Thor had given the character a solid foundation in his introduction, but when Marvel sought Branagh for the followup, he refused, citing “creative differences.” Marvel then secured Patty Jenkins to direct, but she too left after clashing with Marvel (going on to direct Wonder Woman to great success). Eventually, Alan Taylor of Game of Thrones fame was brought on to helm Thor’s second picture but his experience on the project was “particularly wrenching,” claiming that during post-production, “it turned into a different movie.” Marvel had no idea what to do with the franchise, resulting in The Dark World having a lackluster story, forgettable villain, poor use of the Asgardian elements, and absolutely zero development or growth for its main character.