Thor: Ragnarok and making stereotypes triumphant

An action-packed November meant, despite all the enthusiasm, a viewing of Thor: Ragnarok eluded me until this past weekend. With the ol’ MoviePass in hand, Nicole and I settled into the front row and had our faces melted by the Thunder God and his green Hulk friend. Action aplenty, of course. CGI-drenched. One liners flying hot and heavy. In other words, everything you’d expect from a Marvel flick. And, as ever, what makes it work are the characters.

Thor has something of a Superman problem – at first glance, anyway. He’s a god, with all kinds of superpower and a feel of (despite not actually having) immortality. He flies around, shoots lightning, and throws people for hundreds of yards. Thor wants for a weakness. Something to make him relatable. In the movies, Marvel chose to do this by making Thor, uh, less than savvy. He’s not necessarily a moron, but Thor doesn’t exactly light up the room with his intricate schemes or deep introspections. Still, being a little on the simple side isn’t enough, and the first two Thor films struggled with giving the lightning guy much of an arc, despite the fact that Chris Hemsworth’s rendition was always fun to hang with.

Thor doesn’t have Tony Stark’s personal journey from billionaire playboy to haunted, avenging inventor, nor Captain America’s endless supply of justice in a world that has none to draw from. Rather than invent something, though, Thor: Ragnarok allows, finally, Thor to just be who he is. The movie is less about some terrible external threat and more about Thor just doin’ Thor things, with the understanding that it’s damned fine if you’re a super-strong lightning god that happens to like fighting and helping people. And it’s fun! The movie doesn’t try to make itself into some grand evolution about power and blah blah blah. Nah. None of this makes sense anyway, and our lead is a dude who likes to smash stuff with a hammer, and failing that, his fists.

So what’s that word “Stereotype” doing up there in the title?

There are two (for this example anyway) types of stereotypes – negative and positive. We’ve already established that Thor: Ragnarok is a positive flick, and so it’s concerned with taking Thor’s stereotype as the “dumb jock” and letting it ride. What happens if your dumb jock happens to have a good heart and enough strength to get the job done? Turns out, makes for a pretty entertaining movie.

We so often view stereotypes in a negative sense – the idea that something’s been done before, or that a character is going to act a certain way just because that’s the simplest way to present them, that it’s refreshing to see the other side. To see what is so often pictured in the negative brought to the positive. Hulk does the same thing – essentially an even more severe version of Thor, Hulk too smashes and bashes around and it’s a grand time because everyone’s having fun. Hulk’s not getting served some moral lesson for loving to fight. We’re not bemoaning the fact that Hulk doesn’t look at the broader implications of a life lived devoted to violence. Nope. Hulk’s here to destroy stuff, and that’s what he does.

Which, ultimately, brings us back to the point of the movie (or book, or painting, or whatever). Namely, if you want to have a stereotype in your story, consider making it a positive one, or twisting a common negative trait into a positive light (or even the defining trait that allows the hero to overcome their antagonist). It’s much more fun and interesting to see things that are normally faults play turn into causes of success.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok, and have any interest in superhero flicks or comedies, check it out. You’ll have a grand time.

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