Marvel Studios Thor: Ragnarok..L to R: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston)..Photo: Jasin Boland..©Marvel Studios 2017

Loki Reformed, Surtur as Comic Relief

For a long time, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki was held up as the one exception to the rule where “Marvel’s villain problem” was concerned. Though something of a tragic figure in Thor, Loki’s arc in that movie, through The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World, is indeed that of a villain. Not an anti-hero, but a deceptive, gleeful, unapologetic villain.

This is the guy who spear-headed an alien invasion of Earth. According to the MCU Wiki, the Battle of New York, otherwise known as “The Incident,” led to 74 total deaths, including civilians and NYPD officers, and $88 billion in property damage. This is why, at the end of The Avengers, Loki is referred to as a “war criminal,” with the understanding that Thor is taking him away to face Asgardian justice.

Apparently Asgardian justice involves sitting around in a cell for a while, just long enough to cause your loving mom’s death, before you are free to run around again and have other intergalactic adventures with your brother (the newly dumb blonde whose intelligence faces the law of diminishing returns even as his film franchise attempts to reverse that law). But hey, Marvel clearly realized the value of Loki a long time ago, beefing up his part in Thor: The Dark World, with director Alan Taylor confessing to /Film back in 2013 that “we sort of ‘Loki-ed it up’ a little bit” as they were going back to do additional photography for that film.

Knowing the studio and fandom’s love for Loki, it might seem as though the popularity of the character has willfully superseded on-screen continuity in Thor: Ragnarok, with Thor posing for selfies on the streets of New York while his brother the war criminal (who again, attacked the same city) stands next to him nonchalantly. But in all fairness, Doctor Strange is immediately alerted to Loki’s presence, and as Earth’s magical protector, he does conjure a portal to swallow Loki and keep the god of mischief neutralized as a threat, at least while Loki is in freefall for 30 minutes inside that portal.

Besides, in the hyper-reality of a shared universe based on Marvel Comics, it is not any stranger to think of Loki being redeemed than it would be for a character like Magneto in the X-Men comics to switch sides (which happens quite often). There are also hints that Loki’s days as a pure villain may not be over, since the end of Thor: Ragnarok insinuates that he may have palmed the Tesseract again. In Avengers: Infinity War, it would be very much in-character for Loki to take on the role of an ingratiating advisor to Thanos, similar to how Mephisto, the Silver Surfer villain, acted in the 1991 Infinity Gauntlet comic book mini-series.

thor-ragnarok-surtur

Finally, we must spare a word for Surtur, the fire demon. For many comic book geeks, Walt Simonson’s “Surtur Saga” from Thor #340-353 has a reputation as one of the greatest Thor stories of all time. In countdowns on both CBR and ComicBook.com, the story ranked as #1, with the latter site noting back in 2014 that “its epic structure and scope” had all the makings of a classic film.

Thor: Ragnarok is maybe not what they had in mind. It is clear right from the beginning, from the way Surtur is goofily voiced by Clancy Brown, that the movie does not take the character seriously (any more than Iron Man 3 took the Mandarin seriously). This is a shame, really. If done the right way, Surtur could have been truly frightening, similar to Balrog in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. It almost makes a person want to grab Taiki Waititi by the lapel and say, “Hey, c’mon! You’re a New Zealander! Show some pride in your fire demons!”

A scary Surtur would not necessarily have had to conflict with the film’s comedic tone, either. The original Ghostbusters, for instance, was able to effortlessly blend comedic elements with potential end-of-the-world horror. Yet, maybe juggling horror with action and comedy in this film would have been too much. As it is, what the film lacks in reverence for Surtur, it makes up for by staging thrilling action sequences to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”

Whatever else it is, Thor: Ragnarok is — like Captain America: The Winter Soldier — a movie with real consequences for its hero and the MCU. Whereas Thor: The Dark World merely feinted at Thor losing a hand, Ragnarok actually strips him of his hammer and an eye. It will be interesting to see if Avengers: Infinity War reunites Thor with Lady Sif or at least has him take a moment to mourn the loss of his friends the Warriors Three with a line of dialogue.

Ultimately, Thor: Ragnarok – ahem – brings the thunder in such a delightful way that it can perhaps be forgiven for hastily dispensing with less effective elements of previous Thor movies. Like its title hero, the Thor franchise now stands newly reenergized, crackling with blue lightning. While parts of the character’s movie and comics history may be underserved by this wild ride of a sequel, it has successfully raised the character up from low on the totem pole of Marvel movies to a place where, now, suddenly, everybody’s talking about Thor.

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