I am going to describe a movie to you: A woman is part of an elite group of female fighters on a mythical planet. One day, she and her sisters-in-arms are sent on their winged horses—yeah, they're fucking awesome—to battle the monstrous (but fashionably fierce) goddess of death. The deity massacres all of the warriors save for one, our heroine.
Despondent, the survivor slinks away to a trash land where she can scavenge, booze, and not be bothered. Then, she hears that the villain who took away her friends has risen again. She gets over her fears, conquers her demons, and takes down the baddie threatening the world. Sounds pretty fantastic, right? Right. And you sort of get that in Thor: Ragnarok, the latest in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. But as the title implies, this elite female fighter is not the main focus. Thor is. Again. Which is something of a bummer.
Ragnarok is directed by Taika Waititi, and if you've never seen one of his films, close this page, fire up Amazon or iTunes, and check out Hunt for the Wilderpeople or What We Do in the Shadows immediately. You'll fall hard for his brilliant absurdist streak. Then Google him and check out his delectable personal style. (He's the one dude that can actually pull off a pineapple-patterned outfit.)
Thor: Ragnarok, like the rest of Waititi's work, is really great. But it's not the movie I just described. The actual plot of Ragnarok basically boils down to this: The God of Thunder has a surprise sister named Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death. Hela was banished for going rogue and trying to take over the world by her dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), but now she's back and continuing her quest. Almost immediately she overpowers the Avenger, destroying his beloved hammer and sending him spinning into space.
So, let's talk about Hela for a second. As a character, she's not particularly developed. Her motivations don't go beyond vague resentment and a desire for all-encompassing power. But Blanchett treats the Asgardian sets like they're her own personal runway. Her signature move involves brushing her jet-black hair back with her hands to reveal a crown of thorns, allowing her to go from scary goth to vicious queen in a matter of seconds.
Meanwhile, Thor lands on Sakaar, a colorful but ruthless land, and things go poorly for him very quickly when a mysterious scrapper played by Tessa Thompson stumbles off a ship and captures him. (Okay, come to think of it, Thor is at the mercy of incredible women for most of the movie. That's pretty rad.) Thompson might not be the funniest character in the film—that honor goes to Jeff Goldblum—but she's the most compelling, which brings me to where I began.
Thor learns that this scavenger who doesn't give a shit is actually a Valkyrie, an Asgardian who used to be part of an all-female team that was dispatched to put an end to Hela. Valkyrie—who apparently just goes by that name—was the only one who got out alive. In her misery, she tried to disappear to another planet where she could live out her days in obscurity. Now she's face to face with a living emblem of that past, trying to convince her to come back and help him. That's a big arc that isn't even the main focus of the film, and it's one that Thompson handles deftly while still maintaining Ragnarok's witty tone. Waititi clearly knows how great she is. His camera captures her in dominant poses, literally towering above Thor. She gets her "hell, yeah" moment in the movie's climax when she emerges in her old uniform, fireworks going off behind her. It's as exhilarating as watching Wonder Woman head into No Man's Land.
I won't spoil why there are fireworks, but let's just say it has to do with an "orgy plane," an example of Waititi's signature and sometimes unhinged nuttiness that's one of the reasons I left Ragnarok completely happy. But I also wanted more from Hela and especially Valkyrie. For example, Thompson confirmed via Twitter that her character honored the fact that the Val of the comic books is bi—yet she has no romantic plot in Ragnarok aside from mild flirtation with Thor.
In a flashback to her airborne showdown with Hela, Val seems particularly distressed about the death of one of her compatriots, and Thompson implied via a winky-face emoji that one could read that as distress over her lover's demise—but also noted "her sexuality isn’t explicitly addressed." All of this is to say that there are probably many more layers to an already layered character, and, man, I would kill for a Valkyrie-themed Ragnarok prequel that offers a deeper dive.
But I'm not getting my hopes up. Marvel has yet to make a Black Widow standalone, and Captain Marvel's debut is still two years away. But Waititi and Thompson planted the seeds of something great couched in a fantastically charming cinematic experience. I need them to reunite for more.