In the lead-up to the highly anticipated conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s epic “Infinity Saga”: Avengers: Endgame, we’re taking a look back at the decade-long road it took to get to this point. In Phase 3, Marvel started playing around with the “shared universe” aspect of the MCU. One of the most common comments from critics of this franchise is that the films are “all the same”. But there is one set of films that even fans make this comparison with that isn’t all that accurate beyond the surface level: The Guardians of the Galaxy movies and Thor: Ragnarok.
The Guardians sequel in particular draws a lot of comparisons to the third Thor movie. The two films being released only six months apart in 2017 may have made it a lot more prominent than it would have been otherwise, but its undeniable the two look fairly similar on the surface. Both are quirky comedies set in space with a “loveable idiot” for a protagonist and a newly-discovered family member as the villain. But there certainly are some major differences between the two.
For one thing, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and its predecessor remain their own separate entity from the rest of the MCU apart from Infinity War and Endgame, while Thor: Ragnarok is one of the movies that relishes in the shared universe concept the most. Not only does it finally give Thor the chance to shine (and after being relegated to the sidelines in the first two Avengers movies and being overshadowed by Loki in his own, this was long overdue) but it also continues Hulk’s arc from Avengers: Age of Ultron. Marvel managed to craft a plot that brought both characters together without it feeling forced, which is quite the feat when you consider these two never really had much of a history as a duo in the previous films the way Steve Rogers and Tony Stark did before Captain America: Civil War. On top of this, they also threw in a Doctor Strange cameo that surprisingly didn’t feel out of place either. Little things like this may be “fanservicey”, but these fun surprises are part of the payoff of the work it took to build a cinematic universe of this level.
One thing Vol. 2 and Ragnarok do have in common is that they’re often seen as the two biggest “offenders” of another recurring criticism of the MCU: humor often undercutting what should be emotional, dramatic moments. However, the style of humor in each of these films, and how they balance it with the drama (or don’t) show just how different they are at their core.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 returned to the dirty, shocking, and sometimes mean-spirited style of comedy from its predecessor. Despite the connotations of those terms, this isn’t a bad thing, but the problem is that it overshadowed a lot of moments that should have been a taken a bit more seriously. It seemed like they were trying to “make up” for the lack of these genuinely serious scenes in the movie by having it end on a very emotional one with very minimal humor. It very well may have been designed that way so the moment in question hit the audience that much harder, but after a movie filled with silliness at every turn, the transition was jarring and didn’t quite flow with the rest of the story. Had they let more of the emotional beats earlier in the film simply land, the ending would have fit better with the rest of the piece.
Thor: Ragnarok, on the other hand, maintained a sort of goofy, oddball, anything-can-happen tone throughout the entire film (which makes sense, given that much of the movie was improvised). Its humor relied more on keeping viewers on their toes and relished in its quirky, Jack Kirby-inspired environments. This was both an asset and a detriment to the film as a whole. It definitely helped liven up the world and characters of the Thor franchise – particularly the titular character himself, who seemed to have every director confused to some level as to what to do with him before this movie – but with the film moving at kind of a breakneck pace for pretty much its entire runtime, it also didn’t give them (or the audience) much room to breathe.
Ultimately, though, Thor: Ragnarok can get away with this sense of breeze and ease as a film in a way Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 can’t quite. The emotional beats are more subtle, which makes the film flow better in terms of tone. And it fits with the movie’s message; while the events of this film resulted in the destruction of Asgard, the heroes are victorious because everyone is alive. Wherever they end up, they are together as a people, and, in the case of our main characters, an odd sort of family.
And this is a family we really deserve to see more of in the MCU. While this film was clearly intended to be the last of the Thor franchise at its inception, the way it played out made it feel more like a middle chapter than a true ending. Yes, Thor finally became king, which is what his arc in these movies was always building to, but this franchise really shouldn’t end until we see how he restores peace and stability to his kingdom.
But if this turns out to be the last of the Thor movies, at least we had a fun ride with it. And, let’s be real, this was the first time the franchise was really allowed to be fun . Sure, the sillier, over-the-top style doesn’t quite work well when looked at with the previous two Thor movies, but the previous two Thor movies didn’t quite work well, period. And it’s especially welcome (despite also being heartbreaking) now that we’ve seen the immediate aftermath of this adventure in Infinity War…