The first trailer for Thor: Ragnarok — Taika Waititi’s next indie film — has been taking the internet by storm this morning, with its neon-soaked color scheme, lighthearted humor, and incredible helmets.
Alongside fellow 2017 Marvel movies Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ragnarok seems to have a certain life to it that other films in the superhero genre — including Marvel’s own recent efforts — have been lacking. And a lot of that, I think, has to do with Ragnarok’s setting, which seems to be ditching the tired scenery of Earth for something a little more... extravagant.
Putting aside the original Guardians of the Galaxy for a moment, almost every Marvel movie has been centered around good old planet Earth. Which makes sense, given that these movies, especially at the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, needed to attract an audience far larger than comic book fans. And so they found ways to ground the fantastical ideas of the original comics, whether that was as vaguely realistic as a man flying in a superpowered iron suit or a fish-out-of-water Norse god of thunder. Placing the action in familiar environs like New York City or Albuquerque made superhuman stories feel human and intergalactic stakes feel immediate and relatable.
Time for a road trip
But we’re nearly 10 years into Marvel’s superhero franchise at this point, and what once was fresh is growing old and tired. Thor: Ragnarok seems to be taking the same approach as Guardians of the Galaxy (itself a breath of fresh air for superhero cinema) by moving the action to a more fantastical setting. Or to put it another way, we’ve seen everything these heroes can save (and destroy) on Earth — now, it’s time for a road trip.
We’ve known for a while that Ragnorak would be more of a “road trip movie” showing off a buddy dynamic between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk. And if the trailer (or at the very least, Hemsworth’s trillion-watt smile in this GIF) is anything to go by, taking these characters we’ve gotten to know over the last few films and shaking up the setting looks like it’s going to lead to some results that, at the very least, will be distinguishable from the superhero movie churn.
You only need to look at recent entries like Ant-Man or Doctor Strange to see that some change was needed. Both films were perfectly fine entries in Marvel’s lineup, but suffered from the same simple problem that we’d seen those same stories before. Doctor Strange’s origin played like Iron Man with more cultural appropriation and, somehow, a thinner love story. The best parts of those films were scenes like Michael Peña’s scene-stealing exposition monologue or the mind-bending visuals from Strange’s trips among the multiverse — things that were wholly new to Marvel’s sprawling franchise.
And the new “road trip” direction is especially significant for Marvel given the state of its competition. After all, DC looks to be making up ground this year by borrowing from Marvel’s playbook through with a one-two punch of the character-driven Wonder Woman and a more lighthearted Justice League. And Universal’s Fast and Furious franchise is resembling a superhero franchise with each passing submarine missile.
It’s time for Marvel’s heroes to start shooting for the stars
It’s obviously too early to call Ragnarok a success at this admittedly early stage. We already know from the Doctor Strange credits teaser that the action will be making its way back to the more familiar streets of New York at some point in the film, and it’s possible the change of pace is only temporary at best. But for now, it’s nice to see that, in a series full of extraordinary heroes with abilities from some of comics wildest imaginations, we’re finally getting settings to match. Because while its films may have spent almost a decade stuck firmly on the ground, it’s time for Marvel’s heroes to start shooting for the stars.