Visually, meanwhile, much of Ragnarok channels the bright hues of the late 1980s and early 1990s, even as its pumping synth soundtrack furthers the nostalgic vibes. It’s worth noting, then, that the most powerful and artfully crafted scene in the film actually addresses death with a sense of pathos and aesthetic vigor. In a flashback scene, an Asgardian warrior, Valkyrie, (wonderfully portrayed by Tessa Thompson) recalls a violent confrontation with Hela which left Valkyrie stranded and despondent with grief. Images of the battle flash across the screen in slow motion, painterly yet cosmic in their composition. It’s the only moment where time and narrative slow down to allow for reflection; as such, it’s one of the most memorable scenes in Ragnarok, even in the MCU as a whole.
The subtitle “Ragnarok” refers to an end-of-the-world event stemming from Norse mythology and adapted from the Thor comics. A fulfillment of prophecy, the Ragnarok event results in the entire world of Asgard being destroyed and reborn anew through water and fire. There are parallels to Christian end-of-the-cosmos interpretations of apocalyptic literature in the Bible—this is the Asgardian’s version of the Book of Revelation. Suffice to say, it’s a weighty event of world-shattering proportions, and the final battle between a new team of “Revengers” against Hela leads to some surprising conclusions—ones which require Thor to take responsibility for his people as a good king should.
If one were to examine just the plot points from Ragnarok, it’d sound like a pretty dismal film. Imagine this: the violent deaths of family, friends, and fellow citizens; the destruction of one’s entire world at the hands of a malevolent invading force; multiple locations which allude to Gehenna-like environments of discard and destruction; existential crises of identity and wallowing in grief. It all sounds quite serious, to put it mildly.
In light of that, I want to recognize the accomplishment of Waititi in his ability to infuse this film with such rich humor and—dare I say—joy. Amid chaos, Waititi offers us the comical (they are called “comic books” after all). There was criticism of previous MCU films for the vast destruction of cities and anonymous lives lost. Such criticism prompted Age of Ultron and subsequent films to overtly portray the need to save lives, to show that each individual person matters and that death is to be taken seriously. Ragnarok swings the tonal pendulum back toward the direction of levity without veering into the snarkiness and underlying nihilism of this year’s other colorful MCU sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Death is a prominent theme in Ragnarok, but it’s not to be taken too seriously.