This past weekend, I saw Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok back-to-back. So how did they compare? Let’s take a look at several elements and see which movie did them better.
***Some spoilers ahead***
Story. JL is the DC Extended Universe’s version of 2012’s The Avengers: Super-powered bad guy from another dimension arrives on Earth with army of creepy aliens, forcing squabbling heroes to band together. Thor takes almost everything you’ve known about the son of Odin and breaks it, with the God of Thunder losing his hammer, his hair, and his home when the evil Hela comes to claim her birthright. Advantage: THOR
Characters/Acting. JL has the aforementioned Wonder Woman (ably portrayed by Gal Gadot), who continues to be as awesome as she was in her stand-alone film. I’ve never understood the fanboy hatred for Ben Affleck as either Batman or Bruce Wayne: he’s not Christian Bale, but he’s not George Clooney, either. Henry Cavill finally gets to play Superman as less angsty, more like Christopher Reeve’s charming version from the 1978 film. Ezra Miller makes The Flash interesting by doing him as a pre-skeevy Woody Allen: a nervous, neurotic newbie in waaaay over his head. Jason Momoa does the impossible and makes Aquaman cool: a taciturn, tattooed loner badass who, if he wasn’t the protector of the oceans, would be found riding a Harley somewhere on an empty road. The others (including Ray Fisher as Cyborg, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane) are just…there.
In Thor, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston return as the Avenger and his shady stepbrother Loki. They have such rapport, I’d watch a whole movie of them doing nothing more than talking while sharing pizza and beer. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is more interesting than Ciarán Hinds’ motion-captured villain Steppenwolf from JL, but her character is seemingly evil for evil’s sake, and doesn’t give a clue as to what she would actually do with Asgard (or its people) after conquering them (in contrast to Loki, who would throw parties). As the more loquacious Hulk, champion of the gladiator pits of Sakarr, Mark Ruffalo is not so much a mountain of rage as he is a childlike simpleton. Jeff Goldblum doesn’t disappoint as the flaky Grandmaster, but Tessa Thompson (as Valkyrie) and Karl Urban (as Skurge) don’t do much for me. Advantage: TIE.
Dialogue. Both films have stuck most of their memorable lines in the trailers, which you may have seen more times than you cared to. Superman mentions believing in “truth” and “justice,” but doesn’t get around to adding “the American way” (a bummer, because we all could probably use a bit of old-fashioned patriotism these days).
The elevator scene is the most poignant in T:R, and not long after, Thor tells Loki that he could become more than just the God of Mischief. Though the comedy’s a bit overdone for my taste, Thor: Ragnarok throws so many quips against the wall that it wins on sheer volume. Advantage: THOR.
Tone. JL takes itself seriously (about as serious as you take a superhero movie), with some moments of levity here and there. It’s not as grim (thankfully) as Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, but not as engaging as Wonder Woman.
One would think that with “Ragnarok” in the title, Thor would be doom-and-gloom, but it’s riddled with humor–too much so, actually. Like the guy at a party who keeps interrupting conversations to toss out one-liners, it’s funny the first few times, but after an hour or so, you’d wish he’d knock it off so the person you’re listening to can finish their story. It’s especially irritating in the middle of high-stakes action scenes. Advantage: JUSTICE LEAGUE
Pace. Both films move fairly quickly, though JL‘s exposition scene on who Steppenwolf is, what he wants, and why we should care feels longer than it actually is. T:R rarely slows down. Advantage: THOR
Settings. It’s hard to get excited about any place you’re looking at when you know that about 90% of it is CGI. Both films have scenes where it seemed very obvious that the actors were staring at a blank wall while their characters were supposedly looking into the distance. Props to JL for a sequence shot on location in Iceland (probably my favorite place on Earth), but the planet of Sakaar is very cool (and reminds me in a few ways of “Lonelylands,” from my upcoming novel This Wasted Land). Advantage: TIE.
Effects. Best effects in Justice League: The Flash tries to sprint to aid his fellows fighting a newly-resurrected and momentarily confused Superman, only to discover that the Man of Steel can not only clearly see him, but can attack him, albeit just slowly enough that the Flash can narrowly elude his punches. Worst effects: Steppenwolf looks like he stepped out a video game, and his Parademons don’t scare or impress.
Best effects in Thor: the God of Thunder becomes a whirlwind of ass-kicking as he lays the smack down on scores of fire demons in the depths of Muspelheim. A similar scene occurs later against hordes of zombies. Worst effects: A major character dissolves into golden glitter and scatters in the wind. Seriously. Advantage: THOR.
Costumes. The suits worn by the Justice League members look cool and functional. The Internet’s been griping about the “bikini armor” worn by the Amazons, but hasn’t said squat about Aquaman, Thor, and the Hulk parading around half-dressed in some scenes. I’m giving the nod to the movie that updated Aquaman’s look. Advantage: JUSTICE LEAGUE.
Music. JL plays snippets of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme from the 1989 film, and from John William’s Superman theme from the 1978 movie. A modern rendition of The Beatles’ “Come Together” plays in the credits.
Thor rocks out to Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song” during the opening and ending battles. No contest. Advantage: THOR.
Post-credit scenes (Mondo spoilers!). Justice League calls back to the comics with a mid-credit scene where The Flash and Superman have a race to the Pacific Ocean to see who actually is The Fastest Man Alive. A post-credit scene has Lex Luthor, recently escaped from confinement, recruits Deathstroke to form “a league of our own.”
In the mid-credit scene from Ragnarok, Thor is on a spaceship bound for Earth, when it is intercepted by a large spaceship (maybe the flagship of the arch-villain Thanos?). In the post-credit scene, the Grandmaster is seemingly oblivious to the unfriendly demeanor of some of his former citizens. Advantage: JUSTICE LEAGUE.
Thor: Ragnarok takes 5 of 10 categories, to 3 for Justice League (with 2 ties). I’d put T:R in my top 5 Marvel movies, behind Avengers 1, and Civil War, with Deadpool and Guardians 1 tied for third, but ahead of Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Justice League is my second-favorite DC film, but that’s damning with faint praise, as Wonder Woman is the only excellent one. Here’s hoping that other entries in the series (WW2, JL2, and stand-alone films for Batman, Aquaman, and Flash) are better.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.
Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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