The Thor arm of the Marvel Comic Universe is arguably among the franchise's most fun. Like the Guardians of the Galaxy films that came after, Thor is lighthearted, funny, and more than a little over-the-top. What to know about the first two Thor movies before watching Thor: Ragnarok may surprise you, though, because you don't actually have to know that much. For casual moviegoers who are just jumping into the Thor franchise for the frenzy that is Thor: Ragnarok, or Marvel fans who have mostly forgotten the trajectory of Thor, this is a crash course is for you.
First, it's important to note that Marvel's Thor character does not line up precisely with the Norse mythology. The original Thor comic book artists heavily borrowed from it, but undoubtedly made this character their own. By the time Thor made it to theaters in 2011, he was hulking, handsome, and hilarious. Not that the O.G. Thor couldn't have been these things, of course; it's just such a delight to watch Chris Hemsworth do literally anything. It's downright unfair for a person who looks like sunshine to have such natural comic timing, too. Anyway. As crazy as Thor: Ragnarok may be, it's totally cool to go into the film just knowing the basics. He's more than just a God of Thunder, y'all.
Above is a picture of Hemsworth with Ragnorok director Taika Waititi. This is Waititi's first major Hollywood film. The two earlier Thor films were directed by Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor, respectively. Those are well-established dudes, and veterans of large-scale dramas. Branagh was literally Hamlet. Waititi is best known for his collaborations with Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords, which should pretty much tell you what you need to know about the tone of Thor: Ragnorok. If you're not well-versed in the Conchords' work, expect this: funny, clever, and weird. Waititi is a natural goofball, vamps on the red carpet, and was open about objectifying Hemsworth for the viewers' benefit. He's just a fun dude, which is the exact energy the Thor franchise needs.
Vulture has a great explainer of the Thor franchise, as well as its place in the extended Marvel Universe, which should get readers up to speed on exactly what it's about. As writer Abraham Riesman surmises, Thor is basically a "humanoid alien" from Asgard, which Riesman describes as "a magical realm that floats in space." Thor's actual godly capabilities are unclear, but he can fly, he's strong AF, and has a fancy hammer that only the "worthy" are capable of listing. His best friend-slash-enemy is Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is his adoptive brother, and named for the Norse God of Mischief. The events of the previous Thor films matter less, as Thor: Ragnorok mostly serves to unite the characters Thor, Loki, and the Hulk, whom audiences last saw at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. With Marvel universe characters scattered across time and space on the big screen, the remaining films before May 2018's Avengers: Infinity War need to start corralling their heroes ASAP. Thor: Ragnorok should be a big help.
Until 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy happened, Thor was the most overwhelmingly strange of the Marvel franchises. (Is it religious? Is Thor a prince or a god? Where is this alien dimension?) Tony Stark's moneyed tech world of Iron Man was intriguing to audiences — even aspirational — and heroes like Captain America and The Hulk are easy to understand for even a novice viewer. When fans see an Avengers flick now, they know to expect a sassy action film. Thor, by comparison, is less obvious. Bringing on Waititi to direct was a smart move, as he'll enhance the more traditionally lighthearted action film's comic timing.
With an astounding cast that includes Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett, Thor: Ragnarok is guaranteed to be absolutely bananas. And that's basically all you need to know beforehand. Though, if you're a high-key fan, Vulture suggests staying for the post-credits scene. It may or may not bring Thanos back into the mix — but that's for a different movie to handle.