In 'Thor: Ragnarok', Valkyrie Sets A New Standard For The Way Female Heroes Should Be Treated
Thor: Ragnarok is here, and it's giving the Marvel Cinematic Universe its first black female superhero. Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, makes her MCU debut in the film, and boy, is she awesome. Valkyrie is pretty much everything fans could hope for: she's strong enough to bring down Thor, honorable as a warrior, and also flawed like any person. She's also a major part of the Ragnarok plot, and never once seen in her underwear (never forget Iron Man 2). But one of the more exciting things about her is that Valkyire is Thor's hero. And as the character Thor looks up to, Valkyrie sets a new standard for female heroes in the MCU, even if there's undoubtedly still room for improvement.
To say that Valkyrie and Thor don't exactly hit it off upon their first meeting would be an understatement, unless by "hit it off" you mean she tags him with a device that delivers debilitating electric shocks to his body and kidnaps him to sell him to the Grandmaster for 10 million. Needless to say, Thor isn't exactly her biggest fan. But all that changes when he sees a marking on her arm that identifies her as a Valkyrie, a legendary Asgardian army of women warriors. "I love women," Thor says awkwardly while commenting on the Valkyrie army, adding that it's "about time" for an all-female fighting force. But, more importantly Thor tells Valkyrie that he remembers hearing stories of the army as a child and used to want to be one of them when he grew up. Valkyrie, and her tribe of fighters, were Thor's childhood heroes, and the idea that baby Thor — a literal God — used to look up to a group of fierce warrior women is pretty darn cool.
By declaring his respect and admiration for Valkyrie, Thor also helps establish an interesting new power dynamic between the two Asgardians. From their first encounter, Valkyrie has the upper hand. She outsmarts him and overpowers him, all without the use of a magic hammer. Thor calling her his hero only emphasizes that she is the one with the power in their relationship, and not just because he's basically enslaved and she's not; it's because, simply, she has seen and done more in her life than he has thus far.
As the film moves forward, Valkyrie proves herself to be an invaluable ally to Thor. Once she decides to help him, her knowledge of Sakaar and the Grandmaster is crucial to their escape. She's also the only one who has been in battle against Hela before, and thus is the only one with a solid understanding of what she's capable of. Thor needs her to survive, but she only needs him to remind her of her past. Looking at their relationship, it's obvious that he needs Valkyrie more than she needs him, a direct contradiction of previous female-male relationships in the MCU (Peggy Carter and Captain America excluded). It's also worth noting that the warrior isn't defined in the movie as a romantic interest or a sexual object, and she has almost as much screen time as the Hulk, setting her up as a major character going forward.
Valkyrie is a significant step forward for Marvel, but the studio still has a long way to go, as shown by its unfortunate 0/17 track record for female-led superhero films so far (Captain Marvel, you can't come soon enough). In Ragnarok, Valkyrie is one of only three women with significant roles, the other two being Hela (Cate Blanchett) and Topaz (Rachel House). And worse, the warrior barely ever shares the screen with the other women, only exchanging a handful of words with Hela. It's also unclear whether or not Valkyrie will appear in Avengers: Infinity War, so who knows if she'll actually continue to have a strong presence in the MCU after this movie.
Thor: Ragnarok is a great debut for Valkyrie, but where she goes from here will be the real test to Marvel's commitment to female heroes. Thompson recently revealed in an interview with io9 that she and a few other female actors in the MCU pitched a female superhero movie to Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. It sounds like a pretty good place to start.