I have a hit-and-miss record with Marvel movies, meaning that they are all hits, and I have somehow missed seeing most of them. I haven’t seen a single Avengers movie, nor a Captain America movie; I avoided Doctor Strange and just realized this very second that there was an Ant-Man movie. Also I can’t remember if I saw Guardians of the Galaxy or if I’m misremembering Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which I definitely saw because I could see it for free. Maybe I saw the first and third Iron Man, but not the second? Actually, I certainly saw the first Iron Man, as I distinctly remember being surprised that Terrence Howard was playing something rather than the light-skinned abusive boyfriend. If memory serves, I saw Iron Man 2 with a boy I was seeing — but actually, maybe I saw Iron Man 2 with someone else, and that boy and I went on a three-on-one date Bachelor-style, and saw Hellboy?
So, for a long time, I really thought the newest Thor installment was called Thor: Rigmarole, which, honestly, seemed like a pretty cool title to me. Thor Ragnarok, a movie full of shenanigans and stunning people fighting crime, and maybe a few one-liners or some generous super-masculine shirtless shots. Rigmarole, a big fuss over nothing, which is honestly what I’d expect from Thor’s golden (stringy) locks. When look closer, I later found out the title was Ragnarok, which sounded like a garage emo rock band from 2007. And, like, sure — Thor, go off!
Then I saw Thor Ragnarok, or, more specifically, then I saw Tessa Thompson in Ragnarok. Tessa plays Valkyrie (nothing to do with the Tom Cruise film), a warrior goddess on the downswing; her main gig is capturing potential players for the Grandmaster’s (Jeff Goldblum) gladiatorial contest, but in early days she was a defender of Asgard, Thor’s home planet. There are two songs that best describe what it’s like to see Tessa Thompson playing Valkyrie in Thor Ragnarok: “Independent Woman Part 1,” by Destiny’s Child, and “These Words,” by Natasha Bedingfield. Like these inarguably perfect tunes, Tessa’s performance is euphoric and emboldening (please press play on them for the duration of this essay).
Tessa’s got the comedic timing to match Taika Waititi’s Thor’s sense of humor, and the physicality to lead the film’s pack of superheroes. She’s not trying to outdo the boys; she’s just trying to sip her drink and mind her own business, which is one whole 2017 mood. Giving by her look: the slate and gold armor that appears like it was taken from Beyoncé’s I Am … world tour, with an added lapis cape. Not even Michelle Obama — the human with the most perfect biceps in American history — can pull off Valkyrie’s sleeveless armor in her opening scenes, which dares you to cross her. I like that she’s rightfully not in a sleek spandex jumpsuit or a leotard: You’re supposed to see her power and awe at her muscles. Considering the misogynoir launched at Serena Williams and Simone Biles for embracing their muscles and physicality as beautiful, this visual feels especially important. Every time Valkyrie took out her sword, ready to slice through the demonic Hela’s (Cate Blanchett) minions, I was rapt with attention, throwing popcorn up my face, missing my mouth. And soon, I realized: This Marvel stuff is Hela tight!
I’ve only seen two black women superheroes before: Halle Berry as Storm and Beyoncé as Storm. I had fun when seeing Wonder Woman, and entertained dreams about escaping to Themyscira like everyone else. But Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie performance genuinely seemed like a preview of what a feminist blockbuster could look like, without a body-invasion climax or a romantic arc. (But there’s definitely room for her to get the latter: Valkyrie is actually bisexual, which is essential for mainstream representation, but the sole explicit reference to her sexuality in the script was unfortunately cut in the film’s final edit.) Valkyrie usurps every meme’d comic-book movie stereotype. She’s not white, blonde, and named Chris. Valkyrie is Afro-Latina, irritable, and a warrior goddess. What if Valkyrie was the de facto black doll of my childhood, rather than the Addy, the black slavery-era American Girl doll? No shade to Addy, of course — love you, wherever you are in Auntie’s attic — but I might have felt a little more confident, a little more sure during primary school show-and-tell, that black girls didn’t always have to be twice as good, or always enduring some kind of domestic tragedy.
Valkyrie also has the best character entrance this side of Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name: She’s wasted, drunkenly stumbling out of her spacecraft to rescue Chris Hemsworth, who has been trapped and bound by a group of masked scavengers. He’s the damsel in distress, and Valkyrie boots up her spacecraft’s machine guns to shoo away his captors. This flips the usual gendered convention on its head: Valkyrie doesn’t rescue Thor because she’s lonely, or to win him over, or even out of the goodness of her heart. Thor is huge and packed, a perfect contender for the Grandmaster’s entertaining game. She could get some money out of his capture herself.
Seeing Tessa Thompson appeared in Thor Ragnarok was an exercise in reclaiming my time. For two hours and ten whole minutes, all of my time was devoted entirely to the astounding machinations of Valkyrie. She delivers Blair Waldorf–level eye rolls when Thor tries to enlist her to help him escape back to Asgard. Eventually he does, and the triad — Thor, Bruce Banner, and Valkyrie — steals one of the Grandmaster’s ships to make a great escape. That’s when Valkyrie springs into action, using guns on her spacecraft to zap the guards trying to stop them from leaving the planet. This is the point where, suddenly, I see what Marvel fans are so gassed up about: Valkyrie leaps from spaceship to spaceship as if she’s leapfrogging across lily pads. It’s a stunning image, that’s only outdone in the climactic battle against Blanchett, when Tessa’s glowing like the human manifestation of Fenty Beauty’s Trophy Wife.
The inner workings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe remain a mystery to me, but I have clicked on enough Abe Riesman explainers to know that it exists, and that Thompson could show up in a future Avengers movie. She’s rumored to be returning for Infinity War, and was spotted on the movie’s Edinburgh set. But might I request that we get even more of a good thing? The Marvel actresses have already floated the concept of an all-ladies, Avengers-style group of heroes. I vote we keep Valkyrie in the Avengers posse, but also get 120 minutes of a Valkyrie stand-alone: a boozy adventure with midair fights and explosions, and maybe even a mink cape in a color worthy of Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards, just because that’d be really cool to see. Imagine it: Valkyrie kicking ass and then striding off to some dive bar in Asgard for a pint. It can be Insecure meets Wonder Woman meets Waiting to Exhale. My ticket is already purchased.