Warning: SPOILERS below for Thor: Ragnarok!
Thor: Ragnarok rounded off the initial Thor trilogy hilariously, but it's not the end of the franchise. And when it comes back, it should be under the leadership of a different face: Valkyrie.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe remains wanting for female superheroes. 2019 - 11 even years after Iron Man kicked off the MCU - is when Captain Marvel starring Oscar-winner Brie Larson, Marvel Studios' first film headlined by a female superhero, is due to arrive. Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are the only two female heroes in the Avengers, while Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) are Guardians of the Galaxy, and all of these are outnumbered and overshadowed by their male counterparts. Thankfully, Taika Waititi's rollicking Thor: Ragnarok comes complete with its own answer to the MCU's female hero troubles: the Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).
Valkyrie is fantastic. From the moment she appears drunkenly stumbling off of her spaceship's ramp in the junkyards of Sakaar, you know you're dealing with something special, with Thompson's magnetic performance ensuring that she makes an impact every moment she's on the screen. As part of the ragtag team dubbed The Revengers, Valkyrie stands and fights for the future of Asgard alongside Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as their equal - and in some ways, superior.
Not long after meeting her, we learn Valkyrie is a powerful Asgardian warrior and an expert pilot. And she lives up to that; never needing rescuing, she is fearless and mighty. But she's also complicated and a reluctant hero. Valkyrie has spent millennia nursing an ancient trauma she eventually overcomes by fighting Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, with Thor. By the time Ragnarok is over, Valkyrie has cemented herself as one of the best new characters the MCU has introduced in recent years - male or female. Already, it's clear she can lead her own Marvel movie franchise. In fact, she could even lead the Thor movie franchise in the MCU's Phase 4.
With Valkyrie essentially replacing Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) as the female lead of Thor, we've evidently come a long way from the "Marvel girlfriends" of MCU Phase 1. Jane, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) - those who stand on the sidelines while the male heroes fight the bad guys and save the world - have mostly disappeared and been gradually been replaced by actual female superheroes like Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly). The future of the MCU will be about superheroes of all description fighting side by side and saving the world together. Valkyrie has already proven her worth in that regard, and based on comic parallels could become even more important.
Marvel Comics introduced a mysterious female Thor in 2014, ultimately revealed to be Jane Foster, who in writer Jason Aaron's story is dying of cancer yet was deemed worthy to wield Thor's hammer and become the Goddess of Thunder when the original hero himself became unworthy. The odds are astronomically against Natalie Portman's Jane returning to claim Thor's mantle, and it's not really likely Marvel Studios will confuse moviegoers by introducing a straight-up genderswapped Thor in another form. But why even bother with a female Thor when they have a perfect equal in Valkyrie?
As we learn in Ragnarok, Valkyrie is the last of the winged horse-riding elite Asgardian warrior army called the Valkyries. They made their last stand thousands of years ago when they assembled to quell Hela's uprising against Odin, only to be slaughtered by the Goddess of Death. Only one Valkyrie survived and she has spent who-knows-how-long living on the planet Sakaar. There she is known as Scrapper 142, collecting potential contenders for the Grandmaster's (Jeff Goldblum) Contest of Champions - and being well-rewarded for her troubles.
This leads us to an interesting rogue. As an immortal Asgardian, Valkyrie can drink legendary amounts of alcohol and carries herself with a devil-may-care Thor-like swagger. She even became the Hulk's only friend and personal trainer, showing no fear whatsoever of the giant green rage monster. Couple that with the sense of duty exemplified during the film and you have a strong hero figure.
Meanwhile, Thor's status as a superhero is completely upended in Ragnarok; stripped of his magic hammer Mjolnir and losing his right eye at Hela's hands, the God of Thunder ultimately fulfills his destiny to succeed his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as king of Asgard. It's hard to say what the future of the Thor franchise will look like after Avengers 3 and 4, but going by where Thor is at this point in his life after Ragnarok, he must now split his responsibilities between being an Avenger and the ruler of Asgard. No matter what happens in the two-parter, Thor is going to need a lot of help, with or without a hammer to hold.
However, Valkyrie shouldn't just continue to be a part of the Thor franchise going forward; she should at least co-headline. This isn't to say the established brand name of "Thor" should be supplanted by "Valkyrie"; she can easily assume a leadership and starring role within the franchise even if it continues to bear Thor's name. The ultimate point is that Valkyrie is a great lead; she's as formidable a fighter, is certainly possessed of a wry wit, her beauty is unquestionable, and yes, she's as cool as Thor - if not cooler. Most importantly, Valkyrie is every bit the hero the God of Thunder is. Indeed, even Thor would concur how fortunate he was to have Valkyrie watch his back in Ragnarok.
Though it seems like Thor isn't going anywhere, at least for the rest of Phase 3, what happens in Phase 4 of the MCU is anyone's guess. But if the time comes that Thor is unable (or unworthy) to lead the franchise, Valkyrie is more than worthy to answer the call.