Directed by Taika Waititi
Reviewed by Brandon Bishop, November 4, 2017
“Asgard isn’t a place; it’s a people.”
Thor Ragnarok arrives as the third Thor film and the seventeenth film in Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe. Seventeen films is quite a feat. There have been ups and downs, origin stories and sequels. The “MCU,” as it has been affectionately nicknamed, while hugely successful, has arguably grown formulaic to a degree. Thrilling action, great characters, and clever comedy fill the films of the MCU, but many of the films have some common problems. Many critique the films for their similar structures and weak villains.
Thor’s first two titled films each have their strengths, but are largely forgettable. Thor’s character, portrayed by Chris Hemsworth in each of the Thor films and Avengers films, has thus far been rather pompous and at times even unlikeable. The first film introduces us to the character and his home of Asgard, introduces us to franchise favorite Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, and features more than competent direction by Kenneth Branagh. The second film, Thor: The Dark World sees Thor in conflict with an ancient race of Dark Elves who seek to bring a dark age upon the universe. Those films, like all in the MCU, feature fun action scenes, but lack charm, particularly The Dark World.
Thor Ragnarok breaks that trend. From its opening minutes, Thor begins cracking jokes. The film opens with a conversation with a fire demon who promises Ragnarok, the ultimate destruction of Thor’s home of Asgard, but Thor charmingly mocks the demon and escapes in epic but comedic fashion. That constant stream of jokes and jabs continues to the end credits, at times to a fault. Ragnarok confidently sits among the funniest films in the MCU, alongside 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
The movie never stops to take a breath after that satisfying introduction. If there is not a sprawling action scene on the screen, you’ll be laughing too hard to care. As usual with MCU films, the design and special affects are top notch, and this one is a particular standout due to its use of color, like the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
Particularly in The Dark World, Thor often comes off as a hot-headed and rude warrior who will gladly save the world, but will do so for his own glory. Thor is different here. He has always been a sarcastic character, but also a cocky one. This is the fifth film that this character has appeared in, and it has taken until Ragnarok for Thor to gain some humility. The comedic sensibilities brought on by new director, Taika Waititi, lighten up the proceedings quite a bit, even considering the stakes are higher and more personal for Thor than either of his previous solo films.
Tom Hiddleston returns and charms as always as Thor’s brother Loki. Anthony Hopkins returns with a small but vital role in the film as their father, Odin. There are a number of cameo appearances in the film, some of which are surprising and joyous, and others, such as Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange feel superfluous and tangential. Director Taika Waititi portrays Korg, an alien warrior made of stone, and brings some of the movie’s best laughs. He also unfortunately has some jokes that distract from the more important events going on around him, but overall he adds to the fun and levity of the movie and stands out among the rest.
Jeff Goldblum portrays “The Grandmaster,” the director of a gladiatorial arena where Thor is forced to combat Hulk, an old friend and Avenger portrayed by Mark Ruffalo. Ragnarok offers Hulk a great deal of screentime to expand on his character. For a large portion of the second act of the movie, Ragnarok almost becomes a sort of buddy pic between Thor and Hulk, and every moment is glorious. Mark Ruffalo also makes an appearance as his human character, Bruce Banner, who doesn’t quite work here. They play up the “fish out of water” situation, as he finds himself on an alien planet, and he almost becomes annoying. Cate Blanchett portrays the villain of the piece, Hela, Goddess of Death. She brings a delightful menace to the role but ultimately delivers too much exposition and falls victim to a lot of MCU villain tropes. Some fans of Thor comics may be disappointed at how quickly she dispatches some important characters from the comics who have never had a chance to shine in the feature films. Lastly, Tessa Thompson rounds out the cast as the Valkyrie, a member of an elite but extinct army of woman warriors.
The film is epic and grandiose, and among the funniest you’ll see this year. For better or worse, however, while Thor changes more in this film than he has in four others, his performance is ultimately overshadowed by Hulk and Korg, who steal the show here. That’s ultimately a quibble in what is a great film to round out 2017 in the MCU, and while imperfect, Ragnarok charms, thrills, and entertains. While it doesn’t quite reach the personal or dramatic heights of this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Spider-man Homecoming, Thor returns to the big screen in what is easily his best solo outing yet.