Thor: Ragnarok is a quirky and hilarious departure from the usual Marvel fare that feels fresh and possibly one of the best movies the studio has put out
The Thor sect of the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe needed a life saver change after two middling movies that are among the least critically successful movies that the franchise has produced. Well, that lifesaver came in the form of a disco-infused, neon colored shot delivered by director Taika Waititi. His last movie, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, was among my favorites last year and one of the most inspired comedies of the last decade or so. So it’s not surprising that Thor Ragnarok succeeds mainly as a comedy. However, this retro-fitted isn’t just a Guardians of the Galaxy rip-off like it might seem on the surface. Ragnarok succeeds because it has personality. It’s characters come off the screen and become more than just a few well-delivered one-liners. No offense to the Guardians of course.
The plot of Ragnarok sounds like typical Marvel fare, which usually involved some world-ending event that needs to be stopped. Following Age of Ultron, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) goes out to investigate the apocalyptic dreams he’s been having, which turns out to be the eponymous Nordic legend that foretells the destruction of Asgard. However, in the first scene, which starts with Thor, chained up in a cage, in voiceover saying: “You might be wondering how I got here…” It harkens back to the 80s films that Waititi clearly found inspiration in, but more importantly, it tells the audience this is not just going to be fun. It’s going to be silly fun. After seemingly stopping Ragnarok — refreshingly at the beginning of the movie rather than the end — Thor returns to Asgard to learn that Odin isn’t there and is instead on Earth, dying. With the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch in a hilarious cameo), he tracks his father to Norway where he learns that when Odin dies, Thor’s evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), goddess of death, will be freed from the prison she was locked away in. And she’s pissed.
Blanchett slips perfectly into the universe as this deliciously evil villain partially because she isn’t afraid to ham up her line deliveries, strut her way between brutal killings, and do everything but twirl a mustache. But it’s what this movie needs in its villain. It needs someone that the audience is going to hate, but love hating her. Hela quickly disposes of Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and makes her way to Asgard and begins her take over. Meanwhile, Thor wakes up in a garbage dump in the planet of Sakaar. This planet, which embraces every color of the rainbow, is what I had been hoping to see from the Thor franchise. Of all the Marvel superheroes, Thor is the only one, other than the Guardians, that has a world that could be built any way that the creators want. And instead, the first two movies opted for New Mexico and London. Here, Waititi fills the world with hilarious and quirky characters — Rachel House is hilarious as a bodyguard and Waititi lends his voice to the pebble-brained Korg — head by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, wonderful in his usual Goldblum way).
From there, the movie follows Thor as he attempts to find a way to escape the crazed dictator and finds help from Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Bruce Banner aka the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Many of the scenes on the planet are served with Waititi’s usual offbeat humor that works so well and will have you laughing nearly nonstop. The jokes come as often as the action and give the movie a personality and rhythm that none of the others have had.
Hemsworth seems to have finally found the director that meshes with his natural comedic sensibilities that were hinted at in Ghostbusters. Thor, often seen as the most boring Avenger, is allowed to be the comedic force behind this movie and Hemsworth takes up the duty with flair. And that allows the supporting cast to truly have shining hero (and villain) moments. Most notably, Heimdall (Idris Elba), who has been stealthily sheltering the people of Asgard, finally has a storyline worthy of his actor. In watching the first two Thor movies in preparation for this film, one thought carried through to both: why doesn’t Elba have anything to do. Well, that is certainly rectified in this movie. While his screen time isn’t great, Elba has the kind of movie star quality that makes him magnetic on screen.
However, the actor that proves yet again that he’s an indispensable part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Loki. My one and biggest complaint about the movie is that it doesn’t have the strong emotional character arc that most of the Marvel movies have. Something that Spider-Man Homecoming nails. But the closest it comes is the relationship between Thor and Loki. Hiddleston is there largely for the laughs as he attempts to outwit nearly every character with little success. But his best scenes are those where he underplays the relationship that Loki and Thor have built, destroyed, and rebuilt over the entire franchise. This movie would have been the best Marvel movie ever made had it explored the characters on an emotional level, but based on pure entertainment, this is in the upper echelons.
Thor: Ragnarok takes the humor and world-building from Guardians and meshes it nearly seamlessly with the usual Marvel formula to stunning results. It just shows that Marvel needs to continue hiring interesting directors and give them the kind of control they need to bring their vision to life. Ragnarok is the perfect example of that formula succeeding. Waititi turned one of the franchises that seemed to be Marvel’s few failures into the one I’m most interested in seeing continue.