Am I… about to recommend a Thor movie?
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) is the MCU action/adventure/sci-fi/comedy sequel to Thor: The Dark World directed by Taika Waititi. It stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor, god of thunder, as he crash-lands on the gladiator planet of Sakaar and must find a way to return to Asgard to stop the goddess of death Hela (Cate Blanchett) from destroying it and declaring war on the nine realms.
Of all the Avengers mainstays, Thor has had the most… shall we say… patchy solo films. The first Thor was a fine albeit limited introduction, and the second is constantly labelled Marvel’s worst film to date. With that legacy behind it, Ragnarok is a breath of fresh air the size of a small hurricane. With Waititi at the helm (one of my favourite modern directors), Marvel has crafted the most ‘out-there’ and wildly entertaining Thor film to date.
After the first act – which is a quick and honestly messy wrap up of The Dark World’s lingering plot threads with a horribly shoehorned MCU tie-in – the film quickly gets going exploring Sakaar while also showing a side of Asgard we haven’t seen. This is an incredibly busy movie and often began to struggle with feeling a little overstuffed, but Waititi has done a great job balancing all the plot lines and character dynamics to give everyone their moment to shine. All of this leads to an absurdly fun climax of conflicts that ends the movie on a ripping guitar solo of a scene – which is sadly somewhat undermined by an actual ending that feels a little too unfinished thanks to the need to set up the upcoming Infinity War.
The action of the film feels like a boy playing with his toys – pitting this one against that one in increasingly entertaining and joyously cinematic scenarios. While the action is very CGI heavy, its kind of unavoidable considering all the gods and monsters the film has to deal with and for the most part it remains quality content. The 80s 8-bit aesthetic that was clearly Waititi’s input also works wonders for the film – while it does conflict a little bit with the Shakespearean qualities of Asgard, it imbues the film with both a sense of distinct style and fun. From the techno-visuals of Sakaar to Mark Mothersbaugh’s wonderful synth score, it makes the film not only one of the most distinct of the MCU but also shows where Waititi’s strengths lie when given a big production to go wild with.
As for the cast – and oh boy, its another big one – everyone is clearly have a grand time playing up to the heightened tone Waititi has set. Hemsworth gets to show a much more comedic side than usual and shows he’s clearly got the comedy chops to back it up. But at the same time the comedy never undercuts the character progression the character is going through, and while its not emotionally weighted it is nice to see the character grow and change as the films have progressed. Other returning stars such as Hiddleston and Elba as Loki and Heimdall respectively don’t bring anything new to their characters but are still fine inclusions – especially since Thor and Loki’s relationship still remains wildly entertaining.
As for the newcomers, Tessa Thompson almost steals the show as Valkyrie, the heavy drinking pessimist that abducts Thor in the first place. She appears likely to be a strong supporting character going forward, and is arguably the best inclusion into the MCU this film provides. Mark Ruffalo also appears in both green and non-green varieties and while the Hulk is as solid as he tends to be, Ruffalo is forced to flex some comedic chops too which makes for a nice variety – even if he doesn’t quite have the muscles for it that the rest of the cast have. And Goldblum! Jeff Goldblum plays the Grandmaster, the self-imposed ruler of Sakaar and is just… glorious. He’s goldbluming all over the place in a way only he can and it fits in so well with the tone that I’m surprised its taken him this long to make his MCU debut. Cate Blanchett is also a fantastic choice for Marvel’s first female villain. While her character is underdeveloped as unfortunately is the norm, Blanchett is clearly having the best time hamming it up for the camera which somewhat makes up for it.
This may be one of Waititi’s weaker films, but its also one of Marvel’s strongest. While a little messy at times, it really just boils down to being a wildly fun adventure romp through a new corner of the MCU. Stylish, action packed and very funny this is a marvelous crowd pleaser that stands out in a rapidly crowding genre.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Recommended
True Believers (Marvel): Highly Recommended