Thor has never been the most critically beloved franchise within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Personally, I believe Thor: The Dark World to be one of the weakest entries that Marvel has offered, so I think Feige and co. were right to believe that change was needed. This was an idea that Chris Hemsworth himself personally brought to Kevin Feige, which led to us getting our new director: Taika Waititi. This was a good choice.
You will notice a lot of differences between Ragnarok and the previous two entries. In fact, it’ll be harder for you to find similarities. This film is so shockingly different upon viewing, that it’s jarring. Now don’t take that as a bad thing, because it breathes some much needed life into the world of Thor.
Last time we saw Thor, he was led on a journey to find the imminent threat facing the Avengers in the form of the mysterious Infinity stones. This quest sidetracked him into finding various other world ending dangers, right into the start of Ragnarok (the end of all things for the Asgardians). Loki’s careless ruse as Odin opened up the doors for Hela’s vicious return, and she has her eyes set on ruling Asgard and the known universe. In his initial attempts to stop her, Thor is stranded on a strange planet called Saakar, where he is forced into participating in gladiator style games by the mysterious Grandmaster.
Taika Waititi’s signature style of comedy is heavily painted all over this film. Because of it, Ragnarok is easily one of the funniest MCU films to date. From the self-referential humor, to improvised exchanges, to hilarious pokes at past Marvel continuity, the film will have you outwardly laughing more than a few times. It’s easy to compare this film to the signature jokey style of the Guardians of the Galaxy series, a style that is seemingly becoming the calling card of the cosmic MCU.
This style however, has drawbacks. The improvisational and consistent humor fits very nicely within the franchise overall, but it can really get in its own way during the more intimate moments. The comedy doesn’t always know when to stop, or simply take a breather. There are a handful of great emotional and character beats that are undercut and weakened by Waititi’s need to crack a joke. The film centers around the potential death and destruction of Asgard and all of it’s people, and it has trouble taking a moment to allow us to take it all in. Now I may have laid that on thick, but not all the emotional beats in the film are entirely undercut throughout the film. Characters are still able to have their moments, and the weight of Asgard’s impending doom can be felt at times, but when a joke falls flat at the wrong time you can’t help but be a little annoyed—even if it doesn’t completely shatter moment.
Aesthetically, the film is very colorful—though I wouldn’t put it quite above the Guardians series in that respect—and feels extremely comic book esque. Influences from famous comic book artist Jack Kirby are everywhere, from the structural design of Sakaar to the guards themselves who look like they were torn directly from the page of a comic. There is a great contrast between the colorful and mysterious ongoings of Sakaar, to that of the dark pallet of Asgard as Hela brings it closer to its potential demise.
Structurally, the film does a good job balancing the storyline on Sakaar—and it’s rough adaption of the well known Planet Hulk comics—with Hela’s arrival on Asgard and the impending prophecy of Ragnarok. As important as Ragnarok is to Thor and his people, that plot thread is very much on the back burner for a good chunk of the film. Some may find that problematic, but personally I thought it worked nicely. It provided the film a good avenue for expanding the Thor—and general cosmic—world, and giving the characters an entirely new playground in the form of Sakaar, while providing a heavy motivating factor to all characters involved. Also, props to Marvel for again giving us a third act and finale that subverted expectations and felt fresh.
Now when it comes to the main characters, two of them in particular were dramatically evolved and improved upon thanks to Waititi’s new direction. The first of those characters is the titular character himself: Thor Odinson. Chris Hemsworth gave a fantastic performance this time around, and you could see the fun he was having being able to get outside of the dull shakespearean world that his last two movies occupied. Hemsworth doesn’t get enough credit for the comedic timing and grace he has, and this film helps showcase that aspect of his performance. As for the character himself, Thor goes through a very strong journey of discovery. A personal journey that almost feels similar to the original Thor film, but here it’s done exceptionally better. It leads to us getting the Thor we always should have had in the MCU, and you’ll be wishing you had him this way the entire time. Another strong note when it comes to Thor: his fights scenes this time around were fantastic. I’ve always felt that the movies haven’t really known how to properly use him in action. Right off the bat, Ragnarok gave us a scene that made it feel like I was truly watching Thor kick ass. That trend continued with every action sequence, especially towards the end.
The second dramatically improved and evolved character is the Hulk. I was giddy with excitement when I learned that Hulk would be talking this time around. It’s something that we should have seen a while ago, but we haven’t seen since the classic “Puny God” line. After spending two years on Sakaar, the Hulk persona has become more intelligent, and is able to do more than angrily yell and smash things. It’s refreshing, and makes watching the Hulk that much more interesting. His budding banter and bromance with Thor is a staple from the comics, and it’s great to see it make it’s way here. Coming out of the film, Hulk was certainly one of my favorite aspects, and I’m extremely excited to see this new child-like Hulk back in action with The Avengers.
When it comes to returning characters from the franchise, there surprisingly aren’t too many of importance. The two of greatest note would be Heimdall and Loki. Heimdall gets more to do than ever before, and it’s quite awesome to see him in such a drastically different role in the story. As for Loki, he is as great as before. The film does a great job at showing the maturation of his relationship with his brother Thor, and Waititi uses his trademark humor to tackle it in really fantastic manner. Leaving the theater, I felt that I understood how the inner workings of their relationship works more than I ever have before.
Now how does this film fare when it comes to the infamous villain problem that plagues Marvel? Well for starters we have our first female villain in the MCU in the form of Cate Blanchett’s Hela, The Goddess Of Death. Blanchett does a great job at embodying Hela, and really gives her a scary, powerful charisma. She is a real threat to this world, and the film does a great job at showcasing that. It’s also great to see the meaty mythology that Hela’s return brings to light in regards to the world of Asgard, and it’s something that really helped flesh out the extremely vague world and mythos of Thor’s home world. I would certainly consider Hela one of the better MCU villains, but she is held back by how little she has to do through the course of the film. The film also does a good job at juggling the many other antagonist forces in the film, such as: The Executioner (who has a surprisingly strong bite-sized arc), Surtur, and The Grandmaster.
Ragnarok brings with it plenty of new faces in addition to the likes of Hela. Jeff Goldblum’s performance of The Grandmaster is fantastically odd and unsettling, really leaving no doubt in your mind that he is an elder of the universe (the brother to Benicio Del Toro’s The Collector). Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is a great addition to the MCU, giving us another strong cosmic protagonist with a tragic backstory. Probably one of the funniest additions to the cast would be Taika Waititi’s performance of Korg, a new Kronan ally that Thor encounters in the gladiator pits. Korg is a hit, so you can expect to see plenty more of him in future MCU films.
Thor Ragnarok is above and beyond the best Thor film to date, and overall a fantastic MCU film. While funny, It’s consistent humor can get in the film’s own way, even if that drastic change in tone does wonders overall for the franchise. Coming out of the film I cared and understood the likes of Thor, Hulk, and Loki more than I ever have in the past. Fair warning though: don’t expect two hours of setup for future MCU films. It is very much a story for Thor and his world, and it’s focus on that never slips, giving only fleeting teases of anything having to do with the upcoming Infinity War.
What did you guys think about the film? Be sure to sound off below in the comments with everything you loved or hated about the film!
You can catch Thor Ragnarok playing now at your local movie theater.