The Marvel Cinematic Universe now spans 17 movies, almost 2 for every year it’s started. So while I have some nits to pick about Thor: Ragnarok, just remember, any franchise that can still make even decent to okay films after 17 installments is worth some praise, regardless of mis-steps and goofs here and there.
In that large list of films, Chris Hemsworth has played Thor 5 times, which is still a lot of appearances for a single character in feature films, and I’ve always said, he is to Thor Odinson what Christopher Reeves is to Superman. Other actors might go on to play the character, but at this point, Hemsworth IS the character. Big difference.
Right off rip let me say that I wish I hadn’t seen the trailers for Thor: Ragnarok. It showed way too many crucial moments, and I knew right from there that this installment would have some big shakeups for Thor, which I wish I would’ve found out in the movie alone, but that doesn’t make it any less true. That’s what’s great about Ragnarok: it takes risks with a beloved character, closes some existing storylines, starts new ones, and introduces new characters. Much like the fantastic Civil War, it’s a busy movie that requires you to remember a lot about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the placement and pieces contained therein, but balances these moving parts well for the most part, and leaves you feeling good.
Speaking of feeling good, Ragnarok is absolutely hilarious, a complete laugh riot with zany jokes and settings, and one liners flying faster than Thor’s hammer. A lot of this is credited to the new director Taika Waititi, who is known for great offbeat comedy in his other works, but I also think the chemistry of the excellent cast of the movie also is the vehicle that drives both the director and script’s comedic engine forward. Ruffalo and Hemsworth, as well as Hemsworth and Hiddleston returning as Loki especially shine together, as these actors have really grown together over the years in these roles, and it shows. The deliciously evil and completely zany Jeff Goldblum steals the show with his performance as The Grandmaster, who’s so jaded with the evil-ruler routine that he has an air of hilarious but also scary casualness when it comes to his evil deeds. Goldblum plays the part effortlessly, and I mean that as the highest praise.
Ragnarok also features fantastic action, with the choreography almost as fast paced as a Captain America movie, whereas previous Thor entries have seen a bit more brute force and less technique. Here, we see an experienced Thor who masterfully uses not only his hammer to some of the best effect yet, but also multiple weapons as well as some shocking new abilities, very slick and precise moves from Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, and of course satisfying blunt smashings from Ruffalo’s Hulk. And speaking of the Big Green Guy, the teased and talked about rematch between him and Thor that’s been longstanding since The Avengers definitely satisfies here.
There’s also some fantastically ruthless and nasty business doled out by the always excellent Cate Blanchett, who truly luxuriates in her role as the very hateable villainess Hela. The thing that Ragnarok understands about action is that it’s like a rhythm, like music or a dance number, and has to have surprises, moments of improvisation and learning, while also expressing the character through movement, and not just a series of dull punches and kicks. Every character has a signature move, style, and weapon/approach they use, and it’s touches like these that make the action thoroughly enjoyable, and probably the best of the Thor franchise on it’s own.
I didn’t think Ragnarok was perfect however, and many of the things I thought might hold it back or be an issue (no matter how minor or large) definitely were.
For starters, well, the start. The movie doesn’t have much lead-in, immediately throwing us into exposition, with Thor writing off the results of his quest to find the Infinity Gems within a single line of dialouge. Okay…seemed like that should’ve been a huge deal with major significance that he would want to relay to his pals on Earth, but whatever. The movie doesn’t have time to dwell on things like that, and although there’s some greatness in the first 20 minutes, the story doesn’t really start until Hela arrives. Before that, it’s scene after scene that wraps up plot points, sets exposition, and bombards you with setting the table before the meal is served. The way that Dr.Strange jars Thor around in his mansion was a great metaphor for how those first opening minutes felt, very little flow. The masterful Anthony Hopkins as Odin is rushed out of the movie faster than the Bifrost can transport an Asgardian, you can almost feel the director off set counting his minutes of screen time, which is a shame, because the movie sets such a rich history and conflict between him and Hela, but the story prevents them from having a scene together. You have Hopkins and Blanchett working on the same movie, with an excuse to have them raging at one another, and don’t do it? After Hela appears, one of her first acts is not only to destroy Thor’s hammer (which, as a Marvel nut, is *not* within her powerset in the comics), but also to slay The Warriors Three, with Ray Stevenson as Volstagg barely getting a line before getting killed unceremoniously. It’s almost like the movie doesn’t expect us to remember that they’ve been in each of the previous movies as fairly large supporting parts, and that in the world of the story, they’re Thor’s best friends. He doesn’t really have a true scene of grieving over their deaths, or Odin’s, which is a shame. I did enjoy that Hogun, played by the excellent Tadanobu Asano was given the most screentime out of all of them, but another misstep is the unexplained absence of Jamie Alexander as Lady Sif, who was fantastic in the other Thor films. In real life, she’s busy filming Blindspot on NBC, but in terms of the MCU, why in the 9 Realms is she not fighting to defend her homeland in its most desperate hour? There wasn’t even a throw-away line given to explain this, and for a fan of both the actress and character, I have to take points off for this.
The other major flaw of Ragnarok is also a strength at the same time. Remember how I said the comedy was on point? It is! Absolutely hilarious, genuinely, with well timed, character-relevant humor. Loki’s reaction to seeing who Thor has to face on Planet Sakaar is worth the price of admission alone. But here’s the thing: since it’s a Marvel film and not a full-on comedy, there has to be drama and high-stakes too. The stakes are high in Ragnarok, and the heart of the film carries it through to a good conclusion, but it’s held back from being thoroughly great due to the non-stop silliness. You have to commit to a tone, and let there be some balance, and can’t ping-pong from moment to another changing the tone rapidly without sacrificing some drama. I myself think that the first Thor is an underrated part of the MCU, and overall, it’s mostly serious with a bit of silliness. I think Thor is one of the most polarizing movie trilogies ever, with the third film being almost completely different than the first. Ragnarok is still fun, but go back and watch the scene where Odin strips Thor of his power, or when Loki berates Odin for hiding his heritage, being so savage and cruel in his remarks that Odin has a heart palpitation. There’s nothing silly about those scenes, and you see some Shakespearean trained actors really going for it. Now try to imagine those same scenes with a quippy one-liner at the end. For most of Ragnarok, this isn’t an issue, but especially towards the climax, if the movie had made a more solid commitment to finally getting at least a bit more serious, I personally think you would’ve turned a good ending into a great one.
My final remarks really only apply to Marvel die-hards and nutcases like myself, and can be forgiven especially if you’ve only seen the movie versions of these characters, or only care about the film version.
-It’s a shame that Planet Sakaar, the arena that Hulk fights in, and the story about him being shot to another world has been sacrificed. The Planet Hulk story is one of the best, if not the best story involving a Hulk, a tough character to write because of his unyielding power. Its elements are taken and blended to make something good here, yes, but a pure cinematic version of it could almost be like a Marvel version of Gladiator or Ben-Hur but with the damned Hulk. Now that would be something.
-Korg the Kronan’s transformation was stunning to my friend and I. We knew the honorable, solemn warrior from the Planet Hulk story, and by contrast, Korg in this is a completely zany goofball. Don’t get me wrong, he has some of the most hilarious lines of the movie!! However for a comic fan, this version was quite the adjustment to make. Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is a major step up from Thor: The Dark World. They’ve taken one of the shakier solo film series in the MCU and turned it into a very enjoyable flick after such a long series. Out of this year’s Marvel films, Spider-Man: Homecoming still takes the cake with a more balanced story, but Ragnarok is hilarious, colorful, full of great performances, and just a few bumps here and there that keep it from being a full on gem. An Infinity Gem that is.
Thor: Ragnarok Gets
Out of 5