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Even though Chris Hemsworth himself has been a revelation in the role since the start, the Thor movies have generally been the weakest link of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – not bad, but not great and certainly not anyone’s favorite. The third entry, Thor: Ragnarok, takes a big step towards rectifying that.
This bright, colorful, goofy superhero adventure is definitely the best Thor movie but its comedic antics don’t always match its narrative heft.
Thor returns to Asgard after a long absence only to find in disarray. His adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is still impersonating Odin (Anthony Hopkins), relishing the perks of being king while shirking the duties that come with the job. As a result, a now weak and vulnerable Asgard is open for attack by the goddess of death Hela (Cate Blanchett).
Hela wipes the floor with Thor and Loki, destroying Thor’s hammer in the process, and the two brothers end up on the planet Sakaar. The planet’s ruler, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) makes Thor fight his co-worker Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a gladiatorial arena.
Thor: Ragnarok is an incredibly silly, lighthearted film even by Marvel standards. Its brand of goofy sci-fi infused antics feels more in line with Guardians of the Galaxy than the previous Thor movies, which is a welcome shift in direction.
Spaceships, lasers, alien junkyards, giant Jeff Goldblum holograms – you’d think these things would feel a bit out of place with all the Norse mythology, but it’s a pretty good fit. Asgardians were already aliens in the MCU, plus bringing in more cosmic stuff helps with setting up the upcoming Infinity War, both in terms of narrative and style.
Ragnarok is silly and dumb, but it knows its silly and dumb. It embraces it, flaunts it and has a damn good time with it – and you will too. It’s an incredibly fun and often very funny movie. It’s also just such a bright, colorful, pretty thing to look at. The screen is practically dripping with colors and creativity.
Its lighthearted nature is, however, both a strength and a notable weakness. The movie’s plot revolves around Ragnarok, the end of all Asgardian civilization and the story features several very important developments both on a personal scale and a much larger, universe-changing one.
Ragnarok doesn’t neglect these aspects of its narrative, but its silliness does overshadow them quite a bit. It’s hard to get emotionally invested in the midst of all the wackiness, especially since almost everyone seems far too relaxed a lot of the time.
The Guardians of the Galaxy movies did a much better job of balancing their innate silliness with some meaningful drama (Vol.2‘s ending is still one of the emotional highlights of 2017 – in a movie that also featured a giant Pac-Man slamming into a giant Kurt Russel) and director Taika Waititi himself has done better – What We Do in the Shadows and especially Hunt for the Wilderpeople showed off how you can make an utterly silly movie also be quite moving.
Ragnarok isn’t nearly as well-adjusted – the characters are cool, interesting and well-defined but most of the attempts to tap into something more meaningful or dramatic fall quite flat. This is a movie that works best when it’s not taking itself seriously. When it tries, it feels like a chore.
It’s clear that the humor is rooted in improvisation, and mostly really good improvisation at that, but maybe it should have reigned itself in a bit. For all the important narrative stakes, this is a movie that more often than not prefers to enjoy the moment and lets it characters goof off.
Hulk appears to be the biggest victim of this – Ragnarok takes inspiration from the famous Planet Hulk storyline and offers a completely new side of the character. For the first time we have a Hulk that shares almost an equal amount of screen time with Bruce Banner, a Hulk that speaks for himself and has more to his personality than just SMASH.
Yet it’s hard to shake the feeling that Ragnarok could have done so much more with this setup for the character, without upstaging Thor in the process. Banner is worried that because he spent so long being the Hulk, the next time he changes might be permanent. It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t get much of a resolution here – find out what happens with Hulk in the next movie!
Similarly, the idea of Hulk loving his new life as a gladiator celebrity on Sakaar feels like it’s only superficially explored.
Hela is a cool villain if a bit overpowered and Blanchett has a lot of fun hamming it up. Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is a really cool addition to the movie’s cast of characters – a badass, boozehound warrior with a dark past and an attitude. Ragnarok hints at a romance between her and Thor while also sweeping Natalie Portman’s character from the previous movies firmly under the rug.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange pops in for a very quick cameo and Waititi himself play a minor character called Korg that’s quite funny. Karl Urban dips his toes in the Marvel Universe as Skurge, a henchman for Hela who is conflicted over his decision to side with the villain. As for Jeff Goldblum, he is nothing short of spectacular.
The movie’s action scenes are epic in scale and feel – the highly anticipated bout between Thor and Hulk is quite something indeed, but just about every action scene in Ragnarok stands out in one way or another. Whether’s Thor and Loki mowing down henchmen with laser guns, Hela decimating an entire Asgardian army or Hulk throwing down with a gigantic wolf, Ragnarok goes for broke and blasts Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” while doing it.
Bottom line, this is an entertaining movie, but its gleeful stupidity doesn’t always work in its favor.