MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action-Comedy/ Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch; Voices of: Taika Waititi, Clancy Brown/Runtime: 130 minutes
I feel it is safe to say that when you really stop to think about it movie goers the Thor movies really truly have never been as strong as the other “solo” character adventures within the framework of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However at the end of the day they do manage to possess a key weapon that allows them to ultimately work as well as they have. That would be the fact that Chris Hemsworth not only has the good looks and muscular body build for leading action blockbusters, but he also manages to possess a strong sense of comedic timing. Indeed while both Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World really try to swing for the fences in regards to fantastical drama, it seems like they really connect the best when the films and all the actors involved just try to have fun whether it is the titular hero’s rough adjustment to the ways of Earth, or his bizarre portal-hoping battle against the Dark Elves. Thankfully upon seeing Thor: Ragnarok I can safely say that here is finally the Thor film that gets it right by managing to lean into this series’ greatest strength, and while the comedic leanings that this film does have the collateral damage effect of undercutting some of the more dramatic aspects that this film possesses, this is still nevertheless not only the best of the Thor features, but a solid entry in the MCU period.
The plot is as follows: Rather than just being on the hunt for the Infinity Stones, as he suggested to Steve and Tony at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has also been on a different mission in that he has also been doing his best to try and prevent an event that involves the fabled destruction of his beloved home world of Asgard….an event that is also known as Ragnarok. So after seemingly accomplishing this task, in an absolutely terrific opening that sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the film and also features some terrific voice-over work from Clancy Brown (yes the voice of Mr. Krabs from SpongeBob is in this), Thor returns home to Asgard only to quickly discover that things aren’t as he left them. This is because for those who remember the end of Thor: The Dark World know (and if you don’t I completely empathize and understand. Indeed it was only thanks to the joys of Wikipedia that I was able to) his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has spent the past few years impersonating their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and ruling as king in Thor and Odin’s place. Of course it isn’t long before Thor uncovers the ruse, but not before 3 truly amusing cameos that I shan’t spoil here, and forces his sibling to reveal not only his true identity, but also where he hid the real Odin. Unfortunately it isn’t long before this little adventure manages to go wildly astray thanks to the surprise appearance of an incredibly deadly new foe: Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) and in the fight that follows Thor’s beloved hammer is completely obliterated and soon shortly thereafter Asgard is promised the same fate, but it isn’t long before even the attempt to run away goes horribly wrong as Hela manages to knock Thor and Loki out of the Rainbow Bridge as they race back to warn Asgard and into the deepest of outer space, and while Hela manages to successfully bring her campaign of doom to the gates of the royal realm, Thor and Loki find themselves separated and stranded on a planet known as Sakaar…a place that also happens to be a portal dumping ground that is ruled by an oddball dictator called The Grandmaster (an absolutely enjoyable and wonderful Jeff Goldblum), and while Thor knows he has to get back home to stop Hela, he finds himself having to earn his freedom and leave by fighting in the Grandmaster’s gladiator games against his personal champion….a champion who just so happens to be none other than a, lost since the end of Age of Ultron, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)…..(dun dun dun!!)
Now while not exactly a household name just yet, I feel it is safe to say that Taika Waititi has made some truly remarkable strides toward coming into his own as a filmmaker over the last decade. Indeed in much the same way that Marvel Studios gave blockbuster newcomers James Gunn and the Russo Brothers freedom to make movies with their own voices, I feel that Thor: Ragnarok really truly shines with Waititi’s blunt-yet-silly comedic sensibility being brought to the proceedings. Indeed his directorial voice truly is a presence that is not only a monumental tonal influence, but one which also permits and showcases new avenues of presentation for the titular character to go down. Indeed in the same way that being brought to the here and now transformed Captain America during his Winter Soldier adventure after The First Avenger, the new Thor title allows for Thor to grow and be further molded into who he truly is meant to become, and it achieves this by primarily taking place as far, far away from the common human squabbles of Earth as it possibly can get. Another plus in this film’s corner is that, kind of like the Guardians movies, as far as a deeper connection to the larger, multi-tiered MCU franchise as a whole goes, Thor: Ragnarok is very much on the “self-contained” side of the spectrum and it takes great pride and joy in that fact right down to even going as far as to make multiple jokes out of a lot of would-be tie-in elements that fans have been speculating about for at least a few years….
Now when you boil it down to the roots the true essence or ingredient if you will that makes for a great comedic blockbuster is the character work, and this is a film that plain and simply excels at that department. Now given the legwork of nine-years-worth of exciting and extremely well-cast Marvel Cinematic Universe features, I can see how you might not think that would be much of a challenge to get us to like these heroes, but what’s really awesome and exciting about Thor: Ragnarok is how, despite our already built-in like for these characters, this film still continues to add dimensions I never thought possible to personalities that I thought had already been fully fleshed out. This, of course, starts with the titular character as we see that, more than just having a dramatic and wonderful spike in witty lines, Thor is now free of the weight of whether or not to take Odin’s crown, as well as his obligations to Earth, and thanks to that he finds himself not only separated from his powerful hammer, stranded on a very colorful garbage planet, but also paired with the only fellow Avenger who at times makes him truly insecure with the end result being that have an entirely new light cast on him during this film, and boy does Hemsworth shine. Indeed this film should be Hemsworth’s audition tape for any future comedic roles because boy does he deliver in this and then some. Also in addition to Thor’s continually evolution we also get a Hulk that has evolved as well as we see that he truly has gone from the mindless rage beast in not only The Incredible Hulk, but the very first Avengers film back in 2012 all the way to a syntax-challenged anger-fueled almost toddler-esque at times rage monster who at long last can finally start to articulate his side of his inner-conflict with Bruce Banner and Mark Ruffalo really just does an excellent job of adding even more dimension and depth to the Hulk part of the Hulk/Banner dynamic this time around. Plus even Loki gets in on the fun as this time around we get a Loki who not only is starting to question who he is and what he stands for, but who is even willing to be there for his brother and others instead of just trying to go around and subjugate everyone in sight.
Now whereas the new characters are a little bit more of a mixed bag there are still most definitely some big winners among them starting with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie who, if Hulk and Loki weren’t around bringing their A-Game to these proceedings, would most definitely be the film’s key scene-stealer. This is because not only does Tessa deliver a truly wonderful performance, but she also has a terrific arc in the film complete with some fantastic back-and-forth with Thor, Hulk and even Bruce Banner (yes Banner is in this, but no it’s not for very long and no I won’t tell you why). Of course you can’t have heroics in a superhero movie without some villainy to go up against and for that we are given the trio of Cate Blanchett’s Hela, Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, and Karl Urban’s Skurge. Indeed while each of these remarkable actors really do bring their all in terms of screen presence Cate Blanchett really does fare best when it comes to straight up menacing villainy even though to be fair it is a pretty hammy performance, and yet Blanchett plays it with such gusto and such relish that you definitely will find yourself enjoying it all the same. As for the other two antagonistical roles in this I feel that while Jeff Goldblum is a wonderful actor who truly livens up any project he is in, Independence Day 2 not included, it definitely seems that Grandmaster’s role in this film is far more about presentation and capitalizing on Jeff Goldblum’s wonderful and genuine weirdness than any kind of real story arc, but at the same time he’s still enjoyable and funny plus it’s Jeff Goldblum so just roll with it. Skurge on the other hand while played fairly well by Karl Urban and given a nice dose of emotional conflict and personality to play with and make his own just quite simply, due to all the other characters in this, sadly just isn’t given enough screen time to feel entirely meaningful to this story or the bigger plot at play and ultimately it sadly feels like a wasted opportunity.
Of course to be fair when one is able to look at Thor: Ragnarok from a macro perspective, it is also truly key to recognize the clear trade-off that this film accepted as it moved through the various stages of development. What I mean by that is while Taika Waititi has truly developed an impressive eye as a filmmaker, with the evidence for that claim to be found in such film work as What We Do in the Shadows, and the particularly impressive The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, it is still clear that Marvel Studios hired this guy to literally jump start if not hyper-elevate the entertainment levels of the Thor series to new heights, and that is exactly what he has done and to great effect. That being said however while this is a trade-off that works in the film’s favor, it does detract from the finished product too with particular regard to when it comes to the more serious and dramatic moments that this film offers. Indeed while Thor: Ragnarok may not have incredibly close ties to quite a few of the bigger plot developments so far in the Marvel franchise there are still at the same time some truly important, and quite cataclysmic and devastating events that go down in this film, but they sadly don’t quite get to carry the gravity that they may have otherwise had due to this film focusing more on the fun, popcorn elements. Also we get that we want this universe to feel vast and yet connected at the same time, but I really do not feel like it was necessary for Benedict Cumberbatch to reprise his role as Doctor Strange for what amounts to little more than 10 minutes of screen time if that within the span of this film’s 130 minute runtime. I mean I get that his role in this was teased at the end of his first solo film, but nevertheless it didn’t really feel organic to the film’s plot and it almost felt shoehorned in even if Benedict still does reliably great work with his time on screen.
All in all though and at the end of the day while Thor: Ragnarok may not at times be able to be called one of the more substantial adventures in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon it truly is one of the most entertaining. Indeed here is that rare sequel that takes a long, hard look at what has come before in this series’ past, and in the process manages to produce for our viewing pleasure an absolutely wonderful road movie with some truly brilliant character work as a result. Indeed while Thor: Ragnarok may not be not the ground breaker that some of its franchise cousins in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are, I still challenge you to find me a blockbuster that is just plain and simply a truly Ragarockin’ and Rollin’ good time to be had no matter when you watch or how many times you watch it. On a scale of 1–5 I give Thor: Ragnarok a solid 4 out of 5.