Marvel’s Thor has always been a strange character for me. As a member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chris Hemsworth’s God of Thunder never really caught my attention. His solo films, Thor and its sequel Thor: The Dark World were decent at best, or terribly bleak at worst. However, Thor always worked best as a member of the Avengers. The Marvel Cinematic Universe never had a solid approach to this comic book icon. A shake up was needed.
Thor: Ragnarok is a very welcome change. Director Taika Waititi breaths comedic life into a character that sorely needed it. The film is fun from start to finish, utilizing a quirky sense of humor, great performances, colorful worlds right out of an 80s comic book, and possibly the most unique soundtrack the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever utilized. Not everything works though. The film goes for the joke a little too often, nearly crossing into parody. The two major storylines also feel too disparate at times. That said, this is still one of the most entertaining Marvel films to date.
“That’s What Heroes Do”
Hemsworth’s Thor finds himself in unfamiliar territory in more ways than one in Ragnarok. Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death has returned to bring Asgard to its knees. Forced to flee, Thor is imprisoned on a far off world controlled by the eccentric Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) where he is forced to fight in gladitorial games with the long missing Hulk (Bruce Banner…err, I mean Mark Ruffalo). Determined to save Asgard from Hela’s destruction, Thor seeks the help of an Asgardian soldier known as Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and his old enemy/brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
One word best describes Ragnarok: Fun.
Quite frankly, the first two Thor films were stodgy and boringly average. Ragnarok is a complete about face to the tone of those films, amping up the humor to eleven from the first five minutes. While the film attempts to take on the humor of Guardians of the Galaxy, though it doesn’t quite reach those heights. It does make up for this shortcoming with an ample amount of quirkiness. The humor is smart, but also incredibly random and weird in the best possible way. Some of the best laughs come from jokes that come out of nowhere.
The look of the film also plays a huge part in creating a fun atmosphere. Ragnarok’s planets look like something out of a comic book from the 1980s. From Goldblum’s completely “out there” look to the red, white and green of the planet Sakaar, the film doesn’t hold back in embracing the cosmic weirdness of its source material. Composer Marks Mothersbaugh adds to this crazy but fun atmosphere with one of Marvel’s more unique soundtracks, blending 80s synth pop with the original Thor theme.
The great cast is led by Hemsworth’s Thor. The film wisely let’s Hemsworth natural comedic timing shine through as the actor has more than a few witty quips throughout the movie. But don’t let that fool you…the film’s portrayal of its title character is a smart commentary on what heroes really are. Ragnarok’s Thor is a self aware hero. He jokes about the funnier aspects of the modern superhero, but he also understands what a real hero needs to be. Sacrifice is just as important to Thor as the perfectly timed joke. It is a hard balance to maintain, but Hemsworth does so.
In terms of the new supporting cast, the standouts are the female characters. Cate Blanchett chews the scenery as Hela, embracing the fun tone of the film. Like Hemsworth, she manages to strike the balance between creating a sense of fun and a real threat to Thor. Hela is a truly scary and dangerous villain, but you can’t take your eyes off her.
Tessa Thompson is great as the hard drinking warrior Valkyrie. She steals nearly every scene she is in, the character’s brash confidence playing well with both the new and old characters. Ragnarok also tells her tragic back story in a brilliant way. You will want to see more of her character in the future.
Jeff Goldblum has a ball as the Grandmaster…though he may be playing an exaggerating version of himself. No one else could play the Grandmaster the way Goldblum does, as he gives us a sleazy ringmaster that you secretly root for. It shouldn’t work, but the eccentric actor is so charismatic, the character grows on you with every scene.
Tom Hiddleston returns with his mischievous but charming Loki. There are some added layers to the character, especially towards the end of the film that could lead to some interesting turns in future films. On the other hand, Idris Elba is wasted as Heimdall. His role is basically a glorified cameo.
However, Ruffalo is great as The Hulk/Bruce Banner. It’s fun to see The Hulk with a personality, speaking in stunted sentences. He is a big toddler, throwing tantrums and it is completely fitting. As Banner, Ruffalo gets to show off his comedic chops. This is probably the best portrayal of this era’s Hulk.
Too Much of a Good Thing
As fun as the film is, there are a few problems. First of all, for a film about the end of Thor’s home Asgard, we spend much of the film away from it. The two settings (Hela’s takeover of Asgard and Thor’s adventures on Sakaar) feel like two completely separate stories. Yes, Thor’s adventures in the Grandmaster’s gladiator planet are fun, but it’s almost like the film and our hero forget the point to his journey.
And there is Ragnarok’s biggest flaw. There is a slight lack of urgency in the film as it goes for the joke a few times too often. The whole film is a commentary on the superhero genre almost to the point of being a satirical take.
Look at the character that director Waititi plays in the film. Korg, the soft spoken warrior made of stone, has some of the best one liners in the film. But in a key moment towards the conclusion, Waititi can’t keep himself from adding one more joke that nearly ruins the moment. It’s a great line and you will laugh when you hear it, but later on you will think, “Was that really appropriate?” It doesn’t ruin the film, at least not for me, but others will be taken out of the experience.
Getting It Right
Thor, the Avenger Marvel just didn’t know what to do with, finally has a great movie. It only took a unique vision from Waititi and a surprisingly effective comedic turn. I don’t think anyone saw that coming. This is not a perfect film, but it knows exactly what it is and fully embraces it.
SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10