Thor: Ragnarok and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Taika Waititi
After the rather disappointing Thor: The Dark World (HOW DO YOU WASTE THE BEST DOCTOR WHO IN SUCH A BLAND VILLAIN ROLE!?) I wasn’t really looking forward to what they’d do with this character in his solo films and was more interested to see if he’d show up in a bunch of the other movies instead. Once those initial trailers hit with the heavy emphasis on fantastical Jack Kirby inspired designs and the rocking Led Zeppelin soundtrack, there seemed to be hope in this franchise digging itself out of the pit the sequel left it in. At the very least, it LOOKED a lot pretty with much more vibrant colors, and it even manages to drag Jeff Goldblum into the MCU which in and of itself would make this movie worthy of existing even if everything else ends up being awful. Does Thor’s third chance at the plate end up being one of the best films in the entire MCU, or did they just throw a lot of flash and money at a franchise that is just unable to find its place after telling the origin story? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) trying to find out what the heck Ragnarok is which was hinted at ALL the way back in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Remember when he left the team to take a bath and saw some visions? Yeah, apparently it was all foreshadowing of the destruction of Asgard in a calamity known as Ragnarok, so Thor is basically trying to find a way to stop it… whatever it may be. In the meantime though, he manages to find out that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken the place of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who is actually alright as Loki basically stuck his ass in a retirement home on Earth, but when Thor goes down there to bring him back to the throne it turns out that he’s all out of time and disappears in a cloud of energy or something. If that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that one of the things he was doing when he was alive was keeping a hereto unknown daughter of his named Hela (Cate Blanchett) in some sort of magic prison which breaks as soon as he’s dead and so she’s come back for revenge against her family and all of Asgard. Both Loki and Thor are dealt with rather quickly with the latter losing his famed hammer Mjolnir and landing on some mystery planet where he is captured by a mysterious woman (Tessa Thompson) and dragged to the planet’s ruler known as THE GRANDMASTER (Jeff Goldblum). The once mighty God of Thunder and son of Odin is now put in chains and is forced to fight in gladiatorial matches in order to somehow earn his freedom and eventually find his way back home before Hela puts it inextricably under her vengeful thumb. Can Thor find a way to escape the barbaric society run by the most fabulous of dictators? What familiar faces will he find on this planet that can hopefully help him on his journey home? How the heck is Thor gonna get around now that he doesn’t have his magic propeller hammer!?
Honestly, at this point do you really need a critic to once again rehash THE MARVEL PHENOMENON and try to put the seventeenth MCU film in the greater context of the other sixteen? We’re at the point with these movies that a lot of franchises reach (a good example being the Harry Potter films) where the qualities of each individual movie starts to wane in importance when compared to all the other factors that get people to go into the theater and it’s starting to make things rather redundant in terms of criticism. Seriously, raise your hand if you thought the movie would have likeable characters and sharp dialogue in a casually paced plot where the biggest weakness is the villain! I mean I’ll TRY to point out where this film differentiates itself from the previous films and come to SOME sort of conclusion about its quality, but you already know how what to expect going in and I’m not here to tell you differently. If the box office of these films is anything to go by, that’s probably a good thing for most of you out there, and while there are some interesting things that this movie does that does set it apart from the other films, I don’t think that the third Thor film is what will turn around those who haven’t jumped onboard already. Unless of course you need more Goldblum in your life and in all honesty, who DOESN’T need more Goldblum?
Alright, so to put my cynicism aside for a moment, there ARE some aspects of this film that set it apart from the rest in the Marvel canon. Tone wise, it hews most closely to Guardians of the Galaxy as it goes for that SPACE OPERA CROSSED WITH A SNARKY SITCOM tone, but even MORE goofy and lighthearted as the whole plot feels like a He-Man adventure more than anything else. Sure there’s SUPPOSED to be some grave consequences for the events of this movie which we’ll get into soon enough, but nothing in this film is taken all that seriously and even the stuff that IS meant to be somewhat sobering feels intentionally downplayed as to not kill the party vibe the film is going for. To a certain extent that makes the film feel like one of the most disposable in the canon, but it ALSO means that we aren’t dealing with the overblown somberness of something like Civil War or even Age of Ultron which are probably the weakest ones in my estimation. Some of these films like Iron Man 3 or Captain America: The Winter Solider can pull off a more serious story with harsh struggles and damaged character, and some can even pull off the balancing act of being both serious and light at the same time (*cough* Guardians of the Galaxy 2 *cough*), but I don’t think the Thor films are meant to be either one of those as this film, with its overabundance of pastel colors, snarky one liners, and gratuitous slapstick fight scenes, ends up being the best in its series.
On a technical side of things, it’s one of the more visually interesting in the MCU which is another reason this is such a good companion piece to Guardians of the Galaxy (who sadly don’t show up in this) and the use of its soundtrack (yet again something that calls to mind Guardians of the Galaxy) only enhances the endless party vibe that keeps this movie on track and engaging as it goes through its rather inconsequential plot. Sure, I would have liked a bit more time spent on Jeff Goldblum and his hedonistic society of slave warriors and ravers, but what we get is just enough to tie everything together and to get these characters where they need to go in order to complete their character arcs. Our return actors fit snuggly into the roles they’ve been working with nearly a decade now (Tom Hiddleston is still loving every moment of screen time he’s given) and all of our new players like the aforementioned Jeff Goldblum, the Valkyrie played by Tessa Thompson, and ESPECIALLY our villainess played by the immortal Cate Blanchett, take full advantage of what the script offers them which isn’t always A LOT but is more than enough to make them stand out as far as secondary characters in the MCU. It’s basically everything you SHOULD expect from a Marvel movie by now as far as technical acumen and acting chops, but the change in focus to pure unadulterated silliness gives it a sense of personality all its own, even if it still can’t escape from some of the flaws that have dragged the MCU down for quite some time now.
Sadly the film isn’t JUST one big goofy rave and it suffers a bit whenever it tries to get away from that. Sure, The Valkyrie is well executed and I hope she gets more screen time in the future (a Netflix show would be perfect if they’d be willing to set it in a location OTHER than a series of half-lit hallways), but everything involving Ragnarok and Hela? It just doesn’t fit well with everything else that’s going on and honestly ends up being a bit of a buzzkill in a movie all about energy and exuberance. Now to be clear, this has very little to do with Cate Blanchett’s performance because she is MAGNETIC whenever she’s on the screen, but her goals and the actions she takes to realize them are just kinda… bleh. Like… why does she want to rule Asgard? No seriously, what could she possibly gain by having the throne? She’s already the most powerful being this side of Thanos and it’s not even like she cares about the people of Asgard considering how willing she is to just summon a legion of zombie guards to hunt them all down! She’s just doing it because… well I guess someone wasn’t convinced that Jeff Goldblum was enough of a menacing presence to give this movie the EPIC SCOPE that all Thor movies must have for some reason. I don’t know, the whole RAGNAROK thing itself which is about the possible destruction of Asgard itself just rings so hollow and feels like they’re just doing it now because they aren’t sure how much longer Chris Hemsworth is gonna stick around for these things. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I certainly couldn’t care less if Asgard blows up and all the Asgardians were killed in a fiery ball of death because the setting itself isn’t all that well established outside of the castle where Thor hangs out and there’s just not that much at stake as an audience member. Our investment in these films are the people of Asgard; it’s with Thor, Loki, Odin, Heimdall, and if we’re stretching those four warrior buddies of Thor’s that I THINK were in this movie? Maybe? For a movie that’s as apocalyptic as this tries to be, it just feels like dead weight on what should have been EXCLUSIVELY a goofy adventure.
I’m not sure what else to say about this. There are a few interesting ideas about Asgard being built on a history of bloodshed and genocide that has been swept under the rug (boy is THAT feeling a little too real right now!) and some of the stuff they do with The Hulk is unexpectedly heartfelt considering his only two modes up until now have been UNSTOPPABLE MONSTER and THE BIG GREEN SMART ASS, but they never really develop throughout the story which is more focused on being fun and colorful to a degree that few movies have managed to pull off. I’d certainly recommend seeing it if you’ve seen all the other Marvel films, and all the work they put into the designs and colorful set pieces does give this enough of a distinctive visual flair that it might be worth checking out in the theaters even if you’re not big on checking these films out while they’re in theaters.