Warning: The following review contains spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok.
The Thor movies have been some of my favorites in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with their remarkable blend of self-awareness and bold choices in terms of pushing the superhero genre into new realms. Did the vibrant color palate of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 dazzle your visual palate? The Dark World laid that groundwork with an early glimpse of bolder colors. Even the franchise’s first film, while still a consummate superhero movie, managed to hit all the beats of a typical romantic comedy as well. Needless to say, I love these movies, and Thor: Ragnarok is a great new addition; despite missing just a few golden opportunities to set this film above Marvel Entertainment’s other installments, this is a cinematic experience worth seeing more than once.
For starters, the opening sets a perfect tone. We find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) imprisoned by Surtur (Clancy Brown), one of his comic’s iconic villains, only to easily turn the tables whilst being his typical jokey self. It’s one thing I love about the character. He never takes things too seriously, which helps the action scenes carry less weight. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place for high-stakes action, just not in the Thor movies. Clearly the writers spent much more time on jokes than finding creative plot solutions, but the film doesn’t suffer much for it. Quite the contrary, it gives it a distinct flavor that keeps us coming back.
That isn’t to say the jokey-nature doesn’t sometimes fall flat. One issue I did have was shoehorning Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) into the story. I loves me some Cumberbatch as much as the next Cumberbitch, but this scene was beyond unnecessary. Unnecessary character shows up to answer an equally unnecessary question—that’s straight lazy script writing. The producers decided to interrupt our regularly scheduled movie to remind us that Avengers: Infinity War is coming soon! That’s a commercial. While I enjoyed the scene as a standalone, it would’ve been far better suited as a web extra. I’m not opposed to expanded content—it’s the one thing that makes these huge universes so great—but far from serving the narrative this actually hindered it.
On the subject of lazy screenwriting, Marvel’s too good for tired comic book clichés anymore. Having Thor lose Mjölnir, his iconic hammer, only to later discover the power within himself was just too predictable. Sure, watching Cate Blanchett smash it with one hand was great, but you knew what would happen later. We saw similar hero arcs this year in both Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and Spiderman: Homecoming. It’d be nice if Hollywood would just drop this trope for a while… a long while; call it a pet peeve of mine. I can’t emphasize enough, however, that its presence doesn’t diminish the overall quality of the film. Let’s move on to what makes Ragnarok shine.
The Ensemble Cast Carries Ragnarok in True Marvel Fashion!
Beyond the film not taking itself too seriously, Marvel’s given us perhaps its best ensemble cast ever. The majority of the jokes only land so well because the actors have such a good time embracing the absurdity of their characters. Rather than talk ad nauseam about familiar faces, I’d rather give the new additions the spotlight.
Blanchett is electric as Hela the Goddess of Death, the MCU’s first female villain and easily one of the top five to-date. The camp she fully embraces really sells this spurned daughter of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). If things play out like I think they will, Hela might make a grandiose return in Infinity War; true Marvel Comics fans know what I’m talking about. Jeff Godblum is equally magnetic playing The Grand Master. I like to imagine the director Taika Waititi telling him, “Be you, except be an over the top caricature of you.” Nobody out-Goldblums Jeff Goldblum, nobody.
Thankfully he doesn’t bite it in the end, so we can look forward to more! Maybe Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3?
I also really enjoyed Karl Urban’s performance as Skurge, but felt he missed just a couple character development opportunities. He had probably my favorite character arc of the entire film; the henchman redemption story line is another cliché but, again, forgiven. What it lacked was that one moment where he made a choice that both solidified his commitment to Hela and had an immediate consequence. The execution scene was close, but I needed something more visually impactful. Valyrie (Tessa Thompson), our last new addition, helped balance the male-to-female ratio in this action flick, but didn’t get enough screen time to leave a lasting impression. There’s sadly only so much you can squeeze into two hours; still, Marvel needs more badass heroines like her.
Can We Talk About the Music and Art Style for a Moment?
We probably have the Russo Brothers and Guardians director James Gunn (more so the latter) to thank for the independence Marvel’s been giving when it comes to the non-Avengers films, and thank the comic book gods for that! It’s one huge advantage MCU films now have over the rest of the superhero field: Things feel less stale than your run-of-the-mill comic book film. Whereas Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 felt like an homage to psychedelic funk, Ragnarok brings over the top progressive rock and all the visual trimmings. There’s also a dash of Heavy Metal in there, but this is Disney, so it’s family friendly. In a way, that makes Ragnarok and Guardians two sides of the same coin, so I can’t wait to see those worlds collide in Infinity War (and hopefully beyond?).
Hence why it feels gluttonous picking apart the film’s little missteps; as I’ve made clear, Ragnarok is a ton of fun and undoubtedly the best Thor franchise installment. I see no need to demand even better. The high expectations set by its over the top trailers were well met—to put it simply, this film delivers. Sometimes the superhero genre can feel over-saturated, but movies like this one make it worth the duds that pop up. This critic is diving back in for a second viewing, no question. Plus, oh my god, that’s Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) ship there at the end.
- Only rivaled by the Guardians films in terms of comedy.
- Great new characters and all your old friends.
- Well-paced action that flows seamlessly with the prog rock soundtrack.
- A few writing cliches that are easily forgivable.
- Underdeveloped new additions to the franchise.