4.5 out of 5 stars.
I have made no secret of my feelings for Marvel’s “Thor” franchise. The first “Thor” movie was an elongated trailer for “The Avengers” disguised as a so-so origin story. Its follow-up, “Thor: The Dark World,” is Marvel’s worst effort, a dark and dingy outing that did no service to the character and honestly didn’t make a whole lot of sense. So imagine my surprise to find that the third film in the series, “Thor: Ragnarok,” not only far exceeds both those films, but is also one of Marvel’s best movies, one that deviates from the typical adventure we’ve come to expect from them.
Directed by Taika Waititi, Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Thor, member of the Avengers, son of Odin (played again by the ever-wonderful Anthony Hopkins) and God of Thunder. The film opens approximately two years after the events of the second “Avengers” movie, but, thank goodness, you don’t need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the MCU to follow this installment. Thor has been captured by the fire demon Surtur, who reveals that the prophesied Ragnarok, during which Surtur will join his crown with the Eternal Flame burning beneath Asgard, is soon upon them, and will result in the city’s destruction. Thor steals Surtur’s crown and believes that he has prevented Ragnarok from happening, but that is the least of his problems. Turns out he has a sister called Hela (Cate Blanchett) whom Odin has kept imprisoned all these years after her ambitions grew too great. It also turns out that Thor’s mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), supposedly dead after the events of “The Dark World”, is alive and impersonating Odin. But they’ll have to put their differences aside to stop the newly freed Hela from taking the throne for herself.
“Ragnarok” establishes a comedic tone early on that carries through the rest of the film. Whereas the first “Thor” had humor that relied almost entirely on the character’s confusion regarding normal Earth customs, and “The Dark World” had little humor at all, “Ragnarok” plays to Hemsworth’s (and the rest of the cast’s) comedic abilities perfectly. There’s both amusing slapstick and wonderful banter between Thor and Loki, as well as Thor and Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, who joins in the fun about midway through the movie). And you can always expect some shenanigans from Jeff Goldblum, who plays himself playing the Grandmaster, the ruler of the planet Sakaar where Thor and the gang end up stranded for the duration of the film’s middle act. The film also welcomes newcomer Tessa Thompson as a hard-drinking former warrior who now works for the Grandmaster and goes by the name Scrapper 142, and makes for a formidable rival for Thor.
The comedy in the film is well-placed and doesn’t interfere from the seriousness of the action, or the story’s exploration of Thor as a character. “Ragnarok” examines just what being the God of Thunder entails, much more so than even his origin story. In fact, it wouldn’t be too far off to call this film Thor’s real origin story. Parted from his trusty hammer for much of the film, Thor is forced to call upon his other abilities to get back to Asgard and defeat Hela. Waititi occasionally cuts from the current action to Thor’s visions of Odin helping him at crucial points of the film, making for powerful moments in the development of Thor’s character. Besides proving that he is funny, Hemsworth is given the opportunity here to really, definitively prove that he is the embodiment of this character in a way that the scripts for the previous films haven’t entirely granted him the ability to do.
The film also gets the other characters right. By having Loki serve not as the main villain but as an impish side character, sometimes helpful, oftentimes a hindrance, Hiddleston really gets a chance to shine and enhance, rather than detract, from the story. Blanchett makes for a solid, malicious villain; Karl Urban plays the misguided Asgardian warrior Skurge; and a bevy of weird creatures, like Korg (voiced by Waititi himself) add to the depth of the story and the universe it takes place in. It’s exciting to see Thor not spend the entirely of the adventure on Earth, but rather get to explore his realm. The computer-generated effects are not too overwhelming, and are enhanced by Waititi’s vision. This film doesn’t have your usual clichéd slow-motion action shots; rather, Waititi frames many of the scenes like tableaus, resembling artwork depicting the gods in action.
But one of the most surprisingly and refreshing things about “Thor: Ragnarok” is that it doesn’t have the typical hero-saves-the-day finale. It’s the decision that Thor must make in the end for the good of his people that cements his status as a hero, not his fighting ability or his powers. As the MCU has over the last couple years made anti-heroes out of many of its Avengers, it’s beautiful to see a hero with truly good intentions emerge, and a franchise evolve into something more profound.
Runtime: 130 minutes. Rated PG-13.