Thor: Ragnarok | Taika Waititi | November 3, 2017
Up to this point in the impressive resume of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, if there’s one series that felt like it garnered less love than others, it was the Thor movies. While most were content with our introduction to Thor in 2011, people found its sequel Thor: The Dark World more of a mixed bag. Marvel was well aware of this fact, as they brought in New Zealand director Taika Waititi, fresh off of last year’s fantastic indie adventure/comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople. This was a brilliant decision as Waititi gives the Thor series a needed boost of fresh energy that is unquestionably the most fun and enjoyable Thor entry to date.
From the opening sequence of Thor engaging in battle with the fire demon Surtur, Waititi’s directorial touch was immediately felt. Sure, humor has long been a staple of the Marvel enterprise, but not quite in the fashion of Waititi, who proved that he had comedic talent with What We Do in the Shadows and the previously mentioned Hunt for the Wilderpeople. What both those movies had even between all the belly laughs was an undeniable sense of heart, which was pulled from the oddest relationship between his characters but still ever-so felt. The same can be said about his work here in Thor: Ragnarok which was the main reason why this felt like a rejuvenation for the Thor series, almost like their own version of Guardians Of The Galaxy.
After Thor’s battle with Surtur, he learns about what Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has really been up to since the events of Thor: The Dark World, enjoying the comforts of pretending to be Odin (Anthony Hopkins) back at Asgard. After catching Loki in the act, he brings his brother to help clean up the mess he created and to find their father. During an unexpectedly touching emotional moment upon their discovery of Odin, Thor learns that he has an older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) who Odin had kept hidden in a prison after her quest for evil domination became too much for her father to bear. Unfortunately, she is back in the picture and sets her sights on Asgard to reclaim it and take over the many realms that surround it.
Thor and Loki’s initial battle with the powerful Hela doesn’t quite go according to plan and it sends Thor crash-landing on the garbage-filled planet of Sakaar, where he’s captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and sold to the planet’s ruler, The Grandmaster (a chummy Jeff Goldblum) and forced to compete in his gladiator-like “Contest Of Champions” which puts Thor up against his old buddy The Hulk. It becomes Thor’s mission to not only survive against the mighty green giant, but to also pry Bruce Banner back out of him so that he can try and save Asgard from his sister before its too late.
Plot-wise, the film is basically tasked with bridging the gap with what Thor and The Hulk have been up to since the events in Sokovia in Avengers: Age Of Ultron (and during Captain America: Civil War) while still creating a lived-in and exciting new self-contained story to keep fans happy. Sure, it hits all the expected routes of a Marvel film: there are big epic battles, some well-tuned rock music (and a fun breezy score from Mark Mothersbaugh) to go along with it, and plenty of surprise cameos – some expected, and one that was genuinely out of left field. But even so, it’s the fresh energy brought by Waititi that makes this film feel very different from what we’ve come to expect from the Thor series and made it an exhilarating ride from start to finish.
Chris Hemsworth continues his great portrayal as the god of thunder, but with the guidance of Waititi taps into a different comedic role that really lets him loose and the actor is totally up for the task. There’s even further evolution and depth portrayed in Thor’s relationship with Loki, large in part due to Tom Hiddleston. He’s once again up for the task for the slimy portrayal of Loki, game for the character’s sneaky moments, while also tapping into subtle emotional moments in-between all the laughs. Mark Ruffalo gets to have a bit of fun as Banner, enjoying some choice moments with both Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, who steals every scene that she’s in as Valkyrie.
While Hela is only a few steps above your average Marvel villain, it’s the knowingly campy performance from the almighty Cate Blanchett that makes it all worthwhile. You can tell she’s totally aware of the sort of movie she’s in and she totally embraces it. The same can be said about Jeff Goldblum’s performance as the sleazy Grandmaster; the role is totally and completely in the actor’s wheelhouse and it’s his best performance in a long time, save for his work with Wes Anderson. Scene time is limited for both Idris Elba and Karl Urban as Heimdall and Skurge, but both actors give their roles tons of life and depth that shine through whenever they’re asked to deliver.
Thor: Ragnarok does feel like a Marvel movie directed by Waititi as it does succumb to their usual bag of tricks. As strong as the jokes are, maybe it does rely a bit too heavily on humor. There’s tons of action and it’s not quite anything all that new (although there’s a few stellar shots in the epic final battle with an ace music choice) and there are of course tie-ins to other Marvel characters and the fact that all roads to eventually lead to Avengers: Infinity War. But damn it if Waititi doesn’t find a way to hit all the required checkmarks while still giving it all so much color and fresh air that it really does find a way to still somehow feel different. This was a highly enjoyable experience that had me laughing and smiling all the way through; it doesn’t take itself too seriously, a welcome spirit considering the Oscar-bait slog that we are about to endure this winter. Thor: Ragnarok aims to please and it does so in a big, big way.