Bright colors, light action, well-placed comedy, and a tight plot are all the components that makeup Thor: Ragnarock’s whole. Marvel has proven themselves at experts at crafting aggressively likable summer blockbuster style entertainment. Even at their worst, normally a Marvel movie can at least make for a decent first time viewing (it is upon the repeated viewings the weakness shows I.E. Iron Man 2 and 3/Avengers: Age of Ultron). The Thor films have been one of the Marvel franchises that have struggled to break through. None have been bad but none have been remarkable either. Thor: Ragnarok is the first of the series that truly stands out. Ragnarok is fast, visually appealing, and above all, features a fun and well-told story.
Thor: Ragnarok picks up right after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron (and alongside the events of Captain America: Civil War) with Thor (played by returning cast member Chris Hemsworth) returning to Asgard as Hela the Goddess of Death comes to take over the throne and banishes Thor from the realm.
Hela is played by the Cate Blanchett (one of the greatest and most versatile actresses in film history) and proves to be one of Marvel’s best villains in their cannon. Her cold, scary confidence and malevolence are only enhanced by the memorable costume design (that looks like it was ripped straight off a metal album cover). Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t spend enough time with her to give Blanchett a truly memorable cinematic turn. But, Blanchett does make an impression from the screen time that she is given.
While Hela is taking over Asgard, Thor is captured by Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster (in one of the most Jeff Goldblum, Jeff Goldblum performances since the original Independence Day) and is forced to fight in a Gladiator-style match against his ally The Incredible Hulk. Hulk is perfectly cast as a strong supporting side character and his inclusion (that is clearly inspired by the comic storyline Planet Hulk) does not come at odds with the ongoing narrative. I would argue that the use of Hulk as a supporting character is far better executed than Tony Stark’s inclusion in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Mark Ruffalo is also excellent as always as the Bruce Banner.
The balancing act of Hulk and introduction of several new characters (like Creed actress Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie) is one of the strongest aspects of the movie. This extends to the very strong and tight structure of the film’s narrative. The film can easily be broken up into three distinct acts that flow and build into one another. Superheroes movies can tend to suffer from a lack of focus; where they try to pack some much into one narrative that it can’t mold it into a flowing narrative. The team of three screenwriters (Christopher Yost, Craig Kyle, Eric Pearson) and director Taika Waititi keep the focus around the characters and use the characters to move the story in a brisk manner.
What We Do in The Shadows director Taika Waititi brings his strong comedic capabilities to the Thor story to great effect. Much has been made and discussed online of Marvel’s use of humor. A case can be made that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 overused humor and used it in inappropriate spots. Thor: Ragnarok throws a lot of humor at the viewer, and while some of it misses, Waititi’s use of comedy is so calculated that it never feels like the wrong approach.
This is not a meta-film like Deadpool but Ragnarok feels a bit self-aware. This movie knows how silly some of the material can be and pokes a little fun at itself. Waititi is so aware of the story beats that he always seems to know exactly which moments are the right ones to poke fun at. More often than not this approach works. Waititi doesn’t sacrifice the character development or the action for the comedy, he infuses the comedy into the very DNA of the scenes.
Occasionally I found myself wishing Waititi leaned a bit more into the drama of certain scenes (because it is there) to strengthen core themes and moments. However, this doesn’t detract from the film as a whole.
Throughout the two previous Thor movies, the most interesting parts were on Asgard. The problems began to show when they spent large chunks of time on Earth with dull and expendable human characters. Ragnarok corrects this by staying off Earth nearly the entire runtime. Whether we are on Asgard or on the Planet Sakaar there is almost always something visually interesting to look at. The psychedelic color patterns, and scenes that look like it was ripped straight out of a Jack Kirby comic book, are awe-inspiring. Some more practical sets would have been welcomed in the heavy special effects-driven spectacle (especially on Asgard) but it is never too much to take you out of it.
Thor: Ragnarok is absolutely one of the most fun times I have had in the theater this year. It is not necessarily the deepest or complex film but it was never aiming to be and executes its goals, at times, flawlessly. There were very few times I found myself not enjoying something. The nitpicks that I had, were nearly forgotten about as the runtime pressed on. This is an excellent superhero Sci-Fi/Fantasy flick and easily the best film Marvel has put out in 2017.
P.S.- There are two end credits scene, one that is a stinger for things to come and one is a hilarious scene. Stay for both, they are worth seeing.