Saying Thor: Ragnarok is the best Thor movie isn’t enough of a compliment. The first two films were decent, but easily the weakest standalones of the Avengers trinity. That Ragnarok can even be in the conversation for best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie is a major victory for Marvel Studios.
The biggest problem with the previous Thor films is they never truly embraced the true spectacle and wonder of his world. Clearly emboldened by the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy series, Marvel execs were willing to be a lot more daring for the third film.
With Director Taika Waititi, Marvel finally has the kind of filmmaker eager to show how much fun Thor can be without Captain America and Iron Man. The result? One of those amazing memorable spectacles that proves why Marvel is the best at what they do is pretty darned good.
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Waititi doesn’t need a magical hammer to be mighty. His imagination and creativity is more than enough to make Ragnarok stand out. There’s not a moment in the film that could even be remotely translated as grounded and realistic. If audiences are watching a Thor movie, Waititi assumes they want to see something more than standard TV or a typical film. They want a comic book blockbuster experience and he delivers. That means no goofy subplots involving human comic relief and tons of over the top action.
Failing to make any progress in his search for the Infinity Stones, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Asgard to discover some significant changes to the realm. His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been masquerading as Asgard’s leader, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). This eventually pays off that end credit scene from Doctor Strange and gives way to the return of Hela (Cate Blanchett), who’s ready to assume the throne of Asgard. Her first act? Destroying Thor’s magical hammer, Mjolnir.
Before he can defend Asgard, Thor has to get back home. He’s been imprisoned on the colorful planet Sakaar and forced to compete as a gladiator in the slick talking Grandmaster’s (Jeff Goldbum looking like he’s having a blast) Contest of Champions. Things might be looking up for Thor though as his Avenger pal Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is also on Sakaar and they may have another ally in Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, Creed), who also has ties to Asgard. But even if they can return to Asgard, how can Thor’s Revengers manage to stop Hela?
Screenwriters Craig Kyle, Christopher L. Your and Eric Pearson get what makes Thor special. Kyle and Yost adapted the Planet Hulk storyline for a Marvel animated movie as well as the original Hulk Vs. animated film proving they had a great handle on Hulk. Despite Hulk, Valkyrie, Loki and Heimdall (Idris Elba) have significant screen time, Ragnarok is fully Thor’s movie.
A huge amount of the credit has to go to Hemsworth. He’s always been good in the role, but in Ragnarok, he completely owns the role and the film. Hemsworth lets (and lops) his hair down this time to make Thor more fun. His performance is almost a revelation of what he could do in further films under Waititi’s direction.
Blanchett plays the MCU’s first female villain and she ensures Hela won’t be one of the quickly forgotten Avengers adversaries. Ruffalo does a lot of his work in a motion-capture performance, but Ragnarok gave some welcome insight to the continued struggle to keep the Hulk in check. There’s actually a smart explanation as to why Hulk is talking and it kinda made me wish Joss Whedon had a more talkative Hulk in Avengers and Age of Ultron. Waititi didn’t just tease on that Hulk/Thor gladiator fight. It’s one of the more impressive battles we’ve seen out of the MCU so far.
Thompson is a marked improvement over Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings and it was a nice change of pace to have a powerful female character who could fight alongside Thor in Sif’s absence. Without spoiling anything for fans of Sif, it was probably best she didn’t appear in this installment.
Waititi doesn’t pepper the film with a slew of Easter Eggs that would only appeal to the hardcore Marvel fanboys. It helps make Ragnarok more accessible even to newcomers who only watched Thor in the Avengers films. Characters like Skurge the Executioner (Karl Urban, Dredd) and Surtur appear not as fan service, but as vital elements to the story. Of course there are some nods to the comics. But not in a way to make audience members feel like they’re missing something without an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Marvel.
The trailer really didn’t spoil much of anything. Marvel cut it and digitally altered some scenes to keep the audience from anticipating some key surprises. That’s important as this is worth going in not knowing anything that’s going to happen.
Thor: Ragnarok is the equivalent of his Winter Soldier film. Like Captain America’s second film, Ragnarok is a major game changer and dramatically changes the Thor status quo. There’s some shocking and highly unexpected twists and developments that beg for further exploration. While these series typically are just a trilogy, Thor desperately needs a fourth chapter much more so than a Captain America or Iron Man 4.
Rating: 9.7 out of 10
Photo Credit: Marvel Comics