As we mark the halfway point in Phase Three of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Ragnorak arrives with much fanfare and critical praise. While standing on its own as a film, the larger mythology also moves just enough to get us closer to next year’s all-out-no-holds-barred Avengers: Infinity War, earning its place beyond merely considering it as “the second-to-last movie before the Big One.” Be warned, minor spoilers ahead.
Chris Hemsworth returns as the mighty God of Thunder, Odin’s Son, and right off the bat, director Taika Waititi wants us to know that his film will be a) funnier and b) much better than 2013’s brooding and convoluted Thor: The Dark World. Hemsworth looks like he’s having the time of his life by letting loose with his comedic timing and punch lines (similar to his scene-stealing work in last year’s Ghostbusters), and things never really feel out of place because of it. After the game-changing antics of Deadpool and the trendsetting work of James Gunn and Guardians of the Galaxy, Waititi had some inspiration to draw from while still leaving his own undeniable mark on the proceedings. The film starts out with Thor learning more about the titular Ragnorak and its prophecy about his home world Asgard falling. He’s also been having little luck searching for Infinity Stones but finds out from fire demon Surtur that his father Odin is actually not currently ruling over Asgard and keeping the peace. This leads to a rapid fire round of impressive cameos (the more unspoiled, the better) and an appearance by one of our latest superheroes, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch at his dry best, making the most of his guest appearance). Strange assists Thor and the newly-unmasked Loki (Tom Hiddleston, good as always) in finding Odin, who discloses that the brothers have a sister named Hela, Goddess of Death and his first-born. Once Odin’s right-hand lieutenant in conquering the Nine Realms, Hela has been imprisoned for years due to her ambitions becoming too great; now however, she is coming back to rule Asgard and wreak havoc once again.
Cate Blanchett’s entrance as Hela is anything but boring, and you can truly see her relishing every line and every moment she has; she was born to play a villain. After banishing Thor and Loki away from Asgard and making her initial play for conquest, we turn our attention to Sakaar, a trash planet with various wormholes that may or may not get you to your destination. Thor is taken captive by scrapper/former Asgardian Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, Creed) who delivers him to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, also having a blast), ruler of this world and curator of contenders brave enough to face his “champion”, the undefeated Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). What follows are some psychedelic-inspired hijinks (shout-out to a scene reminiscent of Disney World’s Space Mountain ride mashed up with Willy Wonka), a haircut, and the fight that fans have been waiting for since the first trailer debuted. It should also be noted that this is the first film where Hulk actually talks, and the results succeed in not only further developing this underdog favorite but also bringing out the funniest and most unlikeliest of duos. Hemsworth and Ruffalo never really shared too much one-on-one time in the previous Avenger films, and they seize the opportunity in their verbal and physical sparring. The repeated bit where Thor tries to calm the Hulk (and later Bruce Banner) down with Black Widow’s secret lullaby from Avengers: Age of Ultron is simply hilarious. Waititi and his cast have spoken out a lot on the press tour regarding prominent use of improvisation, making one wonder just how many different takes were left out and how they might have shaped the film differently while still keeping to the core of the story.
Back on Asgard, Heimdall (Idris Elba) is doing his best to hold the fort while Hela and her newly acquired henchman Skurge (Karl Urban, playing a slight variation on some of his tough/bad guy roles of late) terrorize the city with her resurrected Asgardian army of the undead. Thor manages to break out and join forces with Bruce, Valkyrie, and a shifty Loki as they devise a plan to escape and reclaim his home world: Revengers Assemble!
While Thor: Ragnarok is essentially nonstop in its first two acts, it’s the finale where this joyride starts to slow down a little. I was excited for Hela not only because she was the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s true villainess but also because of her ruthlessness. After her introduction, you feel like the stakes are higher and that our heroes finally have a worthy adversary. Instead, Hela creates a whole different “Marvel villain problem”: she’s too strong and therefore unbeatable unless Ragnorak happens. Her exit is a bit underwhelming, proving that this is still an area of concern 17 films in. Another criticism, though minor, deals with the treatment of the Warriors Three and how their supporting role as Thor’s besties has seen diminished screen time with each subsequent film. Perhaps room was needed to make way for the new characters or maybe it was an issue of pacing. Either way, their dismissal left a bit to be desired (and a current point of debate/contention amongst fans so far).
But let’s get back to the positives. There is no doubt that the film belongs to Waititi, not only as the director but also as scene-stealing revolutionary Korg. The soft-spoken, gentle rock giant is easily one of the best new characters to be introduced, and I, for one, am hoping that he will make his way into the Guardians lineup in the near future as he would fit right in and change up the dynamic with his humor and gullibility. The visuals are stunning, the music groovy. Perhaps so as not to pay too much tribute to Guardians, the film uses only one song to drive the action at the beginning and end, Led Zeppelin’s aptly titled “Immigrant Song” (smart allegory of Thor as a fish out-of-water or a simultaneous zinger for modern times? You decide.) Valkyrie is also a welcome addition to Marvel’s growing list of badass female characters, but I didn’t feel like she was as strong as she could have been, mainly in part to Thompson’s shaky English accent and how it diminished her overall swagger. Most importantly, Waititi plays within the sandbox that Marvel and mega producer Kevin Feige have given him; by the end of the movie, Thor has saved his people, and he has a sense of purpose on where to go next, complete with lasting repercussions. The post-credits sequences (one a throwaway gag and another an important set-up for Avengers: Infinity War) also tie in so that things continue to build up for what’s to come. Overall, Thor: Ragnorak revitalizes the character’s franchise while also offering something fresh, witty, and vibrant. Some minor issues aside, you have to marvel at how this particular cinematic universe continues to churn out hit after hit. Pun intended.
What did you think of Thor: Ragnorak? Did you enjoy this new take on everyone’s favorite son of Odin? Did you catch some of those other easter eggs/unresolved plot points that will tie into future Marvel films? Sound off in the comments section!
Edited by: Kelly Conley