As print comics gradually become less and less mainstream, it feels to me like superhero films have essentially become the new “monthlies”- at least in terms of how the general public follows the adventures of their favorite characters. So it feels appropriate that Thor: Ragnarok, directed with a strong amount of wit and fun by Taika Waititi, works so well as a standalone adventure film.
While there are plenty of references and a handful of continuing storylines from previous MCU films, the writing is strong enough for people to enjoy even if they aren’t familiar with the other movies. As great as I thought Captain America: Civil War was, I’ll admit there were a number of side plots weaved into the story that could leave some viewers puzzled. The third Thor movie averts that by maintaining a strong, focused narrative.
The aforementioned “ragnarok” is an upcoming prophecy for the destruction of Thor’s home realm Asgard. Thor opens the movie holding a visually awesome, but unexpectedly funny conversation with a giant fire Demon named Surtur (Clancy Brown). If he unites his crown (and trust Surtur, it IS a crown) with Asgard’s Eternal Flame, it’s game over- and Thor thinks he’s saved the day after he steals the famed headpiece.
But things get more complicated when he finds an apparently-not-dead Loki (Tom Hiddleston) ruling Asgard in Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) place. When the two jump to Earth to find their father, they run into Odin’s daughter Hela (Cate Blanchett), the former Asgard commander who has her own designs for the throne. The journey back to save their home will call on them to deal with wormholes, bounty hunter gangs and a bizarre intergalactic competition where strange looking aliens battle to the death.
This movie’s been advertised as a goofy riot, and at times the jokes do keep coming too fast, but the situation is generally treated with the gravity it deserves. Personally, I felt Thor’s character arc, combined with an affable and capable performance from Chris Hemsworth, did a lot to keep the humor grounded. I won’t spin you any falsehoods, Ragnarok is an incredibly quippy film, and its title character is very much a Bro. but throughout the story, the God of Thunder is focused and determined to save his home regardless of the obstacles constantly thrown his way.
It’d be one thing if it felt as if he wasn’t taking the situation seriously- that would get annoying super-fast- but that’s not the case at all here. A good portion of the comedy derives from his reactions to the absurd predicaments he finds himself in. It’s said that some form of suffering is at the root of much good humor, and as likable as Thor is, boy does he suffer for the audience’s pleasure in this film.
And honestly, much of the sillier moments come from the supporting cast, and even then they still feel believable within the context of their world. Benedict Cumberbatch gets so much out of a brief cameo as Dr. Strange it’s ridiculous.
Tessa Thompson is very entertaining as Valkyrie, a strong but flawed and humorous ally who starts off running away from her past. (Some of her scenes left me convinced her and Jessica Jones would be best friends.) Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk is as savage as ever, but he’s got a good reason to feel more confident these days.
The fight between them that Jeff Goldblum’s decadently comical Grandmaster arranges is easily one of the film’s highlights, and Hiddleston’s Loki rooting against his own brother made me snort my soda by accident. For most of this film, he’s on whichever side he finds the most convenient at the time.
Still, he is the God of Mischief, and his vanity and desire to be adored ensure he’ll contribute to the cause. He’ll certainly be necessary because Blanchett’s performance as Hela is incredibly intimidating. Hopefully, this won’t be her only MCU film in the next few years, because her presence and charisma make her one of the cooler Marvel villains I’ve seen in some time.
Thor: Ragnarok is certainly on the lighter end of Marvel’s tone scale, but it captures the unpretentious sense of fun and wonder that many classic comics held. Not only does it feel larger than any Thor film to date, it respects its story and the motivations of its characters, and I felt that was a good counter to its comical edge.
Besides, I’m predicting next year’s Infinity War will be a much more serious tale. If the Marvel formula is a complete turn-off for you, this might not be up your alley- but if you’re open to a superhero story that’s subversively charming while still feeling epic, I can easily recommend it.