The “Thor” movies have always felt like the black sheep of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The first film was released at a time when the mega-franchise was in its infancy, before Marvel Studios was willing to lean into risky endeavors like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Ant-Man,” and “Doctor Strange.”
Therefore, the God of Thunder’s debut feature feels incredibly limited in scope, while the sequel, “Thor: The Dark World,” suffers from typical sequelitis.
The first half is entirely wheel-spinning, the villain is arguably Marvel’s worst antagonist to date, and the story seems at a lost about what director to take Thor in. If not for “Iron Man 2,” “The Dark World” would be the worst entry in the MCU.
Needless to say, Thor has struggled when it came to his solo outings.
For the third installment, director Taika Waititi’s solution is to simply ignore the MCU at large, and lean into the inherent weirdness and colorful bombast of the comics that inspire the film as well as his lead actors’ strengths.
The result does provide a few shortcomings that prevent it from achieving greatness, but there is no denying “Thor: Ragnarok” is the best of the three Thor movies, an absolute blast that never wears out its welcome.
Two years after the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been unsuccessful in his quest to learn more about the Infinity Stones.
When he returns home to Asgard, he discovers that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been impersonating their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), whom Loki has hidden on Earth.
When they find him, Odin reveals in his absence, Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) has become powerful enough to escape her eternal prison.
When she does, she destroys Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, and the two brothers are stranded on the planet Sakaar, where Thor is forced to take part in a gladiator match against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
It’s on this planet that Thor must find a way to get back to Asgard, defeat Hela, and prevent the prophesied Ragnarok, the end of everything.
After the film quickly wraps up all the loose ends from “The Dark World,” “Ragnarok hits the ground running. It’s almost like Waititi’s only instructions from Marvel were, “Provide closure to these things, then go nuts.”
In a way, “Ragnarok” functions as a soft reboot of the franchise, but without the discarding of continuity or miscasting that goes with it.
There is one throwaway lining explaining the status of Thor and Jane Foster’s relationship, and the Warriors Three are given extremely little screen-time before being swiftly cast aside.
If you genuinely liked the previous two “Thor” movies, this one is probably going to make you angry. But if not, then “Ragnarok” will surely win you over.
Since there is such a willingness to not focus heavily and prior installments, Waititi is free to reconfigure the franchise to fit his own sensibilities.
Take Thor for example. While the character has had his moments before this film, he’s never been quite as fleshed out as his fellow Avengers like Captain America or Iron Man.
Here, it’s almost as if all of Marvel suddenly came to realize that Chris Hemsworth is a gifted comedic actor and decided to really lean into that.
For the first time in the MCU, Thor outshines just about everybody else. If Thor had been better established earlier, then this more comedic take wouldn’t work as well.
It’s a shame it took until now to finally crack the character because Hemsworth is an utter delight in the role.
Despite the apocalyptic title, “Ragnarok” is perhaps Marvel’s most consistently hilarious film to date.
The jokes move as such as fast pace that you may not be able to catch all of them because you’ll be laughing too loud from the last joke.
Aside from one joke that undercuts a dramatic moment at the very end, Waititi is able to deftly balance the humor with the drama as he has in his past work.
Where “Ragnarok” falls flat is a specific area that has proven time and again to be the Achilles’ heel of the MCU: The villain.
While Hela has a great visual design, works on a thematic level, and Cate Blanchett seems to be having fun in her role, chewing as much as the scenery as possible, it doesn’t change the fact that the character is yet another weak Marvel villain.
She is a personality without a character. The film has an opportunity to fully explore her inner workings what with her relation to Odin and how he buried her along with the horrific actions of his past, but the problem is the film spends so much time on Sakaar, which feels like it should be a subplot and not the main plot, that it feels like the surface has only just been scratched in regards to her character.
In the past when actors have been wasted on nothing villain roles, it was a shame.
Here, however, we have a two-time Academy award-winning actress given very little to work with, which feels borderline criminal.
If you looked deeply at “Ragnarok,” you could see all the ways in which it could’ve been improved from its villain to its pacing to its narrative structure.
While it is certainly entertaining and currently the most fun you can have in a theater, we should have more respect for these filmmakers and characters beyond classifying their work as just “enjoyable.”
However, when the film is working, it’s firing on all cylinders.
Even if not every character is properly developed, this is one of the most stellar ensemble casts ever assembled in a Marvel production, and each one of them play their roles with such giddiness that it’s irresistible.
Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, in particular, quickly becomes a fan favorite. If her first scene in the film doesn’t convince you, nothing will.
The film is also a visual wonder to behold. It’s enthralling yet bittersweet to see Jack Kirby’s art style so obviously influence the design of a major blockbuster film.
Kirby’s work with both Marvel and DC largely helped shaped both comic universes, and most of these characters wouldn’t exist without him. “Ragnarok” feels like a love letter to the stories and art so many writers and artists have created over the years and the millions of childhoods they shaped.
Waititi has crafted a film that is targeted specifically to your inner 6-year old. Mark Mothersbaugh’s score is distinct enough to separate it from the music of other Marvel movies while also integrating the work other composers have done on the first two Thor films.
There is more to explore in-depth about the movie.
Without spoiling anything, themes like the horror of colonialism and reconciling the origins of your home with what it should be in the future are well worth further discussion and deserving of their own articles.
For now though, “Thor: Ragnarok” is a film that knows exactly what it wants to be, and excels at it with such confidence and exuberance that makes it arguably the most fun to be had with a superhero movie all year.
Though the ending exacts massive changes for Thor going forward, the God of Thunder’s future has never looked brighter.