The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a powerhouse. For nearly ten years Marvel has churned out success after success adding to its massive world of superheroes spanning different worlds, galaxies, and even genres. While this year brought us two highly anticipated entries in the MCU with “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2” and “Spiderman Homecoming” possibly the most anticipated of all of Marvel’s 2017 offerings has been “Thor: Ragnarok”, the third entry in the “Thor” trilogy. Hilariously funny, entertaining and filled with great action and stunning visuals “Thor: Ragnarok” is pretty much everything we hoped for, but is it truly one of Marvel’s best to date? Well let me tell you what I think. Here’s my review for “Thor: Ragnarok”.
“Thor: Ragnarok” sees Chris Hemsworth return as the titular God of Thunder two years after the Sokovia incident in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. After going on a one-man crusade to find the remaining Infinity Stones, Thor does battle with the fire demon Surtur who warns him of the upcoming Ragnarok, the end of days for Thor’s home world Asgard. Upon returning to Asgard Thor finds his brother Loki, again played by Tom Hiddleston, posing as their father Oden, and forces the God of Mischief to help him locate their father. The ensuing search leads to a situation where the Goddess of Death, Thor’s sister Hela, played by Cate Blanchett, is released and attempts to kill her brothers who are relocated to the distant planet of Sakaar where Loki becomes a favored friend of the planet’s leader, The Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum. Meanwhile Thor is forced to do battle with his old friend the Hulk, played again by Mark Ruffalo, in an area duel. Thor eventually forms a team with the Hulk, Loki, and the warrior Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, to return to Asgard and put an end to his sister’s reign of terror before his home world is destroyed and the rest of the universe becomes a target for Hela’s terror.
There’s a lot to cover with this film so I’ll try to be concise and detailed at the same time in this review. “Ragnarok” is a spectacle in almost every way. It’s got cameos galore, many Marvel characters new and old mixed into the story, and it’s visually appealing with a bright atmosphere that doesn’t overshadow the danger of its larger narrative. In the same way that “Civil War” was a more grounded way to bring the MCU together in Captain America’s final stand-alone movie, “Ragnarok” attempts the same approach only from a more mythological and mystical perspective and with more new and smaller characters than the heavy hitters in last year’s epic. “Ragnarok” is actually a great movie and a fitting addition to the larger MCU cannon that takes its titular character from just another Avenger to a legitimate scene stealing hero.
Chris Hemsworth once again dawns the cape and hammer as Thor and is the central character for the entire film, but this time he’s grown up even more. The “Thor” films have pretty much been geared towards showing the maturing of Thor into a true kingly being and one willing and able to rule Asgard upon his father’s passing. In the first film we saw him as a childlike God with an ego and in “The Dark World” he was more confident but still unsure of his place in the universe. This movie brings Thor full circle, putting him in a position where his entire world is in jeopardy and he truly has to come into his own and discover the man, hero and leader he can and wants to be. It’s actually fascinating to see what Thor has become. While “Ragnarok” has a decidedly lighter and more colorful presentation than the first two movies, it’s a welcome change that helps the movie stands out as the best and most complete “Thor” film to date and shows more maturity and confidence as a film that the first two in the same way Thor himself has also grown into something stronger, brighter and more likable.
“Ragnarok” continues an odd tradition in Marvel films, introducing yet another villain with a personal connection to the protagonist and similar powers in Cate Blanchett’s Hela. In this incarnation of the story of Thor Hela is the God’s sister and is released after Oden’s power over her prison is disrupted. I had high hopes for Hela due to the “villain problem” Marvel seems to have and I wasn’t disappointed. Hela is a truly powerful being, maybe one of the most powerful we’ve seen to date in the MCU, and a force to be reckoned with that actually forces Thor and his allies to go to extreme lengths to try and defeat her. She is also responsible for killing off a few series staples which accentuates her power and intimidation skills nicely and shows how the world of Thor is being turned upside down. Blanchett turns in a charming and witty performance as the power hungry goddess and what we get is one of the most memorable one-off villains in the MCU. Blanchett is both charming and despicable at the same time and while the film does phone in Hela’s backstory a bit, it does a nice job working her into the story and retconning the “Thor” and MCU lore to explain her absence from Asgardian history. Hela is also a legitimate foe for Thor even when the God of Thunder taps into a previously unused power so there is always this foreboding sense of helplessness. The heroes, and we the audience, are never quite sure Hela can even be beaten and that makes for great suspense and drama even when it looks like the tables are turned against the villainess. This is only the latest in a series of villains that are challenging MCU heroes to be smarter and stronger to win. As Vision said in “Civil War” the very existence of heroes seems to welcome more powerful villains, and Hela is no exception which is great to see.
There are other standout performances as well that help “Ragnarok” become a very complete film. Jeff Goldblum does great as secondary villain The Grandmaster, a game lover who uses Thor to entertain his subjects in a battle against The Hulk. Mark Ruffalo returns as the green giant himself who has been in perma-Hulk mode for the two years since his last appearance in the MCU timeline and we see a Hulk character who has had time to dominate his body, maybe for the first time ever, while the Bruce Banner persona is locked away. This results in a Hulk who is a bit more intelligent than in the past and has even adapted a form of speech beyond simply his name and a few more words. As much as this film shows a complete growth for Thor it also manages to establish great character growth for The Hulk in a very short time span giving the most under appreciated Avenger at least some of his due screen time outside of the team up films. The Hulk doesn’t feel unwarranted or unneeded which is a plus. We also are graced with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki once again and there’s not much to say about him except he’s the same mischief maker we know and love and that’s really all we need. He’s just awesome.
Finally we have Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie who is the last remaining of the warrior race of women who previously tangled with Hela. When we first meet her she’s a drunk just trying to live and die with some semblance of peace and offers Thor to The Grandmaster for a profit. Thompson is a scene stealer and brings attitude, confidence, and charisma to the role. She fits naturally into the story and while her appearance might feel like a forced coincidence her larger involvement in the narrative actually turns her into a very pig piece of this growing puzzle that is the MCU. There is a bit to be desired from her character’s story arc, but she is very much Thor’s equal and as a potential love interest she actually seems like a much better fit for the God than Jane Foster (whose removal from the franchise is only very briefly explained by the way).
As a full viewing experience “Ragnarok” is a very funny and enjoyable piece of superhero cinema. I enjoyed the movie’s lighter tone and while we’ve seen more comedic elements in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Ragnarok’s” comedy feel a bit more natural and subtle. What’s also cool is this film continues a new standard for the MCU as Marvel continues to take some chances in the content of its films, at least in the script. There is plenty of light swearing in “Ragnarok” that makes these characters feel more natural and human rather than forcing their language and reactions to stay safe and clean within the confines of a PG-esque approach. The film felt more real and natural as a result of fluid writing, great character development, and expert handling or overarching stories and the massive cast of characters which is a credit to everyone involved, especially director Taika Waititi who clearly came in with a vision and saw it through.
While there is truly a LOT to love about “Ragnarok” there’s also a few things that kind of didn’t work, but only a few. The film oddly suffers from very selective pacing issues. The initial interaction with Oden and the first appearance of Hela specifically are extremely rushed and there are times where the filmmakers seemed to put more focus on the comedy than the deeper, more touching elements of the story. One major change in Thor’s life happens very early in the movie that becomes a running theme of the film, but we never really get to see it pay off except for quick, phoned in moments of inspiration for Thor late in the final battle and in his duel with the Hulk. As I mentioned before we also see a few series regulars killed off in the film and while I give the movie a lot of credit for being willing to be more violent and morbid, the film doesn’t truly do justice to more established Asgardian characters, instead putting the main focus on newer side characters that play only small parts in the overall story. Sure these moments of death and destruction of characters we already know compliment Hela’s power, but they’re so quick and sudden you don’t have time to process them and by the time you do we’re off to a new part of the adventure so it’s easy to forget those we’ve lost along the way. It’s a strange mishandling that seems odd considering how well Waititi and his staff handled the continuity throughout the rest of the project.
So is “Thor: Ragnarok” among Marvel’s best? Well yes and no. It’s definitely the best “Thor” movie and continues a surprising trend of trilogy closers being quality films in the MCU. It’s fun, funny, well shot, well scripted, colorful, and memorable. It’s not absolutely perfect but what flaws it does have are overshadowed in nearly every way by everything else that’s thrown at us over its two-hour run time. It’s not the best Marvel movie, but it’s up there. It’s one of the best. It’s relatively unique and it stands out in a crowded universe of projects where it’s becoming quite difficult for each entry to capture its own identity effectively. “Thor: Ragnarok” makes its titular hero look cool again and, for the most part, lives up to the heavy expectations set upon it. Simply put it’s just one more amazing entry in a year filled with great super hero and comic book films and it’s definitely one of the most mind numbingly fun movies you’ll see this year…unless you’re on the anti-super hero train then it doesn’t really matter what I have to say does it?