Thor: Ragnarok - Review

The Thor franchise has always been the step child of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man and Captain America have consistently overshadowed it. It was still a marketable and popular franchise, but it never really could carve out a path for itself...until now.

Thor: Ragnarok is the brain child of Taika Waititi, who makes strange and weird films like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The Thor films have always had an underlying weirdness to them, and Waititi put it in the forefront. Continue reading to see how Thor: Ragnarok stacks up against its colleagues in the MCU. There will be SPOILERS throughout, so don't read unless you've seen the movie.

In seeing the previews and all of the promotional materials I knew that humor was going to be prevalent throughout the film. I was concerned that humor would overtake the film and because of that, the serious dramatic moments wouldn't land. When Chris Hemsworth is your leading man, the temptation to do humor is overwhelming. Hemsworth is a fantastic comedic actor. His timing for jokes and lines is impeccable. He was absolutely the best part in Ghostbusters and Vacation and it was unfortunate that the movies themselves weren't great because Hemsworth deserves more credit for his comedy. I was worried for nothing though, the comedy was paced well enough to tell a good story.

Ragnarok had everything you've come to expect from an entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Another Avenger cameo, a Stan Lee cameo, and a completely unexpected cameo that is good for a laugh. It had heart, humor, and lots and lots of spectacle.

If you think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a visual treat, you're in for something special here. Thor: Ragnarok has a memorable aesthetic as well. It looks like an 80s cartoon took a hit of acid to become live action and then exploded onto the big screen. It is colorful, imaginative, and just stunning to look at. The scenery are their own characters in and of themselves, from the rich architecture of Asgard to the junk filled hills on Sakaar, every set and backdrop tells a story of its own.

Besides Hemsworth, the usual suspects are here, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Idris Elba as Heimdall (his best turn of the character yet), Anthony Hopkins as Odin, and contract-fulfilling appearances from the Warriors Three. The new blood is the real pulse of the sequel though. Mark Ruffalo shines as the Hulk, Jeff Goldblum is at his "Goldblumiest" as The Grandmaster and Karl Urban and Cate Blanchett are great villains. Director Taika Waititi pulls a Favreau in Iron Man and puts himself into a role that will keep him employed by Marvel for years, regardless of it he directs again or not. Waititi plays Korg, a rock creature found on Sakaar who has some of the best lines of the film. He will be a fan favorite, and I can definitely see him appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 or some other future cosmic Marvel project.

But the unquestionable stand out of the movie is Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie. New blood in the MCU gets more and more difficult to really introduce because we want more adventures with our old friends. Valkyrie is an amazing character, and while Scarlett Johansson absolutely deserves her own solo Black Widow film, I would get in line right now for a Valkyrie standalone. If Marvel was smart, they would team them up, throw The Wasp, Gamora and Scarlet Witch in there and have a female ensemble film that could compete with DC's upcoming Gotham City Sirens. Valkyrie will be back in Avengers: Infinity War so that is a good reason to keep yourself alive until next May.

There has been an upsurge of female villains recently. Some have worked better than others but no one has seemed to nail them. Cate Blanchett is by far the best one yet, and I hope her turn with Marvel is long and prosperous. She had a great (though rushed and a bit shoehorned) story, and a she was a worthy adversary for Thor and Loki.

Ragnarok wastes no time in setting up the tone. It happens nearly immediately, and after that it doesn't let up. The pace suffers ever so slightly once the Hulk shows up, but his banter with Thor is so delightful that it is forgivable. In some respects, the film would work better without him, but in others, it would be weaker. It is a tricky balance, and they did the best they could with it. Besides, we'll never get a standalone Planet Hulk film, so let's be thankful that we can get it where we do.

The Iron Man and Captain America films have changed the MCU as a whole many times over. The Thor series has always been self contained. This is really the first time the events of the film will bleed over and affect the other heroes. Loki being the exception to that of course, as he was the bad guy in The Avengers but that was one isolated thing (albeit a big one). But with Thor being changed emotionally, mentally and physically, and Asgard having fallen, the ship full of Asgardians heading to Earth will have an impact and that is a direct effect from the events of Thor: Ragnarok.

If and when Thor 4 ever happens, it is going to be completely different. It has to be. Most of the ingredients that make up a Thor film have been made obsolete. The definition of what a Thor movie is from here on out - for better or for worse - has been forever changed. One of the biggest changes, besides the total destruction of Asgard is the destruction of Thor's beloved hammer, Mjolnir. Now, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets it back, or is able to forge a new one or something, but while it was jarring to see him without it, it was necessary for the character to evolve. Thor always relied on it, to use his thunderous powers, to fly, to put the "Mighty" in Thor. He was forced to learn without it, once it got destroyed he became a better man. He learned that the power was inside of him, that his possessions didn't define him. He is a stronger, faster, more powerful hero because of it. Should he ever get it back, it will no longer be a crutch, instead it will become the aid it was always meant to be. It parallels the first film when he had to prove worthy of it. Now he proved to himself that he was worthy without it. When a carpenter builds something it is because of his skill and talent. The hammer he or she uses is merely a tool to aid. It is the same here, but in the interim of him finding his new permanent weapon, it was fun to see Thor use the whole gamut of weaponry, swords, knives, shields, and machine guns. It is always fun to see characters we know so well be out of their comfort zone and try something new for a little bit.

This film works better than its two predecessors, it is the best Thor film in the franchise. Outside of that, it is also the one of the best Marvel films out this year. It certainly beats Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. and while I need to watch Thor: Ragnarok again to be sure, I feel, at this juncture, it beats out Spider-Man: Homecoming as well.

The scope and scale that Waititi presented on screen deserves recognition. I saw this movie on an IMAX screen, one of the biggest screens the state has to offer, and in some scenes I felt that it was so intimate, I was watching on a small cellphone, or a VR headset. In some other shots, I felt that the screen had opened up and I was just watching the events unfold across acres and acres of land. Pay attention to the "main event" fight scene, when Thor is about to face the Hulk. Valkyrie parks her ship above the arena and sits down to witness the fight. The scene where she sits down and opens a bottle, is one where I audibly gasped. I actually took my 3D glasses off to make sure the screen didn't get smaller. It really felt like it was just me and her in her ship. The intercuts between that and the massive arena does wonders to the senses. Valkyrie felt so small, especially after it cut to Jeff Goldblum's 100 foot hologram. It is the little things like the framing of the scenes and how they are presented that makes Thor: Ragnarok stand out among its colleagues.

Mark Mothersbaugh did a nice job with the score, but it was slightly overshadowed by the Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. It works so well here and I'm sure it was not cheap to secure the rights. They certainly got their moneys worth - the whole trailer campaign was based off of that song, and it is very effective when used in the movie. I am surprised it hasn't been used more often in films. It evokes all kinds of emotions. It's a bonus when you go see Thor: Ragnarok - you get to see an incredibly entertaining film, and you get the led out at the same time! Believe it or not, the best musical moment is not the use of Immigrant Song but an homage to Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. It is when Thor is "on his way" to meeting the Grandmaster, and it was the moment that made me laugh the hardest in the entire film.

On top of everything that was mentioned above most of the important characters outside of Thor got wonderful character arcs as well. Potential redemption  was on the table for Loki (even though I would bet nearly anything I own that he stole the tesseract again). Hulk embracing that he is a hero - and willing to sacrifice Bruce Banner to do it has been a long time coming. Valkyrie embraced her history and got justice, while leaving us wanting more. Finally, Skurge found his place in the world and the approval that he had been desperately searching for his whole life. A strong plot (though somewhat textbook) and strong character development together will make me a happy moviegoer nearly every time.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe gives me joy that nothing but Star Wars can come close to. It is truly amazing what they are doing, and if you want proof, look at all of the other franchises that want to build a "shared universe". It's the new hot thing because Marvel pulled it off so well. Next time we get a peek into the MCU, we will be in Wakanda! Black Panther gets here in February, and it can't come soon enough.

Thor: Ragnarok is now in theaters everywhere.


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