By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Although I like and enjoy the first two Thor movies, I would rank them as lower tier MCU films. The first one, which was directed by Kenneth Branaugh, serves as an adequate origin story, as it captures the elegant pageantry of the Norse mythology and mixes Shakespearean drama with mildly amusing humor. Thor: The Dark World, which was directed by Alan Taylor, gave audiences more action, compelling drama, more otherworldly beings and even more enjoyable comedy. My main complaint with these Thor movies, though, is that they often come across as too self-serious. Well, New Zealand director Taika Waititi has the perfect remedy for that issue. The talented filmmaker has taken some of these Thor conventions and turned them on their heads. The result is the genuinely comical and utterly charming Thor: Ragnarok which gives the Thor franchise a fresh gust of excitement and fun.
Following the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor, the Asgardian god of thunder (Chris Hemsworth), goes on an unsuccessful quest to recover the remaining Infinity gems which, in the wrong hands, could mean certain doom for the universe. After battling the fiery and evil Surtur (Clancy Brown), Thor discovers that his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) no longer sits on the throne of Asgard. After ending Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) ruse and dethroning him, the two brothers go retrieve their father on Earth. Before Thor can restore order on Asgard, Hela, the goddess of death (Cate Blanchett), attacks and successfully takes over the kingdom. Hela destroys Thor’s hammer and banishes him and Loki far away. The two land on a distant world named Sakaar, a place where the Elder Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) reigns and runs an area where he stages gladiator-type battles. A former Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who goes by the name of Scrapper 142, captures Thor and sells him to the Grandmaster who wishes to pit him against his champion. This champion is none other than the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Thor must convince Hulk/Banner and Valkrie to help him escape and return to Asgard to battle Hela and her warriors before they destroy his kingdom and its people.
Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok is not only the most fun Thor movie of the MCU, it is the best one of the trilogy so far. From start to finish, Waititi’s delightful and witty sense of humor permeates Thor’s universe and leaves an indelible mark. The humor is definitely on par with that of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but has a style and voice of its own. Waititi does an exceptional job of subverting Thor’s and some of the MCU’s stiffer conventions, but still has much love and respect for this universe. The more serious aspects of the story also work well and enrich the characters wonderfully. The story goes all over the place like an ADHD child and does have a couple of questionable moments, but Waititi manages to make it all work as an entertaining piece of pop art cinema. The comedic director apparently ran a very loose set and allowed the talented cast much leeway for improvisation. This really allows the actors to shine brightly and to levels not previously achieved in other MCU movies.
Chris Hemsworth, in particular, gets to really stretch his comedic chops. He might portray “The God of Thunder,” but even this powerful humanoid can let that title go to his head. Waititi and Hemsworth have a great time poking fun at the character’s hubris and pride and makes him an even more relatable character. Mark Ruffalo gets to spend much more time as the Hulk in this film, and even gets to show the more childlike, vulnerable side of the beast. The Hulk can be monstrous and volatile, but the ever-loving creature does have a sweet side. Cate Blanchett delivers an exceptional scenery-chewing turn of the wicked and hate-filled Hela. Tessa Thompson brings a badass, devil-may-care attitude to Valkyrie and often proves herself even tougher than Thor. Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki and utilizes his droll approach to the character in new and more entertaining ways. The film also features some outstanding turns by Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel House and Taika Waititi himself who portrays the lovable character Korg. Finally, Jeff Goldblum delivers a hilarious performance as the mad diva, The Grandmaster. Goldblum’s eccentric style, energy, and idiosyncratic presence fits the character perfectly and provides for even more laughs.
So for those who simply did not care much for the previous Thor movies, this installment is definitely not one to miss. Fans of the Guardians movies will enjoy Thor: Ragnarok probably just as much as those films. It makes me quite happy when the MCU producers allow exciting filmmakers to bring his or her own styles to their entries, but still make them work well within the entirety of the shared universe. Both James Gunn and Taika Waititi have managed to pull this off exceptionally. These brilliant filmmakers have been key to keeping the superhero movies fresh, fun and exciting. I can only hope that Kevin Feige and the other Marvel executives continue to take chances on talented directors because had they stuck to a tired formula, the Thor franchise would have been dead in the water.