Published on November 3rd, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls0
The third Thor movie proves that there’s still a lot of fun in the Marvel tank and places to explore for the God of Thunder.
It’s been a couple of months since the last mega-budget, VFX-heavy comic book blockbuster so it’s about that time for another one. Don’t roll your eyes this time, though – the new film Thor: Ragnarok is something different than you’ll get with the other superhero flicks. This one celebrates the joy that should be readily apparent with these costumed characters. Thanks to the empathetic sensibilities of Marvel rookie director Taika Waititi the God of Thunder finally strikes some bolts of pure, unadulterated fun into multiplexes.
The mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds his world of Asgaard upended with the arrival of his long lost sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett, campy and loving it). After Hela seizes control of their home, Thor and his frenemy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are ousted to the planet Sakaar, where Loki enjoys hobnobbing with the powerful while Thor is captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, the film’s single biggest delight). Valkyrie brings Thor to the gladiatorial arena overseen by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) where warriors are sent to spar to the death with the Grandmaster’s prized fighter, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Hulk has been in his giant, green form for two years following his exit at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Thor is able to bring him back to human form. With the mind of Bruce Banner and the bravery of Thor, an uprising to flee Sakaar is underway. An escape back to Asgaard is necessary to prevent Ragnarok, or, the end of the realm of Asgaard as we know it. Now that Thor’s father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), has passed it’s up to this Norse Avenger to save his world from destruction.
The story is pretty standard-issue Marvel filling, but kudos should be given for the way that Thor’s status quo is flipped by the end of it all. For the first time ever, Thor gets a character arch that’s fulfilling and promises an evolution of the hero we thought we knew. Most of the major characters actually get satisfying storylines that deeply connect us with these fictional beings, making the laughs that much harder and the thrills that much more exciting.
Despite its stellar character work, Thor: Ragnarok leaves much left to be desired in the plot department. Events are connected almost at random and the film sadly lacks a powerful drive to maintain narrative momentum. But these deficiencies are offset by an abundance of humor and charm. The film is never not entertaining, even if you’re not sure of the purpose of it all.
New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi steps behind the camera for his first big-budget Hollywood picture as a director. Waititi previously garnered acclaim for the quirky comedies What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, neither of which immediately suggest a perfect match for this material. But the sensibilities that endeared Waititi’s films to audiences remain intact; indeed, there’s a certain sweetness to Thor: Ragnarok that feels unique from its Marvel brethren. Further solidifying Waititi’s deserved credit for Ragnarok’s ultimate success is his motion capture performance as Korg, who’s like The Thing from Fantastic Four except he’s colored blue and is kind of a sweetheart.
The visual design of Thor: Ragnarok is striking and at times dizzying. There’s almost too much going on but it’s all pretty to look at. Vibrant, electric colors swirl over every surface. Costumes and what practical production design elements there are play an integral role in setting the mood of the piece. It’s disheartening that there’s such an over-reliance on green screen set replacements (seriously, would it kill someone to build something real for the actors to explore?) but such is the modern moviemaking way. The digital elements definitely distract at times but it’s a factor that most viewers are likely to overlook.
Though he’s well known as a strong, strapping Alpha male hero on screen, Chris Hemsworth actually possesses bucket loads of comedic talent. Waititi wisely harnesses this and uses Hemsworth’s innate likeability to make this the most fun we’ve had with Thor on the big screen ever. Between Ragnarok and last year’s unfortunate Ghostbusters reboot, Hemsworth is making a solid case for himself as a leading comedy actor.
It’s no secret that Mark Ruffalo can act his way through any picture but it’s still delightful to see him play both sides of the Banner/Hulk combo (the actor provided a motion capture performance and Hulk actually has some dialogue in this one). Jeff Goldblum exceeds all hopes and expectations with the most Goldblum-y performance he’s given in a while. As the eccentric Grandmaster of his own gladiator arena, he’s a hoot. Cate Blanchett doesn’t have much of a character to play (Marvel still has a problem with creating captivating villains) but the Academy Award-winner clearly is having a blast here.
Perhaps no single feat of acting is memorable as Tessa Thompson’s performance. The relative newcomer is the real standout of Thor: Ragnarok and though the film is entertaining at a steady level from beginning to end, it really shines when she’s on screen.
Thor: Ragnarok is more comedy than action-fantasy, and that’s not a bad thing. With a huge canvas, epic scope, and limitless visual wonders to mine there’s really no need to be dark and dour, for a change. That Thor: Ragnarok is a fun as it is makes further adventures with these characters even more appealing. If they can keep this energy and up their plot game, Marvel may have found the secret to longevity with a character who never really got up on his own two feet before. For the hardcore and the casual comic book movie fans alike, Thor: Ragnarok is a breath of fresh air and an exciting course change. They don’t come much more straight-up, in-the-moment fun as this, folks.