REVIEW: “Thor: Ragnarok”

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Marvel Studios seems so have found a soft spot with many critics. Unlike their DC competition, Marvel movies are generally well received by critics who (as I gabbed about in my “Justice League” review) appreciate the MCU’s willingness to be a bit more lighthearted and poke fun at itself. Never has that been more true than with “Thor: Ragnarok”.

With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92% and over $820 million in the box office bank (so far), Thor’s third solo film and seventeenth installment in Marvel’s cinematic universe has been yet another critical and commercial success. But what made is such a treat for many critics is part of what held me back.

Easily the most intriguing thing about “Thor: Ragnarok” was the choice of director. Taika Waititi has made two of my favorite straight comedies of the past several years. “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” showcased Waititi’s hyper-quirky brand of humor. Handing him the reins of a Marvel franchise film was guaranteeing something different.

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The story begins with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) held captive by the flaming demon Surtur. Thor learns that his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has left his throne and Surtur plans to fulfill the Ragnarok prophecy and destroy Asgard. The God of Thunder will have none of that. Waititi wastes no time showing his comic intentions. This quick opening sequence summarizes the balance the entire film wants to maintain – wacky humor and superhero action.

For the remainder of the first act the story hurriedly hops from one plot point to the next. Thinking he has prevented Ragnarok, Thor returns to Asgard and soon learns the true threat to the realm is none other than Cate Blanchett. She plays Hela, the Goddess of Death and Odom’s long-lost firstborn who returns to Asgard to take the throne and wake her army of the dead. Her intent is the same as most MCU baddies – power, world domination, the usual. But Blanchett is wickedly fun, a bit dry at times but a hoot.

Hela wins round one and Thor finds himself stranded on a trashy planet ran by Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster. No one else in the film can match Goldblum whose performance is both bizarre and hysterical. Waititi urged Goldblum to improvise and the actor runs with it without the slightest restraint. I can see some audience members bewildered by what he’s doing. I found him to be an absolute scene stealer.

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Adding to the fun is the return of the mischievous Loki (Tom Hiddleston). We also get an overly chatty Hulk played partly by Mark Ruffalo and partly by a lot of green CGI. Idris Elba also returns as Heimdall, Asgard’s guardian sentry. The biggest new addition is Tessa Thompson who plays a hard-as-nails bounty hunter with a complicated past. Thompson adds plenty of energy even though she occasionally overplays the hard-drinking scoundrel type.

Waititi and company put together a lot of big action, but the film plays more as a comedy which means plenty of funny moments. But his treatment of Thor clashes with the past Marvel movies. From his first film Thor has been a bit of a lug. “Ragnarok” portrays him as more of a wisecracking dimwit. There are scenes where he steps outside of that box and reminds us of why he’s one of Marvel’s powerhouses. But after this movie it will be hard for some to see him as much more than a goof. The same could be said with Hulk. The film makes some weird moves with him and it will be interesting to see how it effects the character going forward.

Those not interested in continuity or source material won’t have any problems with “Thor: Ragnarok”. That’s probably the best way to approach it. For me, despite having some truly great aspects, something felt off. I can’t deny the film’s charm and there are some genuinely funny scenes. By no means is it a difficult watch. But I find its skittish first act and some questionable character handling is still gnawing at me.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

3-stars

24 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Thor: Ragnarok”

  1. I enjoyed the hell out of this film. It was so refreshing in terms of what it needed to be in a superhero film. It threw away a lot of the seriousness and just went for the laughs. I love its humor but I also realized that it plays to Waititi’s own sensibilities in its approach to tragedy and comedy. Even as it relates to Thor and Loki’s relationship to Odin who is filled with regret and loss. Having now seen 4 of Waititi’s films plus a couple of shorts, the man is a genius.

    • I saw it trying to be refreshing and maybe it was in segments. But I’m not sure Waititi fully pulls it off. He only goes full Waititi in the middle section and I felt it clashed a bit with the attempts to be serious. You mention Thor and Loki’s relationship. I don’t think the movie did enough to really sell regret and loss.

  2. Good review. I thought it was a fun and humorous movie. However, it wasn’t my favorite Thor movie (that would be the first one). Still, I did enjoy it.

      • Well…kind of, sort of. The whole tone changed from the first two Thor movies to Ragnarok and it looses some of the quality in its dramatic poise. However, this isn’t the first time the MCU has done this. Look at the first Captain America film to Winter Soldier and Civil War.

      • That’s interesting. I’ve felt Cap has remained pretty consistent. He’s by far the most serious of the group even in the two Avengers films.

      • I mean the character (his moral, his attitude, and character development) remains the same through all three films, but you definitely can tell of tonally differences between The First Avengers and Winter Soldier.

      • Oh okay, I see. That’s true. I just attributed it to the huge jump in time from the first movie (which was essentially a period film) to the modern day setting. I guess what I’m saying is I felt Cap was handled a lot better than Thor in that regard. It’ll be really interesting to see how much of that character’s goofiness carries over from Ragnarok.

  3. I don’t think I would’ve known Thor, Odin, Loki, Asgard and such if it wasn’t for my latest obsession with Vikings. Bring me blonde Aussie dudes to skillfully play bulky Scandinavian gods or spawns of, Chris Hemsworth, Travis Fimmel… who’s next? Not complaining one bit, though…

      • I should. I know this sounds crazy (especially with how good television is right now), but there isn’t a single tv series I follow right now. Not even one! I should remedy that.

      • I totally understand you. There are so many to choose from that you eventually choose nothing and settle on a good movie. I was there just before Vikings. Although I did indulge on a very cool HBO animation called Animals. Brilliant.

      • I just find I don’t want to invest in a full television series. But I hear so many people talking about how good television is right now. Plus you see so many bigger names from movies going into tv as well. I should at least try and fit in one show somewhere. 😁

  4. I cannot say I was a fan of this movie . Just like with Homecoming, I was put off with all the humour . Some I think was borderline bad and cheesy. Plus having grown up with Thor , buying the comic from the late 60’s till Marvel stunk in the late 80’s , this Thor didn’t resemble him at all . That is not a slight against Hemsworth, he is fine but he came across as a dumb, big goofball and Hulk was about the same . The saving grace for me was Blanchett who played Hela with a passion. Plus with all the gags and laughs, there never felt like there was any real threat of danger , even though there was tons of death and mayhem. PLus when Asgard is being totally destroyed, I should have been invested enough to care, I just didn’t .

    • You nail so many of my frustrations. As I wrote, I felt Thor came off as a wisecracking dimwit. You’re spot-on. And absolutely, the ending event should have packed a lunch especially for the characters. I think that entire thing was terribly underserved. This could have been so much better.

  5. Nice review Keith. i intentionally skipped this because the idea of Thor and Hulk doing comedy does not sound very appealing. thanks for confirming that. those are two intense characters who should be in a more serious narrative. seems that this is a movie to rent.

    • Thanks Martin. I think waiting to rent is just fine. And your instincts were right. I like the movie. Don’t love it though. And watching Thor and Hulk pull of an Abbott and Costello routine was a little troublesome.

  6. Yeah we’re in the same boat on this one dude. I found the comedy overpowered the drama. Weird complaint when DC is getting killed for the opposite. Or even in the context of the Thor franchise, when it’s resoundly been mocked for taking perhaps too seriously mythological an approach to the first two films. I didn’t have really any issues with the Hulk arc but that sort of goes along with where this film gets into the Let’s Get Really Crazy zone that in other places I found more distracting. We both agree though that this is a really fun film and it’s definitely worth watching multiple times. Or at least once more. 🙂

    • I think you’re right, the drama really gets the short end of the stick. And Waititi is so intent on being completely gonzo that the movie simply doesn’t have the ‘umph’ when it comes to those dramatic scenes. Look no further than the end. Basically all we get are a few grunts of “we are Asgard” and that is supposed to represent Thor’s emotional reckoning with what must be done. And when the deed is done Waititi isn’t able to give it the heft that it most definitely should have. Ugh. Man I’m all over the place on this flick!

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