Thor Ragnarok Movie Review
The Walt Disney Company’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) claims an amazing streak. They have released 17 official movies under this production company. Each one is rated Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and each one was the number one movie in North America during its opening weekend. Many titles are box office hits or critically lauded films that people recommend to friends. Few are both, and basically no franchise ever has married the two options the way that the Marvel Universe has. Even a couple of Pixar movies have had their detractors.
Very recently, the latest MCU release entered theaters. It quickly became a dominant box office performer, and its Fresh Rating of 93 is one of the highest scores of the year. Does Thor: Ragnarok live up to this hype? Read on to find out!
I should preface this by saying that I like Chris Hemsworth as Thor. I thought that he added a level of levity in the two Avengers movies that elevated both titles. I also very much enjoyed the first Thor movie, which I thought played nicely with the absurdity of the character. Famed actor/writer/director Kenneth Branagh did a masterful job in flexing his Shakespearean muscle to explore the odd nuances of Asgardian myth.
When Branagh chose not to return for Thor: The Dark World, I had concerns, but television director Alan Taylor had helmed some of my favorite episodes of The Sopranos. I expected him to do well with the sequel. Unfortunately, I view Thor: The Dark World as the worst movie in the official MCU. I’m someone who re-watches several of these films (particularly the original Iron Man, The Avengers, and Captain America: Winter Soldier). I was so disappointed by Thor 2 that I never even re-watched it and would be hard-pressed to recite specific details of the film.
As I entered the theater for Thor: Ragnarok, I still had high hopes. I love the over-the-top cartoon violence sequences from The Avengers, one of which is duplicated in Thor 3, and many of the best of those involve Thor and his work frenemy, The Hulk. That’s the genius concept of the latest Thor title. It unites two characters that aren’t necessarily able to anchor films on their own in an intergalactic buddy/road comedy. The parts of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby are played by Hemsworth and an 8-foot tall green CGI war-beast. Since the announcement of this project, I’ve had huge expectations for it, and I’m pleased to say that the film met and even exceeded those lofty hopes.
The setting for Thor: Ragnarok is unconventional for a comic book movie in that it’s somewhat based on the wildly popular Planet: Hulk comic book series. If you’ve read that series, you’re likely confused since Thor isn’t in it. Note: If you are unfamiliar with Planet: Hulk, you can watch the animated film for free (with ads) on Vudu at this link.
Instead, new franchise director Taika Waititi (What We Do in Shadows) uses this premise as a jumping off point, a series of events that have transpired before Thor arrives. To wit, the outcome is unknown to the God of Thunder, even as he interacts with a couple of characters from the story. Waititi actually voices the funniest one, a relentlessly positive rock monster named Korg. In this way, the director saves several of the best lines in the film for himself.
As far as the story, it vaguely follows the Viking myth of Ragnarok. It’s a belief that death ultimately leads to change, that for a new world order to arise, the icons from the current world order must perish. If you’re a Thor fan, your heart’s probably in your chest right now.
I won’t reveal his or anyone else’s fate, but I will state that some characters that you love from the Thor franchise appear once again and are placed in jeopardy in this film. A couple of other Marvel characters also make brief appearances in the film, and if you pay attention, you might even notice Matt Damon in a cheeky cameo, his finest since EuroTrip.
Who places Thor and all of his friends in danger? That would be Cate Blanchett as Hela, the goddess of Death. So yeah, she’s probably bad news. Blanchett does something amazing in this film. She effectively takes the regal notes that she learned from her award-winning performance in Elizabeth (and Elizabeth: The Golden Age) and extends it into a more cartoonish version. She vamps throughout the film and is an utter delight. I’m admittedly a Cate Blanchett superfan, but this is stunningly great work.
Marvel has always had a strong allure to proven thespians. They even persuaded Robert Redford out of retirement for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Blanchett actually makes for a better villain here because she’s utterly fearless in her portrayal of a mistreated (but psycho) daughter. At times, you’ll feel like she is wholly justified in her rage, and then you’ll remember that her sole purpose is to destroy her family and her people. That’s great acting when you forget for a moment that someone is a monster.
Somehow, Blanchett doesn’t even offer the best female performance in the film. That honor goes to Tessa Thompson, last seen oozing sexuality on HBO’s Westworld. From the first moment Thompson appears in Thor: Ragnarok, she owns the screen. She portrays Valkyrie, and I cannot describe her backstory much for fear of spoilers. What I will note is that she chooses to portray her character as a kind of Lady Thor, a smart decision since the actual Lady Thor comic has become a huge hit for Marvel.
Valkyrie drinks as much as Thor, she fights as angrily as Thor, and people seem inexorably drawn to her just as they are to Thor. With Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster not appearing in the film and apparently dumping Thor, Valkyrie’s role as a potential mate makes sense. That’s not really the way that the film plays out, though. Valkyrie is every bit an opponent of the God of Thunder for most of the movie. Even when they’re allies, they feel like clan mates more than lovers. But they are oh so pretty together.
Tessa Thompson was probably the best part of Creed, one of the most critically lauded films of 2015. In entering the Marvel universe, she immediately puts her stamp on a new character. She knows that she owns the character from the moment she appears. She’s even pitched an all-female superhero film to Marvel, and it would instantly become the most anticipated film on the MCU schedule if it happens. Thompson’s that good as a drunken warrior running from problems several galaxies away.
The other foils for Hemsworth’s Thor are the obvious ones. Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki, the mercurial brother who never learned the difference between positive and negative attention. After years of loyal support to the Marvel brand, Hiddleston actually gets rewarded in this film in a way that I expect fans will enjoy.
Meanwhile, Mark Ruffalo’s presence in the Planet Hulk/Thor buddy movie isn’t as significant as you might expect. That’s my biggest complaint about the film. Ruffalo’s work as tormented Dr. Bruce Banner is one of the highlights of the MCU. This movie seemed like it would finally give him a showcase for his work. Instead, I count at least six characters who are in the film a similar amount or more. Even the CGI version of The Hulk is used for comic relief more than character building.
Ruffalo’s loss is Jeff Goldblum’s gain. He plays the Grandmaster, the ruler of the world where Thor crash-lands. The best way I can describe Goldblum’s performance is that he’s doing his finest impersonation of David Bowie in Labyrinth, albeit with none of the menace. He’s a glorified game show host here, masquerading as the king of Sakaar, aka Planet Hulk. He receives a shocking amount of screen time, and you’re either going to love or hate that, depending on how much you enjoy the character’s eccentricities. I happened to love them, but I suspect that a lot of people will wish that Marvel had done a bit more editing.
Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is best described as the first Thor movie meshed with Guardians of the Galaxy. It expands the Thor universe to give the God of Thunder super-powered buddies in lieu of geeky scientists. The overall effect is quite charming, and Hemsworth has such mastery of the role of Thor by this point that anything he does is engaging. Still, the new characters, especially the female additions, are what elevate the third Thor film toward the top of the MCU hierarchy. I give it an A-/8 out of 10.