Directed by: Taika Waititi
While Thor the Asgardian God of Thunder has been a vital member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its main superhero squad, the Avengers, he hasn’t been quite as lucky when it comes to his solo films. Many consider the first two Thor films to be some of the weakest installments of the MCU. The first Thor film, directed by Kenneth Branagh and arguably Marvel Studios’ first big ‘risky’ project, did manage to keep itself from being an overly cheesy disaster but is rarely brought up nowadays when people discuss their favorite MCU films. And as for its sequel, Thor: The Dark World… well, many people consider that film to be the weakest MCU film to date. With all this in mind, clearly, there’s been quite a lot of pressure put on the third Thor film to succeed where many felt that the others didn’t. And thus, here we are now with Thor: Ragnarok. Fans of the comics will no doubt recognize the subtitle of this film as it focuses on the notorious comic event/real-life Norse legend known as ‘Ragnarok’, which saw the kingdom of Asgard destroyed and several of its most notable residents (including Thor himself) killed. But while the film does delve into the prophesized destruction of its main protagonist’s home-world, it’s not exactly the serious epic that fans would be expecting to see based on that premise. Instead, New Zealand native director Taika Waititi, director of several indie hits including 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows and 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, gives us what can best be described as an 80’s-inspired sci-fi road trip/space adventure comedy… and an awesome one at that!
Thor: Ragnarok is set two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, during which Thor Odinson the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) left Earth to embark on a quest to try and find the powerful objects known as Infinity Stones that he had seen in the visions that he had received during the film. However, as this film begins, it’s established that he has yet to find any of these stones. And to make matters worse he learns that, in his absence, his treacherous adopted brother Loki the God of Mischief (Tom Hiddleston) has been in control of Asgard disguised as their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Soon, though, the two find themselves dealing with a new threat in the form of Odin’s firstborn daughter, Hela the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett). Freed from the prison that Odin had put her in due to her extreme ambition, Hela seeks to conquer the Nine Realms. When Thor tries to stop her, she destroys his hammer, Mjolnir, and he ends up getting stranded on the planet of Sakaar. There, he becomes the unwilling prisoner of the planet’s eccentric ruler, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), and is forced to fight in his gladiatorial tournament known as the Contest of Champions. And as Thor soon finds out, his main opponent is his old Avenger ally (and ‘friend from work’) Dr. Bruce Banner AKA the powerful creature known as the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Thus, Thor now finds himself in a race against time to return home to Asgard and stop Hela from taking it over before Ragnarok, the kingdom’s prophesized destruction can occur.
Right from the get-go, Thor: Ragnarok immediately establishes itself as one of the most comedic Marvel Cinematic Universe films to date. Granted, this is something that the MCU has always been known for anyway but with this film, the comedy is at full-force with tons of great sight gags and humorous dialogue. However, this development has proven to be a rather controversial one amongst some fans due to the Ragnarok story arc from the comics being more serious by comparison. Ultimately, though, this isn’t even remotely as big of an issue as you might think, as the film is far more than just a straight-forward comedy. When it delves into the plotlines about Ragnarok and Hela’s takeover of Asgard, the film does take these events seriously. Plus, it also isn’t afraid to pull some surprising narrative punches here and there, something that many criticized The Dark World for not doing. Simply put, director Taika Waititi does manage to establish a solid tone throughout that respects the serious nature of its titular apocalyptic event while still giving us a fun and light-hearted MCU adventure throughout. And don’t even get me started on some of the great aesthetic details that he adds to the film that helps to make it all the more memorable, including a sequence that, no joke, pays homage to the infamous tunnel scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory complete with the use of the song ‘Pure Imagination’.
As noted earlier, Thor: Ragnarok is headlined by not only Thor but also the Incredible Hulk, which is good considering that, as far as the MCU films are concerned, neither of these two have been seen for more than two years. Not counting, of course, the former’s cameo in Doctor Strange’s mid-credits scene (a sequence that is expanded upon here with Benedict Cumberbatch reprising his role as the titular sorcerer in a brief cameo), the two of them haven’t had a major role in an MCU film since Age of Ultron. Heck, Loki hasn’t been seen for almost longer than the two of them combined, as he last appeared in Thor: The Dark World back in 2013. But even after all this time, Hemsworth, Ruffalo, and Hiddleston are all just as excellent as they’ve always been in their respective roles, as the film allows them the opportunity to flex their comedic abilities to their full potential. This also applies to several of the new characters as well. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, an Asgardian turned Sakaarian scrapper, gets some great backstory as a former member of Asgard’s elite Valkyrie squadron who was the only survivor of a skirmish between them and Hela. Speaking of Hela, who’s notably the first lead villainess of the MCU films, while I admittedly wouldn’t call her one of the franchise’s ‘best’ villains, Cate Blanchett does kill it in the role. She also gets a great henchman in the form of Skurge (Karl Urban), a down-on-his-luck Asgardian warrior who allies with her when it provides him a chance for the attention that he has long yearned for. And, of course, we can’t forget about everyone’s favorite chaos theorist, Jeff Goldblum, being delightfully over-the-top as always as the Grandmaster.
For quite a few years, Marvel Studios tended to get a lot of flak from critics who argued that they often limited the creative vision of the directors that they’ve hired in favor of maintaining the MCU’s overall continuity. Personally, I’ve never really agreed with that argument (just look at James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films or Shane Black’s Iron Man 3), but I think it’s safe to say that this hasn’t been as much of an issue for Marvel since they disbanded their controversial creative committee in 2015. Case in point, with Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi gives us one of the most creatively visionary installments of the entire franchise. After the first two Thor films stumbled a bit when it came to balancing themselves tonally, Ragnarok decided to just fully embrace the silliness of its cosmic-based premise, resulting in yet another highly entertaining entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s also one of the franchise’s funniest installments to date. With that said, though, the film’s heavily comedic tone may be a bit too much for some comic fans given the generally serious nature of the Ragnarok story arc. However, Taika Waititi has stated in interviews that his overall intention for this film was to make a fun superhero adventure, and that is exactly what he did with it. And really, what’s so wrong with a ‘fun’ superhero film?