The Marvel Cinematic Universe is 17 movies in now and a lot of them are pretty good. A few of them are even great. Thor: Ragnarok may very well be among those great.
For me, the bar was set around Captain America: Winter Solider. And this Thor movie? It’s a pretty different kind of movie than that one. But both are so thoroughly entertaining in their storytelling. Where Winter Soldier had dark intensity, thrills, and emotion Ragnarok is bold, lively, and hilarious.
A large part of what is so impressive about this movie is what it accomplishes. Ragnarok addresses loose threads from Thor: The Dark World, gives Thor a bigger and more personal threat, moves the Thor storyline forward, closes the Thor trilogy, introduces new characters, sets more pieces up for the upcoming Infinity War showdown, and makes it seem possible that Guardians of the Galaxy could exist in the same plane as The Avengers. The pacing is such a feat that the movie flies by quickly without feeling rushed. It’s a tale of death and destruction that doesn’t land as heavily as the ideas imply but still shows characters caring and holds deeper messages. All this while being consistently funny.
Dang, Taika Waititi.
And yes, Guardians of the Galaxy was funny before this movie, but this movie doesn’t come off as goofy – even with its moments of juvenile humor. Thor, himself may be funnier than before, yet in a way it feels organic. In the first film Thor’s comedic moments came from his fish out of water status on Earth. He still has some of those types of moments here. It’s an awkwardness that plays in contrast to the power and muscles that seems to have grown from a guy who has learned to loosen up a bit over his adventures without losing that need to do right and be a hero.
Waititi brings a new perspective to the Marvel director’s chair, not only from his cultural background but from his quirky, small-budget film aesthetic. Without shying away with what a big-budget allows for visually, he touches on concepts of colonialization, refugees, and pride with a deft hand. This includes his own turn as the CGI rock revolutionary Korg, whose Kiwi sense of humor made me miss Flight of the Concords in a good way.
Other characters get their comedic moments too. As the Grandmaster, Jeff Goldblum’s public persona seems dialed up to 11, bringing a complexity to a being who pits others against each other as part of his power dynamic. Although he doesn’t pop as much as he has in previous MCU appearances Tom Hiddleston’s Loki still entertains. That may be in part due to the fact that it’s getting more difficult for him to trick Thor or audiences. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie contrasts physical comedy with someone who holds a heavy sadness while also totally holding her own among already established dynamics.
The only major character I’m torn on is Cate Blanchett’s Hela. This is definitely one of Blanchett’s top turns as a villain and without a doubt a formidable one. Perhaps she’s too formidable – without need and incredibly difficult to even begin to fight. There doesn’t seem to be much to her besides destruction. In a realm of so many dimensional characters, it left me wanting the script to give her something more.
Overall Thor: Ragnarok is a highly entertaining adventure that’s pretty darn smart too. I’d recommend it to almost anyone with the caveat that there are a whole lot of in-jokes and references that require knowing the MCU canon. Someone new to the movies could probably still enjoy Thor: Ragnarok but not nearly as much as if they were aware of all the pieces.
P.S. I still want Korg motivational mp3s.
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