Thor: Ragnarok Review

The hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe has continued to inch further and further into comedic territory in recent years; with “Thor: Ragnarok,” it completely passes through the comic threshold.

With its laughs-first approach, from start to finish “Thor: Ragnarok” is Marvel Studios’ funniest film. The comedic instincts of director Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) far surpasses those of the directors of the nearly 20 previous Marvel movies. He knows how to get the extra, unexpected laugh; every time the film is funny for overt comedy writing reasons, there’s another sneakier layer of humor working in other hilarious surprises.

Although the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies made the first claim to be Marvel’s comedy-inclined franchise, humor has always been a core element of the “Thor” films as well. Star Chris Hemsworth’s knack for comedy has been the most consistently enjoyable element of the “Thor” solo films, though the previous two were surprisingly reticent to embrace it. “Ragnarok,” on the other hand, gives it a Hulk-sized hug.

After a prologue in which Thor squares off with the fire demon Surtur (Clancy Brown) to prevent Ragnarok, the prophecy that would see Surtur use the Eternal Flame to destroy Asgard, he returns home to find things amiss thanks to his mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The brothers soon discover that their previously unknown and extremely powerful older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), is set to make her claim to the throne – and all the realms. In their initial attempts to stop her, Thor and Loki end up stranded on Sakaar, a planet of misfits and detritus ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), from which they must escape with the help of friends new and old.

Laughs drive “Ragnarok,” but the plot mechanics do not sour the overall joyride as has been the case with many superhero films of late, including some of Marvel’s. Writer Eric Pearson, with Craig Kyle and “Thor: The Dark World’s” Christopher Yost, manage to create a true hero’s journey, even if it doesn’t feel particularly important. As silly as “Ragnarok” gets, it never loses its grounding, unlike its still-good but more reckless recent Marvel Universe predecessor, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

Abundantly clear is the way Marvel applied the successes of “Guardians” to “Thor” (if the use of a ’70s rock song weren’t obvious enough). The film has a similar aesthetic, especially in all the Sakaar scenes, and an almost parallel assortment of characters. Aside from the obvious similarities between Thor and Quill, you have a no-nonsense woman like Gamora in Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie – and awfully similar to Drax is the talking Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It’s not a bad model to draw from, but the almost Shakespearian elements of “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World” have disappeared as a result, instead replaced by Waititi’s playful spirit.

The MCU has yet to be truly influenced by an auteur – in fact, it’s lost some (e.g. Edgar Wright on “Ant-Man”) – so fans of these movies that are bigger fans of film in general will be really pleased at how visible Waititi’s fingerprints are on this project. Some of the comedic touches are distinctively his, or at least a touch more clever than the Marvel norm, and he brings some of his usual lackeys to the cast (including his own voice talents as the gentle brute Korg). Every actor in the film is in step with Waititi’s vision and comic tone, though certainly some are better with it than others. If nothing else, “Ragnarok” is great proof of what can happen when unique filmmakers and major studio machines play well together.

Another subtle element of “Ragnarok” that works well is pacing. At 2 hours and 10 minutes, it’s the longest “Thor” movie and up there with most of the long Marvel movies, but it doesn’t drag. There is a real comfortable trajectory to the story, and whereas most of these large-scale blockbusters with multiple plot lines feel disjointed and consequently slow, the transitions in “Ragnarok” come with little cliffhangers of suspense that sometimes even leave room for imagination.

“Thor: Ragnarok” doesn’t leave a ton of room for pathos – it’s not emotionally resonant in the way many Marvel films have been, but it can hold its own against the rest of the MCU library in terms of humor and entertainment value. Maybe Marvel once believed “Thor” could be more dramatic, and there’s something sad about giving up on that vision, but sometimes you just have to do what you do best, and at this point for Marvel Studios, hilarious big-scale adventure is where they’re excelling.


4/5 Stars


Thor: Ragnarok
Directed by Taika Waititi
Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo


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