Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Thunder Will Reign.
According to Norse mythology, Ragnarök refers to the destruction of all things via an apocalyptic, world shattering battle. With that in mind, I was hoping that Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel’s 17th cinematic feature, would be dark, even darker than 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Although this isn’t the case, Thor is still huge (and not just his biceps) and too darn fun to let any pre-conceived expectations get in the way of. Heck, it’s the most subversive, deliciously bonkers Marvel film since Shane Black pulled the rug out from under audiences’ feet in his excellent Iron Man 3 (2013).
Things get off to a rip-roaring start in a Stygian underworld where the God of Thunder successfully thwarts Surtur (Clancy Brown) in the prologue — the fiery demon that’s said to wield the sword at Ragnarök — in turn preventing the long-foretold Armageddon. With our hero having completed the titular mission in a mere few minutes, I was left wondering how the rest of the story would play out. Kudos to director Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), for opening the flick with such a zinger, the New Zealand-based filmmaker the studio’s most unconventional helmer to date! Anyhow, from there, it’s off to Asgard to tie up some loose ends from Thor: The Dark World (2013).
After a bit of delightfully silly theater (with a few surprising cameos), Odinson exposes his mischievous shape-shifting brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who’d been impersonating their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), after dumping him on Earth. Missing, the pair put their sibling rivalry aside to track Odin down, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch in an unnecessary yet amusing bit part) popping in to help ‘em out. The core story, however, kicks-off with the arrival of Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) — and the brothers’ long-lost sister — who returns to Asgard (after a period of exile) to seek vengeance on those who cast her out of the realm, along with its history books.
If you’ve seen any of Ragnarok’s marketing, you’ll know that Thor eventually finds himself without his magical hammer (Mjöllnir), Hela making short work of ‘Goldilocks’ and ‘Reindeer Games’ while traversing through the multicolored Bifrost beam. Running her hands through her silky black hair and revealing her antler-esque headpiece, Hela lays waste to all of Asgard’s armies, the catsuit-clad vileness seizing the Asgardian throne. Now, with her enemies eliminated, the ruthless Hela sets out to usher in a new era of cold callousness for the Nine Realms and the universe at large. Thor, in the meantime, finds himself prisoner on the retro-heavy Sakaar, a distant junkyard of a planet that thrives on indulgence and chaos. Ruled by a gilded dandy known as the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum at his Goldblum-y best), Sakaar also happens to be the home of a cosmic gladiatorial contest, Thor forced to defeat the arena’s hulking green champion if he wishes to escape the trash heap and return to Asgard to try and liberate its people.
Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, Thor: Ragnarok is an exciting, funny, irreverent cocktail of color and energy — and the best Thor movie by a country mile. It starts strong and finishes even stronger, the pic concluding with one of the most unorthodox third acts in Marvel’s billion-dollar canon. Most of the comedy works, too, the flick’s clever array of gags, in-jokes and improv never undermining any of the dramatic beats, the breezy tongue-in-cheek tone giving likable star Chris Hemsworth — who’s clearly comfortable in our hero’s skin — a chance to (finally) showcase his natural comic chops.
If you’ve been following the MCU adventures thus far, you’ve probably realized that Thor is a bit of a good-natured goofball. Here, Hemsworth kicks it up a notch, the Aussie actor balancing the character’s nativity and kindheartedness with his more egotistic, boastful side, this third Thor go-around having a lot of more fun with the self-deprecating humor, too. With that said, the scenes Hemsworth shares with his ‘friend from work’ — Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/ The Hulk — are some of the movie’s finest, their odd couple dynamic exposing several hidden layers beneath these two big personalities — who’d have thought we’d ever see The Hulk enjoying his life as a celebrity, living in his very own apartment, where he baths in a hot tub to let off steam.
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is better handled in Ragnarok as well, the 36-year-old Brit delivering a more mischievous portrayal of the boisterous trickster, whose antics feel far less sinister and much more in line with whom the character is supposed to be. Look, I’ll admit that I prefer Loki when he’s depicted as an anti-hero rather than an outright bad guy, and I think how he’s presented here — as an ever-scheming sorcerer with some good inside him — is pretty spot on.
Quite frankly, all of the cast members in Thor: Ragnarok shine. Cate Blanchett, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), looks to be having a Hela-va time chewing the scenery as the merciless bad girl Hela, Blanchett’s wicked queen one of the best villains we’ve seen in the MCU thus far; she’s also joined by Karl Urban, Dredd (2012), who portrays Skurge, an Asgardian ‘gunslinger’ who’s reluctantly recruited to be Hela’s new executioner. Tessa Thompson, Creed (2015), is excellent as newcomer Valkyrie, a mysterious, athletic, hard-drinking scavenger who eventually joins forces with the Son of Odin to save Asgard. Sure to become a fan favorite, Thompson gives off a hard-bitten female Han Solo type quality, the snarky tough-girl, no doubt, destined to get her own spin-off.
Then there’s Idris Elba, Pacific Rim (2013), who reprises his role as the banished all-seeing, all-hearing Asgardian watchman Heimdall, his third outing as the (former) Bifrost guard finally giving the honorable gatekeeper a chance to show off his unseen leadership skills. Last but not least we have director Waititi, who steals all of his scenes as an amiable rock monster named Korg — a Sakaaran gladiator who’d failed to start a revolution coz he didn’t print enough pamphlets — the celebrated filmmaker voicing and motion-capturing the Kiwi-accented stone heap.
Visually, Thor: Ragnarok is a kaleidoscopic extravaganza of imagination and flair (sorta like a neon arcade game come to life), its hyper-kinetic VFX and detailed practical effects paying homage to cheap-looking old-school sci-fi fantasy flicks, such as the 1980 Flash Gordon adaptation or the animated cult classic Heavy Metal (1981). The synth-heavy score by composer Mark Mothersbaugh — lead singer and keyboardist of new wave band Devo — is also a winner, this throwback sound working in unison with the film’s entire vintage vibe. Even Waititi’s soundtrack choices, namely Led Zeppelin’s rockin’ ‘Immigrant Song’ reflects some of the movie’s loose themes of revolt, uprising and refugee migration. It’s safe to say that Thor: Ragnarok is the most striking entry in the MCU and the studio’s most distinctive feature since James Gunn introduced the world to the Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
Although I have a couple of minor gripes with the movie — regular support players are quickly cast aside or killed in order to make way for fresh faces, while Hela’s seemingly immortal powers are never properly defined — Thor: Ragnarok is smashin’ entertainment that’s fit for the gods, and further proof that producer Kevin Feige should allow for more creative freedom instead of squishing individual visions. A smorgasbord of mythical madness, Thor: Ragnarok also manages to squeeze a fire-breathing dragon, an army of undead soldiers, a giant wolf, a wormhole dubbed the Devil’s Anus and some hilarious Tony Stark shutouts neatly into its brisk 130-minute runtime. That’s what I call a top-tier blockbuster!
4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended
Reviewed by Mr. Movie