“I don’t hang with the Avengers anymore,” explains our titular hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth). “It all got too corporate.” This quickly mentioned, throwaway line is so much more poignant when it’s applied to the Marvel cinematic universe. It was by removing Thor from the rest of the gang and giving him a new identity that Thor: Ragnarok easily becomes one of the most engaging, downright hilarious, and best Marvel films ever.
Directed by Marvel newbie Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) and written by Eric Pearson (ABC’s Marvel television series Agent Carter), Craig Kyle (the animated programs Iron Man: Armored Adventures and Wolverine and the X-Men), and Christopher Yost (Thor: The Dark World), the plot is pretty classic superhero fare, but with some twists. After the death of his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Thor must face his most powerful threat yet, Hela or “The Goddess of Death” (Cate Blanchett). When he and his nefarious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are thrown out of Asgard into the ragged, dumping zone planet of Sakaar, Thor is forcibly entered into a gladiator type battle with old friend the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Desperate to save his home from not only Hela but also an ancient prophecy about its demise, Thor attempts to enlists the help of other misfits of Sakaar in order to escape the eccentric clutches of The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and save Asgard.
For most of the Marvel cinematic universe, it would be appropriate to label the character Thor as nothing more than “handsome guy with hammer.” The original Thor was fun, but not entirely memorable. It had some comedy, but was all too melodramatic for a Marvel film. Similarly, Thor never developed much of a personality outside handsome and haughty, besides just loving his homeland of Asgard and Natalie Portman. The sequel, Thor: The Dark World, was even more abysmal: boring, forgettable, and it added nothing new to the character. Even outside of his own films, Thor was nothing more than a side character. There was a reason Tony Stark always referred to him as Point Break: he seemed to be all style, no substance. But just like the ridiculous 90s surf movie starring Keanu Reeves, Thor really is more than meets the eye, once you have the chance to really appreciate him.
Waititi and company seem to have this appreciation for Thor, and are incredibly successful in bringing a semblance of personality into the character. Thor will always be the dumb, handsome jock, but at least now he has motivations and character traits. The audience can finally see that Thor is funny, dedicated to those he respects, not all that suave, and kind of stupid in a lovable way. He is also forced to become more than just “a guy with a hammer.” He needs to search within himself to learn what really makes him powerful, and it’s an interesting and necessary journey of self-discovery.
This transformation is thanks to some knowledgeable writers and Hemsworth himself. Pearson, Kyle, and Yost all have years of Marvel writing experience, especially for children. They know that humor is not only important, but so are the characters that drive these programs. Similarly, Hemsworth seems absolutely thrilled to give Thor something to do. Hemsworth has always been great in the role, and he gives a better performance than ever before now that Thor finally gets to be a real character.
The writing and directing is strong in not only character development, but also throughout the film. This is Marvel’s first true comedy, and there are plenty of clever quips and unexpected sight gags that are sure to get some laughs. The one downside is the rather overcomplicated plot. Just having Hela come in destroying Asgard is enough, but her extensive backstory and the introduction of a troubling prophecy is just overkill. A great superhero film keeps it simple and lets the characters speak for themselves, and Thor: Ragnarok wastes a bit too much time on explanation.
This doesn’t mean that Waititi doesn’t direct the hell out of this project. The film is fast-paced and never suffers from strange tonal shifts. Waititi is known for having an eccentric flair, and it absolutely comes through in the film. Thor: Ragnarok is very weird, and that only makes it more engaging to watch. From the world of Sakaar to the people Thor encounters to the dialogue and more, Thor is strange and unexpected, and that’s exactly why you should love it. New voices behind the scenes bring a desperately needed new perspective into the universe, and keeps the whole thing from becoming “too corporate” like many of it’s contemporaries (Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, Doctor Strange, Avengers: Age of Ultron).
The cast of characters and actors is absolutely phenomenal, from familiar faces to new additions. As mentioned, Hemsworth only becomes better as Thor, and the same goes for Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the God of Mischief. The character is still in a constant battle between being good and evil, but gets to explore some of his redeeming side and his complex relationship with his brother. It’s another interesting evolution of the character, and he’s always an interesting inclusion to any film in the franchise. Mark Ruffalo is also once again impressive as an overconfident Hulk and a bumbling Bruce Banner.
The most impressive newcomers are the females, like Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Cate Blanchett as Hela. Thompson is fiery, stubborn, and surprisingly compassionate. She doesn’t want to relive her difficult past as an Asgardian soldier, but she cannot deny her loyalties. Her story is a nice companion piece to Thor’s, and their relationship never feels forced. Blanchett is also having the best time playing the ruthless, bloodthirsty Hela. She never goes too camp, but still has fun being a bit over-the-top. In a cinematic universe where villains are usual much too forgettable, her character has just enough spark and intrigue to be memorable. Finally, just in case the film lacked even more quirk, Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster is weirdly perfect. Goldblum is basically doing his best Goldblum impression, and that’s never a bad thing.
Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is not only the best Thor movie, but also one of the best Marvel movies. It’s unexpected, hilarious, charming, and super weird, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy. It’s also stands alone quite well, so even if you were not versed in the universe, I would still highly recommend for a rocking good time.