The Thor movies have struggled the most since the beginning of the MCU. The first film from 2011 had a bit of an identity crisis, torn between being a Shakespearean drama about Marvel’s Gods and a conventional superhero movie. It succeeded in some places, but Thor really had no idea what it wanted to be. Dark World from 2013 was a step in the right direction, taking into account the eccentric qualities of the characters and world pioneered by artist Jack Kirby, the Neil Armstrong to Stan Lee’s Buzz Aldrin. However, the film took itself too seriously, trying to appear way more important than it actually was. This was at odds with the comedic tone the Marvel movies were known for, failing to strike a balance. Did Ragnarok finally get Thor right or is the character series a failure?
While on the hunt for Infinity Stones across the galaxy Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, learns of a truth his father kept hidden for centuries. Now he must deal with the consequences after he is captured and made a gladiator on a strange world.
Ragnarok takes the best parts of the last two films and brings them together. You have the weird and out-there nature of the material mixed with the broader sci-fi-fantasy inherent in Marvel’s Gods. It all comes together in a cohesive whole as each element complements one another.
The first thing you will notice is the Kirby aesthetic on full blast. The color and complex designs of the sets and costumes are lifted directly from the page. The MCU has always embraced the look of the comics, but Ragnarok takes it far beyond previous attempts. Seriously, the guards standing in the background of some shots look like human-size Celestials. It is reminiscent of 5th Element with an over-designed style that remains within the realm of believability.
Unlike Dark World, Ragnarok is under no illusions about what it is. You cannot make a movie about a guy with a magic hammer and lighting powers and play it straight. Instead of a superhero film with comedic elements, we have a comedy with superhero elements. Ragnarok is entirely focused on being funny and does not take itself seriously. The humor is mundane with seemingly simple jokes and gags made all the more hilarious by the cast. In this way it has a lot in common with the original Ghostbusters.
The cast is the glue that keeps Ragnarok together. If the actors were not funny, then the jokes would have fallen flat, and the aesthetic left looking stupid. With everyone bringing their A-game, this was not the case.
Hemsworth showed he could play a funny man, which was surprising given Thor is always serious. I would never have thought he had decent comedy chops until now (Ghostbusters (2016) doesn’t count). There is a great scene where he talks about Loki tricking him as a kid and his time with Hulk were some of the best moments. It shows how much Thor has changed over years, becoming aware of himself and the people around him. He has allowed the regal persona of his character fall to the wayside thanks to his experiences as a hero.
Speaking of Hulk, Mark Ruffalo stays green for most of his screen time, giving him ample opportunity to flesh out the monster like never before. He talks more, tells jokes, and complains about people liking him because they prefer Bruce Banner. And when he turns human his attitudes become the exact opposite couple with Banner’s awkward personality. Cate Blanchet’s Hela proved to be one of the better MCU villains. Keeping in line with the tone, she hams it up from start to finish, having a ton of fun with a character that loves killing. Karl Urban was great for a short time as Scourge, but the stand out was Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster.
It is best if you see for yourself.
Ragnarok is also the first MCU movie with a memorable soundtrack. Before now the score has been heroic and upbeat with an operatic touch. The usual tunes have become so generic you forget they are actually playing, except for licensed tracks. This time composer Mark Mothersbaugh employed synthesizers for a majority of the score. It was like watching Tron: Legacy with superheroes or something from the 80’s, furthering the out-there and anachronistic feel of the film.
For all its positives there are some issues. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie was boring and uninteresting with a run-of-the-mill backstory. Her performance was fine, but pointless because she had nothing to work with. I also have a personal problem with the “phantom objects” technology that is all over the MCU, where whole pieces of armor and weapons appear from nothing. Gamora’s sword, Star Lord’s mask, and Iron Man’s glove from Civil War form up in CG into physical props. It is so ake, cheap, and all over the place in Ragnarok.
Make it stop.
Joining Blade Runner 2049 as one of the better movies of autumn, Thor: Ragnarok takes the MCU to its logical extreme. The bizarre and eccentric world on the fringes of Marvel is on full unapologetic display. Director Taika Waititi does Jack Kirby proud by bringing such a vivid imagination to life. And thanks to his background in comedy, the film stands as the series’ funniest. No character needed such dramatic changes than Thor. Even if you are not a fan of the MCU, Thor: Ragnarok works as an action comedy and a great movie in a sea of mundanity. Give it a look and be sure to check out 2049 while you are at it.
Skip Justice League, obviously.