Thor: Ragnarok delivers

I’ve enjoyed the Marvel superhero movies over the years, but many have noted that the studio seems to be stuck in a rut with their films, following the same template over and over again. To be fair, there have been some great films (particularly the first two Captain America movies) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but so far there have been no real stakes because we know the heroes are going to be back for another adventure. And while the DC films from Warner Brothers have been criticized for being too unrelentingly dark and violent, the Marvel films have kept things bright and colorful, but outside of a little humor here and there, these films have been serious affairs as well.

Until Guardians of the Galaxy came along and proved Marvel could, in the right hands, do a comedy (and let’s not forget Ant-Man did lean a bit more towards the comedic side) that was even more bright and colorful than the previous films in the MCU. With that film’s success, someone at Marvel had the bright idea to go full out GotG with the third Thor movie, a series that desperately needed a boost after two deadly serious outings that have probably been the least favorites of the fans. People like Thor but there was always something missing from the solo movies, some real heart. That is until now. Marvel made a huge gamble by entrusting Thor: Ragnarok to three writers whose experience encompasses the Agent Carter series, and several animated Marvel and Star Wars series, and Taika Waititi, the director of smaller scale fare such as What We Do In the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and the TV series The Inbetweeners. Nothing there that really says “Sure, I can handle a massive Marvel superhero movie that needs a major shot in the arm.” That gamble has paid off.

Thor: Ragnarok finds our hero imprisoned by the fire demon Surtur, two years after the Battle of Sokovia, while searching for the Infinity Stones. This whole scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie because we see that Thor (and Chris Hemsworth) has some great comic timing, especially in the delivery of his dialog. Battling his way out of that situation and back to Asgard (where he makes a spectacular entrance accompanied by a brilliant sight gag), Thor finds Odin enjoying a production depicting Loki’s brave sacrifice to save their home world (and look closely at the three actors playing Thor, Loki and Odin). Of course, Loki is not dead (he’s disguised as Odin) and Odin is back on earth in a retirement home where Loki stashed him. Except the building has been torn down, but they locate him with the help of another Marvel character and discover that Ragnarok – the end of their world – is coming. Courtesy of their sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the God of Death. She’s so powerful that she even destroyed Thor’s hammer.

Thor and Loki don’t exactly see eye to eye so it’s unclear if Loki will join Thor in battling Hela but before they can do anything, they are knocked out of the Bifrost Bridge and end up on the planet Sakaar, which is ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), with whom Loki has somehow already managed to align himself. When Thor arrives, he’s forced to participate in a gladiatorial competition against the Grandmaster’s champion, the Hulk (who has been hulked out for the last two years and likes it). The two engage in a stunning battle, and Thor needs to convince Hulk to return to his old self so they can get back to Asgard. Thor is also counting on the help of the Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who brought him to the Grandmaster to do the right thing and do battle with Hela once again (the last time they fought, she was the only Valkyrie to survive). Will Thor and his ragtag team be able to vanquish Hela? You’ll have to find out for yourself.

I loved Guardians of the Galaxy because it was new and different from the previous Marvel movies. Vol. 2 was good but a little “everything and the kitchen sink” overkill. Thankfully Thor: Ragnarok is more like the first GotG with a story that is action-packed, some drama, and a lot of well-crafted humor. I dare say this may be even funnier than GotG. The Thor series has now done a complete 180 and everyone is having a ball. Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Ruffalo have some great comedic chemistry, and being more humorous than dramatic, Cate Blanchett gets to chew the scenery without coming off as ridiculous. Hela is a great villain and Blanchett looks fantastic. It’s wonderful to see her doing a bit of camp while still being a major threat to Thor and Asgard. And Jeff Goldblum does exactly what Jeff Goldblum does best.

Thor: Ragnarok also has some stunning production design from the physical to the digital sets, and everything is photographed to perfection. There is one scene showing us the battle of the Valkrie against Hela that looks like a Renaissance painting come to life in gorgeous slow motion. It really is a breathtaking scene. Director Waititi, who has honed his craft in comedy, proves that he can handle a large-scale film with an eye to detail and a pace that never bogs down, even when the story has to take a breath when some new characters are introduced and need to be brought up to speed on what’s happening. At two hours and ten minutes, the movie never feels overly long. It feels perfectly timed, in fact. I was thinking I could have enjoyed even more of this movie, but it’s perfection just as it is. And of course there is a mid-credit scene that audiences will be debating, and a final post-credit scene that gives the Grandmaster one more hilarious moment for audiences to savor.

Thor: Ragnarok is pure entertainment from start to finish, and it certainly falls into my top five Marvel movies of all time. Let’s hope Marvel puts Waititi at the helm of the next Thor adventure and perhaps some other Marvel properties.

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Chuck Duncan
Chuck Duncan has been the film critic for Baltimore OUTloud and its various incarnations for 20 years. He was previously a film and TV critic for and now owns the pop culture website where he reviews films, TV shows and theatre. Chuck is the head judge for the annual 29 Days Later Film Project, and works for Anne Arundel County's PEG Studio