Review – Thor: Ragnarok

After 2011’s perfectly-fine, though uninspired Thor and its muddled 2013 follow up Thor: The Dark World, director Taika Waititi and writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher L. Yost finally give audiences a truly great Thor film. Ragnarok feels like the love child of Parliament-Funkadelic and GWAR – a lavish, brightly-colored space rock opera with touches of Afrofuturism and epic battles against towering demons. The films feels unlike any Marvel film you’ve seen before; while still staying true to the characters and respecting the Cinematic Universe’s (somewhat convoluted) continuity.

Thor’s third standalone film begins with the epic demon Surtur (voiced by the incomparable Clancy Brown) vowing to bring about the prophesied “Ragnarok” – a.k.a. the fall of Thor’s home world of Asgard. After an epic battle with Surtur (set to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” a choice so perfect it’s shocking it took them three films to use it), Thor decides to check in on Asgard, which leads to him uncovering long-hidden family secrets, including the existence of his sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), who was exiled before Thor’s birth.

Thor and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston)’s first encounter with Hela ends with them both cast off to a remote planet where Thor must compete as a gladiator for the entertainment of the eccentric Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and his subjects. Thor tries to find a way to escape while Loki attempts to win over the Grandmaster with his charm.

I really enjoyed the choice to remove (most of) the action from Earth. At this phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’ve seen our planet threatened by enough apocalyptic sky threats that it was a refreshing change of pace to see the action unfold somewhere else. Waititi gives us a colorful alien world that is simultaneously vibrant and dingy (depending on what part of town you’re in).

The film obviously also revisit Asgard. However, while we have seen the realm before in the previous two Thor films, Ragnarok is the first film that ever made Asgard feel like a real city to me. For the first time, we get to see the lives of the average citizens who inhabit it, instead of just those of the gods who run it. The film also explores the true history of Asgard, which is much more complicated and messy than the idealized, wholesome version that has been presented to us thus far. I thought it was a really bold choice to show us the realm’s “warts” and had me much more invested in the Asgard scenes than I had been in previous films.

While the locations themselves have plenty of character, it’s the people inhabiting them that really make the film come alive. Waititi really understands the characters we’ve seen before and does a wonderful job presenting Thor, Loki, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the other familiar faces in a way that feels true to the characters without feeling like a retread of what we’ve seen before. (My favorite use of a returning character is one I won’t discuss because it feels too spoilery, so I’ll simply say that a character who has never been given much to do in the previous films became a pivotal figure in this one and it worked beautifully.)

He also gives us a cast of fresh faces that have no problem standing on their own next to these beloved returning characters, including the aforementioned Hela and Grandmaster, as well as a wisecracking rock man named Korg (Taika Waititi) and an alcoholic former Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). I can’t say enough wonderful things about the way Cate Blanchett plays Hela. The character could easily feel campy in the wrong hands, but she sells it completely. Goldblum is also great casting as the Grandmaster, who is a slimy character that he effortlessly makes charming. Waititi’s Korg offers some genuinely-funny comic relief and Thompson’s Valkyrie is so compelling that she could easily have her own spinoff film.

All of the elements – the script, the visuals, the acting – come together to give fans a fun, exciting Thor film that stands out in a film landscape that has become increasingly crowded with superhero movies. It’s easily the best standalone Thor film to date and one of the most entertaining overall Marvel films.

Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com

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