Thor: Ragnarok review

Nearly a decade ago, Marvel’s first entry in their burgeoning Cinematic Universe, Iron Man, proved so successful as to influence and inspire plenty of other studios and filmmakers to build out extended-universe franchises. Now, it’s hard to imagine a more influential Marvel movie than Guardians of the Galaxy, the gleefully anarchic, candy-colored 2014 film that stood apart from the machinations of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and the rest of the Avengers. Its rousing success has bled through to the Avengers themselves, starting with the previously pompous Thor in his third dedicated film, Thor: Ragnarok, which is maybe the goofiest, silliest Marvel movie to date.

Over the last few years, Chris Hemsworth has leaned into more comedic roles in movies like Ghostbusters and Vacation. In Ragnarok, he goes all-in, aided by director Taika Waititi, who brings the same off-kilter humor from What We Do In The Shadows to this blockbuster from the start. It’s hard to take a movie seriously when it opens with our long-haired hero stuck in a massive cage, cheerfully describing how he arrived there…to a skeleton, acting as if they’re old pals.

Thor doesn’t stay in the cage for too long, eventually returning to his home on Asgard when he realizes that his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been hiding in plain sight as their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). (The scene where Thor calls Loki out in front of a group of Asgardians features the film’s most delightful surprise, a genuinely unexpected cameo from someone outside of the Marvel universe.) Thor and Loki are soon forced out of their home by the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who wants to rule over Asgard. The two mismatched brothers are marooned on a strange planet called Sakaar, where Thor is forced into fighting in a gladiatorial competition against none other than Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), AKA the Incredible Hulk.

Thor: Ragnarok, unlike the Guardians of the Galaxy films, is somewhat more beholden to the necessary details of expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially since it’s opening only a few months before Avengers: Infinity War. James Gunn’s movies stand alone from the MCU (even if the Guardians are eventually going to meet up with the rest of our heroes), but Thor: Ragnarok wants very badly to do the same. Some characters from previous Thor movies do make brief returns; of them, Idris Elba gets the most to do, which is encouraging, even if his subplot is kind of dry.

However, there’s a distinct sense from both Waititi and screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost that this movie needs to be as far removed from the earlier iterations of Thor we saw in the 2011 original and 2013 sequel as possible. Ragnarok’s consistently brash sense of humor is more than enough to make this film a marked improvement on its predecessors. Hemsworth continues to prove his comic chops, whether it’s opposite Hiddleston (who gets a few very solid lines himself), Ruffalo, or Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, who oversees Sakaar. (Honestly, Thor: Ragnarok is the best Thor movie to date just because it features Jeff Goldblum calling Thor “Sparkles” and dubbing Asgard “Ass-place.” Sometimes, it’s the simple things that matter most.)

The biggest genuine stumble in Ragnarok is, in a way, the movie leaning so far into its humor. From Thor having his long hair forcibly cut to losing his famous hammer Mjolnir when Hela destroys it in her introductory scene, there’s a sense that this movie wants to cut ties with what Thor used to be known for as a character. Those changes work in the film’s favor, but when, in its later sections, Ragnarok tries to play things a bit seriously by foregrounding the untold number of surviving Asgardians who want to avoid Hela’s wrath, it falls a bit flat. The rest of the film works quite well, but once Thor actually gets his so-called “Revengers” together (himself, Loki, Hulk, and new character Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson) to save the day, the story feels once again like a more traditional Marvel movie than what preceded it.

But what does precede the final battle is quite delightful, especially the extended section on Sakaar, which allows Hemsworth and Ruffalo (as both Bruce and the Hulk) time to hang out and riff, even in the middle of what should be a high-stakes situation. This is, effectively, what Thor: Ragnarok does best: it wrangles together an exceptionally talented cast and taps into their comic effectiveness. (Even Hopkins, who’s only in a couple scenes, gets a really solid comic moment.) Though it stutters in its action-heavy climax, Thor: Ragnarok is perhaps the funniest Marvel movie yet, and suggests that the studio is beginning to understand the value of letting its stars cut loose.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.