Thor Ragnarok Val

Because That’s What Heroes Do: The Good

Valkyrie, Valkyrie, Valkyrie! Everyone in Thor: Ragnarok is a hoot, but let’s talk about Valkyrie, shall we? It cannot be overstated how wonderful Tessa Thompson is here. Thompson’s star has been on the rise ever since her break-out role in Dear White People, and with Thor: Ragnarok she gets to flex her acting muscles in a big blockbuster setting. A brawling, boozing ass-kicker, Valkyrie is now the best hero in the MCU. Valkyrie has a tragic past: she was once a warrior on Asgard, but Hela destroyed her entire army of female warriors, and left her disillusioned. Her arc in Ragnarok involves the character slowly coming around to be a hero again. Truth be told, there’s not a lot to Valkyrie on paper. What makes her so memorable, so remarkable, is Thompson’s charming, funny performance. The type of iconic scene-stealing that leads to deserved hyperbole. She’s like Han Solo and Snake Plissken rolled into one, and she steals every scene she occupies.

Thompson is tied for MVP of the film with Jeff Goldblum, who plays the sort-of-villain the Grandmaster. The best decision director Waititi made with the film is to point a camera and Goldblum and essentially tell him, “Do whatever the hell you want!” Goldblum has blossomed nicely into an elder statesman of weirdness, and he brings his distinct hemming and hawing to a deranged character with gusto. Every single thing Goldblum does here is incredible, garnering huge laughs with a wink or a nod. It’s a joy to watch him work.

Chris Hemsworth has great comic sensibilities. These have been teased with his Thor performances in the Avengers films, and exploited to great effect in Paul Feig’s unjustly maligned Ghostbusters reboot. Here, he gets to be funny throughout, while occasionally slipping into a more serious mode. But it’s the comedy that shines through the most, and Hemsworth portrayal of Thor as a dumb but ultimately noble character is charming.

The rest of the cast are also a treat. Mark Ruffalo’s constantly befuddled Bruce Banner is a lot of fun, and he and Hemsworth have surprisingly great chemistry together. Hiddleston’s Loki is good too, although his appearance here feels extraneous (more on that later). Cate Blanchett gets to ham it up as Hela, but she’s perhaps the performer most underserved by the script.

A brief word on Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins’ role here is little more than a glorified cameo, and his death scene, as written, is not nearly as emotional as the screenplay seems to think it is. But Hopkins sells it so well, bringing pathos and sadness to a throw-away part that could’ve easily been a quick bit of check-cashing. It’s a testament to his talent that he elevates the moment above the slapdash nature it truly is.

As mentioned a dozen times already, Thor: Ragnarok is funny. It’s funny as hell, in fact. This is less a superhero movie and more of a high concept comedy, loaded with jokes and physical humor that almost always lands. You can thank the hilarious Taika Waititi for that, who brings his comic sensibilities firmly into the MCU, with fabulous results. Waititi even gives himself a scene-stealing part as Korg, a laid-back rock monster. The comedy is what elevates Ragnarok above the other Thor films, and what also helps hide the threadbare story. You’re too caught up in hysterics to pay attention to how muddled the script by Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost is.

The score, by Mark Mothersbaugh, is a synthwave dream, and the cinematography, by Javier Aguirresarobe, is often vibrant and eye-popping. This all combines to make Thor: Ragnarok one of the best-looking Marvel films, free of the parking lot gray color scheme that seems to be so prevalent in most of their other adventures (although Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still reign supreme in the Marvel cinematography department). Honestly, overall, Thor: Ragnarok is colorful, comedic fun. There’s nothing to hate here. But that doesn’t mean it all works.

Thor Ragnarok Loki

Like Smoldering Fire: The Not-So-Good

What the hell is Loki’s purpose in the MCU at this point? Not even the filmmakers seem to know. Late in the film, when Banner and Loki come face to face, Banner says, “Last time we saw you, you were trying to kill everyone. What are you up to these days?” “It varies from moment to moment,” Loki replies cheekily. Ha ha, get it? This character is kind of pointless and the film is acknowledging it! Hilarious.

Look, Hiddleston is very good at playing this part. He brings the right touch of aristocratic smugness to the role, but continually bringing Loki back again and again reeks of little more than fan service. The Avengers had Loki willing to commit genocide. Here, he’s mostly comic relief. That’s baffling. You could argue it’s character growth; that he’s evolved from the evil murderer he was to a more playful trickster, but it doesn’t quite work. He doesn’t seem like he’s evolved at all.

Villains have never been the MCU’s strongpoint. This was a problem that could’ve possibly been resolved in Ragnarok due to casting alone. Cate Blanchett is one of the best actresses working today, and giving her a chance to strut her stuff and ham it up as Hela, the Goddess of Death, adorned in a set of crazy antlers, was promising. Alas, while Blanchett gives it her all, Hela as a character is severely underwritten, to the point that there are long stretches of the film where you might completely forget about her. 

Why does Skurge, a secondary character, have more character development and more of an overall arc than the main villain of the film? Skurge goes from comical bumbler, to hesitant accomplice, to ultimate hero. Yet he’s almost inconsequential to the plot, unlike Hela, who is supposed to be driving things. It’s disappointing. In truth, almost everything that happens on Asgard is disappointing here, and you get the sense that the film would’ve triumphed completely had it just removed Asgard entirely.

The problem is that at its heart, there are two different movies here. One is about Thor saving Asgard. The other is about Thor on the Grandmaster’s planet, regaining his confidence. These two would both work best on their own, but don’t quite fit together here. They could work, of course, if the script was willing to let them unfold organically. But there’s no room to breathe in Thor: Ragnarok. The opening section alone moves at a breakneck speed, jumping from one location to the next, with the hopes of quickly setting everything up without stopping to think. It’s exhausting. I’m all for brevity in Marvel movies, and superhero movies in general, which tend to be lengthy, bloated affairs – but Ragnarok is pushing it.

While the comedy that prevails all through Thor: Ragnarok is welcomed, there are times where the film is too frothy for its own good. At the end of the day, this film is about the end of Thor’s world. At least, his world as he’s known it for so long. One of the final scenes involves Asgard being blown to smithereens – a moment that should be played as tragic, yet is handled with a joke (an admittedly funny joke, but still one that seems out of place). The overall takeaway is that Ragnarok cares most about getting laughs, and everything else has to take a backseat to that. It’s an uneven balance.

Waititi’s skills as a comedy director are unquestionable – he’s one of the best in the biz. His action direction skills, however, leave a lot to be desired. The action scenes in Ragnarok are terrible. Even the big Thor/Hulk battle that was teased in all the trailers is lackluster and disappointing. There’s a scene where Hela quickly kills a bunch of Asgardian soldiers that is so devoid of energy and excitement that it almost looks unfinished – that perhaps this was just a special effects demo test that made its way into the final film. Ragnarok would’ve been better served if it had just found a way to forego action entirely and focused 100% on the banter.

Phase 1 of the MCU had a distinct problem: the films seemed like all set-up, with little individuality. It’s a problem Marvel has mostly gotten over recently, but Thor: Ragnarok finds them completely back in that set-up mode. Almost everything that happens here feels secondary to the fact that this is leading into Avengers: Infinity War, particularly the ending, which has Thor cruising off into the galaxy. The MCU films that work best are the ones that can stand on their own, as their own individual experiences, where cross-promotion is almost secondary. Ragnarok is not one of those films, and it suffers a bit because of that.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a writer who frowns a lot. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, /Film, Mashable, The Film Stage, Birth.Movies.Death, The Playlist, Paste Magazine, Little White Lies and O-Scope Musings. 'The House on Creep Street' and 'Beware the Monstrous Manther!', two horror books for young readers Chris co-authored with J. Tonzelli, are available wherever books are sold. You can follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413