The long locks are gone, but it’s more than Thor who gets a makeover in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Marvel’s latest comic book film bursts with color and humor, keeping the 17th film in its growing cinematic universe fresh.
The intergalactic comedy is an enjoyable departure in mood and aesthetic from the previous Thor films as indie director Taika Waititi puts his light-hearted stamp on the franchise. With eye-popping action, vibrant visuals and intriguing characters, “Thor: Ragnarok” delivers out-of-this-world fun.
“Thor: Ragnarok” brings the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) back into the MCU fold after he was last seen in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The third “Thor” film finds the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) racing to save his home world, Asgard, from its prophesied destruction, known as Ragnarok.
After reuniting with his mischief-making brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the brothers must contend with their banished sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. After pulverizing Thor’s trusty hammer, Mjolnir, the power-hungry Hela casts her brothers into space.
Thor and Loki land on the trash planet of Sakaar, run by the flashy Grandmaster (a delightful Jeff Goldblum). Now hammerless, Thor is captured by the hard-drinking Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a former Asgardian warrior, and forced to fight his fellow Avenger, the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), in a gladiator ring. But the fate of Asgard and its people are hanging in the balance as Thor looks for a way back to his planet.
2011’s “Thor,” one of my favorite MCU films, thrived on its Shakespearean drama and endeared itself to fans through its fish-out-of-water charm. But 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World” threatened to strand the franchise in mediocrity.
“Thor: Ragnarok” rights the ship. The neon-colored sequel cruises right along, making the most of its wacky and wonderful space setting. The action dazzles from Asgard’s rainbow bridge to Sakaar’s bustling streets. A thrilling Mjolnir sequence pops in 3-D. The film perfectly stages key sequences to Led Zeppelin’s rousing anthem “Immigrant Song.” And the arena battle reunites two fan favorites for some “Hulk Smash!” thrashing. The distinctive synth score weaves everything together.
This is the funniest “Thor” movie yet. Waititi imprints his whimsical sense of humor on the franchise, providing Hemsworth with a fitting showcase for his comedic talents. But it’s not a laugh-a-minute, which is a good thing as the film has some heavy lifting to do.
“Thor: Ragnarok” charts a new course for its lead character after his previous solo outings. Stripping Thor of his hammer makes him vulnerable, pushing the titular hero to rediscover himself outside his comfort zone. Hemsworth gives a nuanced performance as the seasoned warrior is forced to cut his hair, change his armor, and be a hero without his magical weapon.
Loki, the greatest villain in the MCU, has often overshadowed Thor in the hero’s own franchise. But “Thor: Ragnarok” realizes Thor should be its coolest character and treats him as such. Hiddleston still gets his time to shine as the egocentric trickster straddles the line of helping his brother while looking out for himself.
Returning as the Hulk/Bruce Banner, Ruffalo adds a previously unseen depth to the “other guy” with a solid motion-capture performance. But Thompson is the film’s revelation as Valkyrie. The strong yet suffering warrior is nonapologetic as she struggles to come to terms with her tragic past.
As refreshing as “Thor: Ragnarok” is, it’s not a perfect film. Blanchett is a lot of fun as Hela, but the villainess doesn’t appear in the movie enough. Some of her action scenes contain questionable CGI. The film doesn’t always strike the right balance between its humor and more serious moments. During one major event, a funny albeit ill-timed joke undercuts the weight of the scene.
“Thor: Ragnarok” continues Marvel’s hot streak while injecting new life into the “Thor” franchise.
4 out of 5 stars
When the first “Thor” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was released in 2011, late-show host Conan O’Brien had an ongoing joke claiming that Marvel hired the wrong actor to play the God of Thunder. In clips from the film, Chris Hemsworth’s voice was replaced with a high-pitched, cartoonish voice that didn’t fit with the muscular Australian armed with a mighty hammer. It was a funny bit in small doses during a time when superhero flicks were taking themselves very seriously, especially with “Thor.” In 2017, things have been shaken up for the better, and that O’Brien twist seems very tame with a director new to big-budget tentpoles offering a new take on comics with “Thor: Ragnarok.”
Thor (Hemsworth) has been pretty low-key as MCU has expanded a few times since his last major role in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and his cameo in a post-credits scene in last year’s “Doctor Strange.” His brother, the trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is not doing well making sure that their land of Asgard is in good hands and having sent their dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), away. But things about to get worse when Odin reveals that the feuding brothers have a banished sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who will seek her place back in the kingdom. It’s all part of a prophecy about Asgard’s downfall and how she leads to it. In trying to defeat Hela, the goddess of death, Thor and Loki get transported to a lawless, garbage planet (there are trash chute “portals” that spit out spaceships and random beings) where Thor is forced to fight in gladiator-style matches and Loki in all his Lokiness makes the most of his time. Running things is the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), a character fans of “The Hunger Games” may call a carbon copy of Stanley Tucci’s The Gamemaker. Will Thor make it back home to save Asgard?
That question doesn’t matter so much because all we, the MCU money-throwing audience, just want to see is Thor fight the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). After their absence in “Captain America: Civil War,” a Thor-versus-Hulk match was in the wings. What we didn’t know we needed to go with the punching and smashing was some clever humor from director Taika Waititi. Up until “Ragnarok,” Thor’s lines were examples of macho-chauvinism that made Thor the weakest of Marvel’s character arcs. Tony Stark is snarky, Captain America is clean-cut, and Bruce Banner is sensitive and boring when he’s not angry. Thor was just eye candy, in a way. However, Waititi employs some of his signature sarcasm found in his New Zealand-set indies that breathe fresh air into Thor’s character. It also made Hemsworth funnier; he doesn’t do a lot of comedies outside of the “Ghostbusters” reboot.
It’s not all about an Avenger reunion either. Waltzing into the scene is Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a former Asgardian warrior-turned-bouty hunter for the Grandmaster. Her past loyalty to protecting the crown is a burden and a strength.
Waititi brings along much of the quirks he used in his earlier films and television shows like “Flight of the Conchords,” “What We Do in the Shadows” and “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” The women perform just as many comedic and physical stunts as the men, and much of the laughs seem natural. However, some of the funny bits are too long and parts of the storyline is obviously a potpourri of Thor comics. I’m not a Marvel comic book reader, but I could tell that this hodgepodge would upset die-hard fans. And as much fun it seemed that Blanchett had playing a villainess after years of heavy, dramatic roles, it didn’t feel natural.
Thor needed a revolution, and if Marvel continues to find directing talent from the independent world like it did with “Thor: Ragnarok,” expect more enjoyment in the superhero genre.
4 out of 5 stars