For anybody familiar with the cosmic side of the Marvel Comics universe, you’re no doubt aware that Thor hasn’t exactly been done justice when it comes to his solo outings on the big screen. As the fourth film to come out in Phase One of Marvel’s cinematic universe, Thor pulled in a number just north of $181 million, placing it just above the Incredible Hulk, which earned just shy of $135 million and nowhere near Iron Man and Iron Man 2, which both earned over $300 million. And while it’s 2013 sequel Thor: The Dark World, did slightly better, bringing a little over $206 million it still wasn’t exactly a favorite among fans, only garnering a 66% (despite being certified fresh) on Rotten Tomatoes. But let’s be honest, even though Thor: The Dark World might not have been Marvel’s greatest big screen outing, it was still pretty good.
When it was announced back in 2016 that director Taika Waititi would be directing Thor: Ragnarok (2017, Disney/Marvel Studios Running Time: 2 hours. 10 minutes) fans of everybody’s favorite Asgardian saw this as an opportunity to right Marvel Studios’ past mistakes. After all, with that unique brand of humor that Chris Hemsworth is able to channel through Thor and the writing and directing talents of a man whose works include Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and the critically acclaimed What We Do In the Shadows, the potential seemed limitless. And while previous directors in the franchise, Kenneth Brannagh and Alan Taylor both brought something different to the films, using Dutch angles, special effects, and drastic shifts in setting and tone, the big wigs over at Marvel Studios recruited Taika Waititi to bring out something in Thor that we’ve only seen glimpses of throughout his time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe . . . humor. Did it pay off? Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it?
Thor: Ragnarok hasn’t even made it to the end of its opening weekend and has not only earned over $211 million (worldwide) so far, it’s also been a hit with critics, being “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes with a 93% and some are even calling it the “best Marvel film yet.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Sheri Linden said, “Waitit’s interest in intimate stories was evident in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but it’s the knack for dry comedy that he brought to the mockumentary What We Do In the Shadows that shapes the new Thor.” Over at Polygon, Brock Wilbur’s inner fanboy was evident when he said, “Ragnarok is the child of confident filmmaking and understanding of what the Thor franchise could have always been.” He went on to say that the movie “sets the standard by which the entire MCU will have to adhere to, including the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. Ragnarok is an intense space opera that genuinely cares about every character having a journey and doesn’t waste a second of screen time on anything artificial.” Even the folks over at Empire liked it. Film reviewer James Dyer said, “Like a cosmic fever dream, Ragnarok is a disorienting cocktail of riotous color and batty antics that seem almost unreal after the fact. Try to fit it into an established [mold] at your own peril, but roll with this and you’ll discover not only a top-tier addition to the MCU, but one of the most flat-out enjoyable comedies of the year.”
So, yeah . . . it would seem that Thor: Ragnarok has been doing pretty well among critics. However, if you’ve read any of the reviews on this site, you might know that we’re not exactly huge fans of critic culture. We also don’t always agree with each other, especially when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Thor’s place in it. That being said, please don’t read this review and think that it’s biased toward one view or another. Also be aware that you’re about to get to the bones of this review and there will be spoilers.
Marvel has been having quite a few problems lately, when it comes to what movies take place where on their timeline. Thor: Ragnarok begins somewhere in the aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Doctor Strange and for the most part, appears to run along side Captain America: Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. When we first join our hero, we find out via a story being told to a skeleton that he’s been all over the cosmos chasing infinity stones, while simultaneously trying to stop the prophecies of Ragnarok, which is basically the Norse version of the end times. According to legend, Surtur the fire demon is destined to destroy Asgard and bring about the end of the world as we know it. Naturally, Thor puts an end to him by knocking his head off and barely escaping thanks to the idiocy of the new guardian of the rainbow bridge, Skurge (Karl Urban), whom you may or may not know as Skurge the Executioner, who is less the scary villain he is in the comic books and more of a bumbling idiot.
Once back in Asgard, Thor makes the startling discovery that things aren’t what they seem or the way he left them, after finding Odin dressed in his bathrobes and watching a play that’s reenacting the death of Loki (Tom Hiddelston), in which director Waititi takes a few shots at the dark tone of Thor: The Dark World. After Thor discovers Loki has been impersonating his father, and with a little intimidation, the two of them set off to Midgard (Earth) to recover their king. The only problem is the retirement home where Loki left Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is being demolished by bulldozers. As the two of them stand there arguing, a familiar ring of spinning sparks shows up and Loki disappears. This is where things pick up from the after-credits scene of Doctor Strange. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) worried about Loki’s presence on Earth, makes a deal with Thor that he’ll help them find Odin if they leave immediately afterwards. When the two of them finally do catch up to their father, they find him in his final moments on some cliffs in Norway, where he explains to them that they have a megalomaniac for a sister named Hela (Cate Blanchett), who is not only the goddess of death and far more powerful than the two of them, but is also imprisoned and only being held wherever she is by Odin’s life force. So, naturally, Odin dies in the next scene. After Thor and Loki refuse to bend the knee to Hela, she destroys Thor’s trusted hammer, scaring Loki into opening the rainbow bridge. As the three of them are fighting and traveling through space and time, both Thor and Loki are tossed out into the cosmos, leaving Hela free to terrorize and enslave Asgard.
After a brutal scene depicting Hela killing the Warriors Three and laying waste to Asgard’s army, we rejoin Thor and Loki who have somehow ended up on the planet Sakkar, which is where both the Planet Hulk and Skaar: Son of Hulk comic books take place. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s also where the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) ended up after the events of Avengers: Infinity War. The only problem is that the Hulk has been the Hulk for two entire years and when Bruce Banner finally reemerges, he warns Thor that the Hulk has been in control for so long that if he turns into the Hulk again, Bruce Banner might not ever come back. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. While Loki has managed to talk his way into favor with the Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum) Thor has been kidnapped by Valkyrie, an Asgardian who was once part of Asgard’s famed Valkyrie’s who were all allegedly wiped out by Hela. Valkyrie sells Thor to the Grand Master, who sends him to the Tournament of Champions to fight a ferocious creature that is thus far undefeated. As it turns out, that ferocious creature is the Hulk.
Long story short, Thor, with the help of Valkyrie, Loki, and Korg (a blue rock creature played by Taika Waititi) escape. They end up back on Asgard, where Heimdall (Idris Elba) has been making life difficult for Hela. There’s an epic showdown where villains redeem themselves, heroes discover their true power, and bunch of escaped slaves from Sakaar make a real mess of things. There’s also a showdown between the Hulk and a giant wolf. In the end, Thor realizes that the only way to save Asgard and defeat Hela is to let Asgard be destroyed, meaning he has to let Ragnarok run its course. Fortunately, in the MCU, Ragnarok only means the end of Asgard and not of the universe, at least as far we know. Perhaps this is a story for Thor 4? You know . . . assuming he lives through Avengers: Infinity War. And speaking of Avengers: Infinity War, if you stay for the first after credits scene, you’ll find that Thor: Ragnarok feeds directly into the next Avengers film by having the ship they used to escape Asgard run into Sanctuary II, which comic book fans will recognize as the ship that Thanos gets around in.
As far as “redeeming” the Thor franchise goes, I’m among the few who never thought Thor needed redeeming. Granted, his first film was pretty to look at, but it was rather bland, and all of the Dutch angles used by Kenneth Brannagh were a little much. However, of all the criticism the film continuously receives, you never hear anybody say it was boring. As for Thor: Ragnarok, the film builds upon both Thor and Thor: The Dark World by taking us to new realms and upping the ante considerably in terms of what’s at stake. The fight scenes are also massive and full of destruction. To give you something to compare it to, think about the brawl between Thor and Malekith in Thor: The Dark World and amplify it by about one hundred. Thor: Ragnarok has more action scenes than both of its predecessors combined. I would even go as far as to put it on par with Joss Whedon’s Avenger films. Then there’s the acting. Director Taika Waititi did an excellent job in both keeping the tone of the film lighter than the others and also timing the laughs so they don’t feel forced or overdone like they were in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. And there was never a moment when his character, Korg, wasn’t welcome on the screen. His dry humor helped pace the film, keeping you intrigued and laughing, but not distracting you from what was happening.
Then there’s Chris Hemsworth, who gets a lot of heat from fans for taking an almost too “Shakespearean” approach to Thor. He had some funny moments in his solo outings, but it was Joss Whedon who showed us his potential to be funny in both Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that this film exists because of the on-screen antics between Thor and the Hulk in Avengers. It’s also good to see that Marvel finally made use of the formidable acting chops of Idris Elba. If there’s one mistake that is more than apparent in the first two Thor films it’s the gross underuse of one of the franchise’s most talented actors. Yes, he did see a little more screen time in Thor: The Dark World, but in this movie, he was not only given a chance to take center stage, he sort of helped keep the movie held together, which is something it desperately needed with the continuous shift between worlds that are completely different. Speaking of worlds, what a great time to be alive. We’re in the midst of a Jeff Goldblum Renaissance. First we got to see him reprise his role in the not-so-well-received Independence Day: Resurgence, then we got to see him to do his thing in Thor: Ragnarok, and next year, we’ll get to see him in the currently unnamed Jurassic Park sequel. Watching him play the Grand Master under the direction of Taika Waititi was almost magical.
Other things good worth mentioning are the way that they were able to give us a Thor sequel and sort of give us a Hulk sequel without actually giving the Hulk his own film. We can thank Universal for that, or Marvel, depending on where you stand on their decision making. They also did a great job of making Thor: Ragnarok stand on its own. With the exception of the storyline involving the Hulk and the quinjet, there weren’t many tie-ins to the other characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Oh, and how could I forget about Jane Foster (Natalie Portman)? It was nice to finally get a movie that wasn’t filled with her whining, which is also the first thing on the “bad” part of this review.
The romance between Jane Foster and Thor has always felt very card-board and uninteresting, but after ending Thor: The Dark World in a place that seemed to speak good things about their future, burying their relationship with only a few quickly spoken sentences felt insulting and made a good portion of the previous films feel like a complete waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, I was never a huge fan of Natalie Portman, but the role of Jane Foster has always been an important one in the many story-arcs that make up Thor’s comic books. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is another character that didn’t exactly get their due. In the comic books Hela is actually the daughter of Loki, but seeing how Loki has been more focused on ruling the nine realms through nefarious means than he has been on making babies, I can see why they chose to make Hela Odin’s daughter instead. While Cate Blanchett did an excellent job of playing the part and is building quite the portfolio of parts adored by nerds, she wasn’t exactly given a chance to shine. Though I understand that the movie was busy, and with a running time of over 2 hours, it’s hard to give everybody their due, there’s still so much about Hela that I would have liked to see brought to light. For example, what was her motivation? Was she simply far too ambitious, or was she striving for her father’s favor? What pushed her over the edge? There’s also the fact that her father, for what might have been thousands of years, imprisoned her in a place that didn’t sound very pleasant. That’s definitely enough to give somebody daddy issues. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to see Helas character develop past the point of her killing people and throwing swords everywhere. She was basically so strong, you could see there were times in the script when the writers didn’t know what to do with her.
Speaking of Hela killing people and characters who didn’t get justice, what was up with the minimal amount of screen time given to the Warriors Three? Their deaths weren’t even scripted that well. Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Fandral (Zachary Levi) were hanging out on the rainbow bridge for what appeared to be no reason and only one of them got to say anything before dying. As for Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), who has always been the most tolerable of the Warriors Three, at least he got to put up a fight before he died. Then there’s Lady Sif, who is played by Jaimie Alexander. She’s a busy woman and fortunately got to miss out on dying. Again, after spending parts of the two previous films developing these characters, seeing them die so quickly and with such a lack of screen time, makes portions of the last two films feel like a waste of time.
Now, let’s talk about the comedy aspect. Don’t take this the wrong way, I loved the humor in Thor: Ragnarok, and unlike Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the jokes weren’t gratuitous. However, there were parts in the movie when it felt like they sacrificed depth and character development for cheap laughs. I mentioned this on the Pop Culture Multiverse podcast earlier this week. Thor has a lot of potential. For lack of a better word, he’s an epic character. He just needs to have his story portrayed in a way that properly depicts the size and scope of the world in which he lives. Director Taika Waititi did a good job with giving the film volume in terms of size and scope, but it was all very surface level, making it feel like the epic aspects were purposely replaced with action scenes and one-liners. This is something that Marvel films continuously suffer from and audiences don’t really help with. After all, why give a film a good story with depth and layers when you can fill it with explosions and campy dialogue? This is why Ant-Man isn’t ever put in any top ten lists among MCU fans.
In any case, it’s good to see Thor and Loki getting along, though, how long that lasts remains to be seen. They certainly left his gaze lingering on the tesseract for a forebodingly long amount of time. And if you watched the first end credit scene, it sets it up perfect for Loki to deliver the tesseract/space stone to Thanos, whether on purpose or by force. Overall, Thor: Ragnarok ended in the perfect place for Avengers: Infinity War to begin. Whether or not Black Panther will have any sort of build up into the next Avengers film is all speculation at this point. As for now director Taika Waititi has taken our favorite Asgardian Avenger to places we never thought we’d see him go when he made his first appearance on the big screen back in 2011. Thor: Ragnarok might not have the serious tone we’ve come to expect from Thor films, but it might be the most entertaining movie in Phase 3 and possibly the Marvel Cinematic Universe as whole. While his fate remains to be seen in Avengers: Infinity War, it would be nice to see him get another solo outing. It’s just a shame it’s taken them this long to make his character so likable among fans.
If you can’t wait to see what happens next, fear not, Marvel has closed the gap in their releases, with Black Panther set to come out on February 16, 2018 and Avengers: Infinity War on April 25, 2018. As for now, Thor: Ragnarok has something for every Marvel fan and is well worth paying the increasing cost of movie tickets to see.