Review - 'Thor: Ragnarok'
Thor: Ragnarok is so much of a departure from its predecessors that it's nearly whiplash inducing. It took a little bit of time for the jarring effects of Taika Waititi's screeching stylistic U-turn to wear off, but once they did, I became swept up in the fun of the adventure.
In Thor: Ragnarok, Odin is weak and near death. Odin warns Thor that once he is gone, his older sister, Hela, will be released from her prison and will be free to unleash her evil powers upon Asgard. After a failed attempt to stop Hela, Thor finds himself on a junk-heap of a planet called Sakaar where he happens upon the Hulk. They must team up in hopes to stop Hela before time runs out.
I have a different relationship with the Thor films than most people I know. I'm a big fan of Kenneth Branagh's first film. Branagh's film had heart and humor where it counted and his Shakespearean take on the source material fit like a glove. Sure, there's some moments where the film sags, particularly in the love-interest category, but overall, I found it to be a successful flick that hit most of the right notes. The second film, The Dark World, which was directed by Alan Taylor, took a step down, but I still found it to be a harmless and entertaining romp. And now we have Taika Waititi's Ragnarok, which is a complete departure and fresh take on the character. Ragnarok takes much of the good and bad of the previous films and gets rid of it all. Thor: Ragnarok plays like a self-aware Flash Gordon with a massive budget, which for me made for a fun time at the movies, but not the type of Thor film I was hoping for.
Despite the fact that I would have preferred a different take on the character, perhaps a more serious one where Thor isn't the butt of every joke, I can't be biased in this review and must admit that this is a highly entertaining film that succeeds in its goal. If you liked Guardians of the Galaxy, it's likely you're going to find the same level of enjoyment from this film. Ragnarok is an all-out comedy with very few serious moments. Waititi has imbued so much gonzo humor into the film that it's hard not to be swept up in the fun of it all. That said, the humor really deflates any stakes the film might have had, and being based on Ragnarok, it could have had some pretty big ones. Potentially huge developments do happen during the course of the film, but they're always immediately followed by sight-gags, funny quips and slapstick humor.
It's a good thing that the humor in Thor: Ragnarok is so good, otherwise this film would fall completely on its face. This is definitely a Taika Waititi film; he's one of the few directors who can see humor in just about everything and no stone goes un-turned here. My one complaint with the reliance on comedy in Ragnarok is that it's starting to be a predictable pattern with most Marvel movies, they're all fun, but often not much more than that. There's really not much substance to speak of in Thor: Ragnarok, and it ends up being more of a great amusement park ride than anything else.
Another aspect that helps this film realize its identity as a successful comedy is its cast. Chris Hemsworth has never been funnier in any of his films. Hemsworth has great comedic timing and is able to roll with all of the quips and prat falls with ease. I would have liked to see his dramatic side tested a little bit, but I'd be lying if I said he wasn't an absolute riot to watch here. Mark Ruffalo is also a joy as Hulk/Bruce Banner and plays off of Hemsworth's Thor very well. Cate Blanchett falls on the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to MCU villains, though that's not saying much. I could tell that Blanchette was enjoying simply cutting loose and playing a straight-up evil comicbook-y villain. Tom Hiddleston comes back as Loki and while his shtick is running a bit dry, he was a welcome presence nonetheless. Jeff Goldblum is also having a blast here and gets some of the funniest scenes in the entire film. Finally, and I'm going to catch flak for this, we have Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. I wasn't really that crazy about her and I can't explain why. She's fine, but I didn't find her tough-girl act particularly original or compelling.
An absolute and indisputable positive aspect about Thor: Ragnarok are its sets and visuals. This is a visually sumptuous film with some truly beautiful locales and set pieces. The action is impressive, even if there's an abundance of CGI on display. I also loved the score by Mark Mothersbaugh; it's retro, synthy and rock n' roll all wrapped up into one nice package.
Thor: Ragnarok is a fun if inconsequential roller coaster ride. The film is very funny and colorful from start to finish and is sure to entertain the masses, but I'm starting to grow weary of Marvel telling stories that value popcorn entertainment over dramatic heft. This is a ride that you'll want to get back in line and experience over and over again, but likely won't leave you with much to think about.