New Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taika Waititi
In today’s climate of terrorism and political unrest, Thor: Ragnarok is a movie to treasure. This is an exhilarating, red-blooded sci-fi adventure with stunning visuals, enormously entertaining action scenes, and one of the funniest screenplays Marvel has ever turned out. In fact, although the movie has many virtues, it’s its sense of humor that makes it such a winner. I don’t even think 2012’s The Avengers made me laugh this hard, and that movie was incredibly funny.
The laughs start right from the opening scene, where the god of lightning Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been captured by the fire demon Surtur. Surtur has Thor tied up and dangling from a chain, which slowly spins Thor around in a circle. While Surtur is giving his villainous speech, Thor occasionally interrupts him and tells him to wait until he spins back around and faces him again before continuing. “Just give me a second,” he says. “I feel like we were making a connection there.”
That scene is good for a few hearty chuckles, but the bulk of the movie is marked by scenes that had me in stitches. Some of the funniest gags written by screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost are the ones that catch you off guard. From the scene where Thor attempts to escape from a prison later in the film with a big red ball, to the scene where ex-Asgardian turned bounty hunter Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is introduced saving Thor from a murderous gang on a junky planet, the film’s humor is so effective because the laughs come when you least expect them to.
My favorite moment comes when it shows how far Thor has come in terms of his relationship with his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). In the previous movies, Thor has been so eager to trust Loki and accept him that it made Loki’s job of manipulating him that much easier. Here, Thor is not so easily fooled. I won’t go into any more detail than that, because I don’t want to ruin one of the film’ biggest laughs. You just have to see the movie for yourself.
Some critics have complained that the story here feels rehashed from many other Marvel movies. That may be true, but I just don’t care. Thor: Ragnarok is so funny and so vibrantly directed by Taika Waititi (who’s normally known for directing Indie films) that the plot almost seems to be beside the point. My focus was more on the stellar work by the team of art directors, production designers Dan Hennag and Ra Vincent, and set decorator Beverly Dunn. From Surtur’s fiery lair in the film’s opening to the majestic planet of Asgard to the delightfully retro junkyard planet of Sakaar, the movie looks so beautiful that I didn’t care how unoriginal the plot was. Sometimes people go to the movies for the simple pleasure of escaping reality, and Thor: Ragnarok offers that and more.
One could argue that the film’s tone is so jokey and playful that you’re never really afraid for the characters, and thus, there’s not really a whole lot of excitement to the action scenes. Fair enough, except that the action scenes here are so eyegasmic and joyously directed that it’s impossible to not have a blast with them. The trailers promised a gladiator-style battle between Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and it certainly delivers there, featuring yet another laugh-out-loud moment where one particular move by the Hulk causes Loki to stand up and cheer (you’ll see). The climax is big, colorful, and features one of the best uses for Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song that I’ve heard since it was used on the brilliant teaser trailer for the 2011 version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. You may know which side is going to win in the end, but that’s not a bad thing when the set-piece is as much fun as the climax is here.
The performances are in tune with the film’s sprightly vibe. Hemsworth is an absolute treat as Thor, and Hiddleston is delightful as he makes Loki a slightly more likable character here (the brotherly chemistry between the two men is quite endearing this time). Cate Blanchett is clearly having a blast playing Thor’s evil sister Hela, the Goddess of Death, and Karl Urban brings a surprising amount of depth as the conflicted Skurge, an Asgardian who becomes Hela’s unwilling accomplice. The always charismatic Benedict Cumberbatch makes a terrific cameo as Dr. Strange; Jeff Goldblum is charmingly oddball as The Grandmaster, ruler of the planet Sakaar; Waititi brings real warmth and charm as the sympathetic rock monster Korg; and Thompson is very good as the troubled Valkyrie.
Thor: Ragnarok is not exciting and not original, and yet because of how effective the performances, visuals, and especially the comedy was, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The movie’s ambition is so simple that it almost retains a sort of purity. All the movie wants to do is to take you on a wild, funny, and visually spectacular ride. That’s it. There’s no hidden political agenda, no universal truths about adolescence and the pain of growing up, and no dark commentary about our post 9/11 world. It’s a movie that’s all about having fun, and reader, I had a blast with this movie from start to finish.
Final Grade: **** (out of ****)
Rated PG-13 for violence, suggestive material