Marvel has had a good year. The brand they’ve established for their films has been to see it in the theater, say “that was okay” and promptly forget about it. Most of these MCU movies are cinematic sugar and you wonder why you show up but there you are, back again. Some of them are engaging though, diamonds in the rough. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was one such diamond, a taut political thriller wrapped in a Bourne movie, it had a kinetic pace and was masterfully crafted. It was astounding that the directors involved were basically nobodies. Guardians of the Galaxy was a colorful, fun sci-fi romp that benefitted from feeling disconnected from the other MCU installments and humor that flowed and didn’t stop the movie.
There are a few other likable installments interspersed over the years, but those would be the two at the top. Thor: Ragnarok is not as good as Winter Soldier, but it is better than Guardians. Director Taika Watiti has created an endless assortment of great moments and atmosphere, and crafts the film’s new worlds with a distinct visual style.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth, at his most confident in the role) has been having dreams of his home, Asgard covered in flames by Ragnarok. Certain events lead Hela (Cate Blanchett), Thor’s sister, the Goddess of Death, to return, her hope is to take the throne once and for all. She succeeds comfortably. Thor ends up on a remote planet called Siccar, ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, gloriously chewing the scenery). He is then forced to become a gladiator for the amusement for the people of Siccar.
Aside from the colorful visual style and Watiti’s great direction, the main ensemble in Ragnarok stand out. Hemsworth swaggers and banters, he is a bonafide leading man now, with a natural charisma. He just hasn’t figured out how to make money off his name yet, and to be fair, that’s hard right now in this industry. Tom Hiddleston has also finally figured out how he wants to play Loki, this is the most assured he’s been in the character. Goldblum is glorious, obviously and Idris Elba finally gets used. He’s another terrific presence and he had never felt used. Tessa Thompson has a steady presence, although she will sometimes mumble her lines. Her Valkyrie is supposed to be a drinker, but it does get in the way of the movie, even if it’s only two or three throwaway lines. She offers a confident presence and a cool vibe, however.
There are Marvel stamps that often annoy me, this is present through many of these films and Thor: Ragnarok is no real exception. Dr. Strange shows up to tell Thor where Odin is hiding out and the scene takes too long. This could be solved with a line of expository dialogue, but you just spent however many hundreds of millions on paying Benedict Cumberbatch for five minutes and creating those effects. Good job. Most of the humor works, that’s obviously what the Marvel execs like, but they can’t resist the bathos. I don’t get it, if you’re having an emotional moment, you want to feel the totality of it, not have it undercut by a cheap gag. This does not happen constantly, however, and a lot of the callbacks work as well (except for Age of Ultron, which has aged poorly even after two years).
This cinematic universe concept is like an ouroboros. I cannot recommend Thor: Ragnarok, an entertaining, high-quality blockbuster made by an actual filmmaker without begrudgingly mentioning, “you might want to watch the other two for context, they’re not as good but you need the information.” 10-20 years from now people will just want to skip to the good installments in the same manner that we would about a franchise that was active 20-30 years ago. That’s the easy way, and it’s not going to work with the MCU, and its legacy will suffer because of it. (This is assuming Feige isn’t still farting out new movies in 20 years).
Thor: Ragnarok is a wonderful movie. Fun is the key word, there have been Marvel movies that have had a light and jokey tone that were never truly fun. Thor is fun, it’s a fun trip to funtown. It reminds me of 300, and how Zack Snyder made that movie primarily so he could film a bunch of cool stuff in a sequence. Thor: Ragnarok is a better movie than 300, but you get my drift.
Written by Jeff Turner