With so many superhero movies released every year, they all start to look the same. Thor: Ragnarok is different. It doesn’t set out to be anything more than what it is: a comic book romp concerned purely with fun, but achieves this with so much gusto that even those ambivalent on the Marvel cinematic universe will smile at its fast-paced action, funny jokes, and grandiose characters. Director Taika Waititi injects these elements with a vitality that makes Thor: Ragnarok the best of the Thor movies and one of the best entries in the Marvel cinematic universe.
Because the Marvel films are interconnected, references to past characters and movies will likely go above the heads of the uninitiated. On the other hand, fans will marvel at how naturally and entertainingly the past references and supporting Marvel players are introduced. These oftentimes, be it Marvel or D.C., can feel grafted on for no purpose other than reminding the audience of the film’s greater universe, but Waititi always ensures they make sense within the narrative.
Whether viewers have seen enough of the Marvel films to make sense of certain references, the movie’s plot is simple enough and told with such flair that viewers will probably get sucked along for the ride. At the outset, Thor finds out that his father Odin has left their home, the realm of Asgard. His absence has set in motion a prophecy called Ragnarok, which foresees the destruction of Asgard at the hands of a fire demon called Surtur. The film opens with Thor battling Surtur in order to prevent Ragnarok. The fast-tempo fight set to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” sets a playful tone that gets carried through the whole film, and the Viking-themed rock number is so appropriate for Thor that it’s amazing this series hasn’t used it until now.
Once Thor prematurely believes he has stopped Ragnarok, he and his brother Loki discover their father exiled in Norway. Odin warns them he is about to die, after which Thor’s evil older sister Hela will be freed from her imprisonment and try to take Asgard for herself. Before Thor’s time, Hela commanded Odin’s armies as he conquered realms to build his kingdom. However, her ambition soon outgrew her father’s and while Odin wanted to be a benevolent king, Hela preferred rule by iron fist. Pitted against his more powerful sister and the Ragnarok prophecy, Thor tries to assemble a team of heroes (not The Avengers) to save his home.
Though superhero movies are probably not what come to mind when one hears “character driven,” Thor: Ragnarok does better in this department than its competitors. Whereas most films of this genre simply have heroes defeating the villain, Ragnarok shows Thor discovering new powers when his old ones don’t suffice. This development has clearly kept the role fresh for Chris Hemsworth, who shows no signs of getting bored with the character, bringing as much humor and charisma to the role as one could want.
As Thor is forced to develop in this installment, it’s no surprise that this movie’s villainess stands head and shoulders above his previous adversaries. Cate Blanchett chews scenery as Hela but is unfortunately saddled with too little screentime. Still, she relishes every moment she has, exhibiting campy menace and an egomaniacal demeanor. Her gothic look, a cross between The Crow and Maleficent, is perhaps the best character design of any marvel villain.
Beyond the protagonist and antagonist, the film boasts quite an ensemble cast and the supporting characters elevate Thor: Ragnarok beyond its predecessors. Marvel film veterans Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo, and Benedict Cumberbatch are as reliable as ever as Loki, The Hulk, and Dr. Strange, respectively, but newcomers Jeff Goldblum and Tess Thompson also make fantastic additions as Grandmaster and Valkyrie. Despite the cast’s size, nobody gets lost in the mix or comes off as boring.
With Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi demonstrates that his direction of both actors and action are second to none. As one of the most exciting new directors around, audiences should certainly look out for his work in the coming years. Whereas most franchises would be loosing steam by movie three, the fact that Waititi has made its best installment is in itself a marvel.
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