Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok

Rating

Director

Taika Waititi

Screenplay

Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost

Length

2h 10m

Starring

Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taika Waititi, Rachel House, Clancy Brown, Tadanobu Asano, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material

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Review

Finding a way to breathe new life into an aging franchise requires new direction, new writing, and a new foundation. Thor: Ragnarok is part of an extreme makeover of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the character and his narrative surroundings feeling almost entirely different from even his own standalone films.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe tried for the largest portion of its existence to be the realm of action adventure comic book fantasy, peppering its projects with humor, but not dousing them in it. After Guardians of the Galaxy, the studio seems to have taken that film’s success to heart. First, Ant-Man tried to tackle its subject with more humor than drama with some measure of success. Now, that comedy motif has been applied to one of the films of the original Avengers, the wonderful, kooky, and entertaining Thor: Ragnarok.

The God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) began his cinematic existence as a occasionally goofy, but proud and aggressive warrior god, much like he has often been depicted in the comics. After two films plus the Avengers properties, Thor has been seen as an occasionally wise-cracking, but generally serious character. Perhaps it was the success of Ghostbusters that helped producers realize just how genuinely funny Hemsworth can be, but the apparent end result is that he’s been given room to flex his comic, and literal, muscles in a film that is dripping with sarcastic delight and jocular intensity while still taking an incredibly dramatic set of events and pushing them forward with the passion of a great love affair.

And love is precisely what we feel coming out of Thor: Ragnarok. Tremendous actors like Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston (as Loki), Mark Ruffalo (as Bruce Banner and in CGI as his alter-ego Hulk), Cate Blanchett (as new villain Hela), Idris Elba (as Heimdall), Jeff Goldblum (as another new character, Grandmaster), and Tessa Thompson (as a fiercely independent ex-Valkyrie) commit so fully to their characters that they are sometimes snarky and sometimes deadly serious, but always fresh and credible. The film itself then feels more authentic and engaging than many of the other films so far released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The effects, performances, and even narrative form a supremely satisfying combination. While the rest of the MCU seems mired in its own self-importance, director Taika Waititi knows that the audience not only wants to adore these characters, but wants to feel invested in their success and failure.

For his part, Waititi is the wizard who’s brought these disparate parts so successfully together. Recognizing that Thor can be a hot-tempered bully at times, but also realizing that through his relationships with other members of the Avengers he has begun to soften and appreciate the plight of those around him. Toss in the fragility of his home world of Asgard, his fierce sense of loyalty and compassion for his people, and you have a character with so many layers that allowing him to expand and develop more organically is crucial.

This film gives him that space. It also wades into thorny issues of paternal malfeasance, fraternal competitiveness and grudging love, and familial tension in ways that most universes aren’t capable. The complex relationship between father and sons, brothers, and long lost relations make for a fascinating dynamic when carefully fused with action, adventure, and humor. Waititi shepherded all of these elements together in a cohesive, engaging, and ridiculously fun whole.

The film tackles numerous thematic elements, each given sufficient time to breathe and expand as the viewer is transported into a realistic and compelling world that has only superficially been explored in prior films. While more Marvel movies should consider adopting a similar style, it’s also crucial to tackle the kinds of heady topics that seem destined for exposure in the upcoming Black Panther film. If the MCU can successfully thread the needle between the serious issue films and the exuberant spectacles like Thor: Ragnarok, it’s possible that they could refresh their slowly fading universe.

Oscar Prospects

Potentials: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects

Review Written

November 15, 2017

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