Thor: Ragnarok
The God of Thunder Has a Sense of Humor

After missing out on all the fun in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, Thor and Hulk reappear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Thor: Ragnarok, a movie that immediately stands out as being one of the most unique entries in the franchise.  It stands in stark contrast of the last standalone Thor film, Thor: The Dark World, which proved to be one of the blandest and most generic.  That film, as its title might suggest, was dark and moody.  Thor: Ragnarok, however, is all about being bright, colorful, hip, and humorous.

After searching the cosmos for answers to questions that have troubled him since the events of 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor returns to his home world of Asgard to find that his brother Loki has banished their father and taken the throne for himself.  With the help of a Doctor Strange cameo, Thor is able to locate his father who is on the edge of death.  Odin informs Thor that he has a sister, Hela, who is no less than the Goddess of Death.  She had been banished from Asgard, but upon Odin’s death, Hela will be fighting to return and take what she claims to be her place as ruler of Asgard, something that will not be healthy for any its citizens.

After failing to stop Hela from reaching Asgard, Thor finds himself stranded on a strange planet called Sakaar, which is essentially the trash pile of the universe that is ruled over by a gamesman named Grandmaster.  Thor is immediately taken captive and forced to fight in gladiatorial combat against the Grandmaster’s champion, who turns out to be Hulk.  Thor thinks he should be able to reason with his old pal Bruce Banner, but after spending the last two years in Hulk mode, Banner has lost complete control of his alter-ego.  But Thor must find a way so that Hulk can help him to escape from Sakaar and defend his home world from his sister.

The plot may sound like a somewhat typical superhero storyline and in many ways it is, but the tone of this movie is closer to the Guardians of the Galaxy films than it is to either of the previous Thor films.  There is a spaceship battle and some of the action is set to pop music, just like the way it is handled in Guardians.  Most of the movie takes place well outside the confines of earth and even those scenes that do take place on Earth felt unnecessary; more an attempt to add some more Doctor Strange to the MCU than anything else.

Perhaps the biggest shift in tone from the previous Thor films is that Ragnarok is essentially a comedy.  The film is directed by Taika Watiti, best known up to this point for co-directing the horror comedy What We Do in the Shadows with Jermaine Clement and for directing last year’s New Zealand hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople, one of my personal favorite films from 2016.  Both of those movies rely largely on comedy and the director brings that into the MCU with this film.  There has always been comedy in the Marvel films, most notably Ant-Man, but this is a different kind of comedy.  In a word, it is downright goofy.

This adds a certain freshness that was much needed in the Thor franchise and for the most part it works.  There is a lot of great comedy in Thor: Ragnarok that gets us from action set-piece to action set-piece, with the comedy even filtering through the action.  There are some limitations, though.  There are multiple running gags in the film and some of them felt like they went back to the well one too many times as they became predictable.  And Watiti’s style of letting the actors improvise most of their dialogue, while often keeping the dialogue feeling fresh, sometimes causes scenes to meander on a little too long and aimlessly.

The action in the movie is entertaining, but not particularly memorable.  It suffers a little bit with the problem that plagues the movies in the DC film universe as these characters are simply too powerful for there to be actual stakes involved.  Hulk is an unstoppable force, while Thor, Loki, and Hela are each Gods with seemingly unlimited power.  Hela can even summon unlimited weapons.  The result is actions scenes that focus heavily on destruction and crazy special effects, which is becoming less interesting with each passing film.

Although many of her action scenes felt more like a special effect than anything else, Cate Blanchett does make for an intimidating villain.  Returning as Thor, Chris Hemsworth gets to show off his talent for comedy more than in any of the previous films and it is nice to see Idris Elba get in more on the fighting in this one as the guard Heimdall.  The movie also introduces Tessa Thompson into the Marvel universe as Valkyrie, a character we will hopefully see more of going forward.

Ultimately, Thor: Ragnarok is an entertaining entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that may not completely reinvent the wheel, but does feel much fresher than the character’s last standalone entry.  And with so many superhero movies coming out each year, it is refreshing to see a franchise make the effort to reinvent itself mid-stride.

Thor: Ragnarok is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.”  There were a couple of dirty jokes that stood out, but beyond that the movie is consistent with the rest of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Thor: Ragnarok.