Poor Thor. Until now, he was the one Marvel entity that the MCU couldn’t get a decent film out of; Captain America found firm footing with The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man was somehow, miraculously, enjoyable, and even Iron Man was passable for a brief time. But Thor was kind of a stickler; the 2011 movie was fun at points, but it and The Dark World wasted so much time on Earth (and away from all the things that make Thor interesting) that there wasn’t really much of a point to them. Similarly, neither film seems to utilize Chris Hemsworth’s brilliant comic talents, which are on display at several moments in the ensemble Avengers movies.
Thankfully, the brilliant New Zealand director Taika Waititi had the good sense to fix both of these problems, and the result is the brilliantly funny Thor: Ragnarok. Hemsworth’s God of Thunder has gone from moody and arrogant to playfully arrogant over the last few years of Marvel movies, and his quickfire quips are out in full force even in the opening scenes. He greets the demon Surtur with all the snarkiness of a certain Star Lord, then kicks demonic butt to the sounds of Led Zeppelin. It’s really cool. Maybe it leans a little too heavily into the style that made Guardians of the Galaxy successful, but it works here; before Ragnarok, no one was taking Thor’s standalone adventures seriously, and no one seems to have any emotional investment in him as a character. With that in mind, Waititi decided to make a movie that, for the most part, is just fun, and it’s all the better for it.
The Asgardian elements of the plot seem basic at first, but they develop into something a little more interesting. Cate Blanchett’s Hela, Goddess of Death, has been all over the trailers, and she is most certainly here to wreak havoc on pretty much everything. She’s a fantastic character, brilliantly portrayed by Blanchett, and she goes hands on in what might be the coolest fight scene of the whole movie. What becomes interesting is why Hela was locked away; or rather, the difference between Odin’s story and Hela’s own. I shall say no more, but it’s certainly a poignant comment for the film to make.
Thor isn’t around for any of this; after a brief but meaningful excursion on Earth, he and Loki (Tom Hiddleston, whom we have sorely missed) find themselves trapped on the planet Sicar, where most of the movie takes place. This is where the fun really starts; we’re introduced to a vibrant, colourful setting for our action, and we also get to meet our fantastic side characters; Tessa Thompson is great fun, though I won’t spoil who she is. Waititi himself makes an appearance as Korg, a charmingly dopey rock creature with an adorable New Zealand accent. And, as trailers have already made clear, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk makes a welcome return, and much of the film plays on the brilliant chemistry between him and Thor. The standout supporting cast member, however, is undeniably Jeff Goldblum. He’s always had a… strange… screen presence, but everything about the Grandmaster he portrays lets him lean into that brilliantly. His outfit, his mannerisms, that weird little stripe of a beard he has, it’s all pure Goldblum. An eccentric weirdo with an entire planet under his control; I can’t think of more perfect casting.
The Asgard moments of the film are less fun, as they’re mostly what drive the plot. They’re interesting, for sure, but all of the fun characters are on the other side of the universe (which is fair enough, as Asgard goes up in flames pretty quickly). They’re a nice break in the pacing, but sometimes those breaks get applied a little too hard. They almost feel like the movie Marvel wanted to make, in direct contract with the more fun scenes that Waititi wanted. Like every Marvel movie of late, it could do with being trimmed a little; there’s a lot of neat ideas bouncing around here, but they don’t all get the chance to be anything more than a cool shot or a punchline.
All in all though, Thor: Ragnarok is a solid film; now that Marvel has learned the hard way that too much self-seriousness is tiresome, even the lower-tier entries are still fun to watch. Not that this is a lower-tier entry, however; it’s a cracking film, and the first in a long time that doesn’t feel forced into the wider world of the MCU. It’s got high stakes, but it functions as a small, standalone adventure, and it works very well. Highly recommended.