Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Directed by Taika Waititi
Hollywood's in a weird place right now. Franchises reign but sequels still aren't everything they could be. Marvel, though, has their movie-making down to a science, almost. While the Thor franchise has been a learning process, Thor: Ragnarok feels like it's finally hit it's stride.
Ragnarok picks up 2 years after Age of Ultron with Thor in chains. After defeating a demon named Surtur and returning to Asgard, he reunites with Loki. The brothers travel to Earth in search of Odin in the hopes of bringing him home. But soon after finding him they're told about Hela, their older sister and the Goddess of Death, a violent, hateful, ambitious warrior. Odin soon fades away, signaling Hela's return. Thor and Loki greet her and after a quick disagreement Hela destroys Mjolnir with a single hand. After a brief battle, Loki and Thor are cast out by her, landing in Sakaar, a bold, colorful, vibrant planet on the edges of known space that embraces a gladiatorial contest. Thor finds himself a captured contestant and soon-to-be gladiator, trying to make sense of his predicament and desperate to return home and stop Hela.
It becomes obvious very quickly that Marvel is embracing a more vibrant method, less focused on gritty realism. Sakaar is a place right out of Guardians of the Galaxy, full of everything that we've wanted more of. Ragnarok is the signal that superhero movies are embracing the classic camp that made movies like Superman so memorable. It isn't overdone but it's woven so nicely into the story and acting that it feels refreshing, oddly enough.
While Guardians embraced the outlandish, unbelievable, and a more comedic approach, Iron Man followed a more humorous, action-packed approach, and Spider-Man tried a more dramatic, tense approach, Ragnarok is a hefty but skillful combination of all of the above. No matter which style you prefer there's enough here to satisfy everyone: comedy, action, tension, drama... In fact, that may be the only real complaint to make. There's so much filling the movie that it's literally bursting, on the verge of never quite working, but somehow keeping itself moving from point to point.
The story moves so quickly that the only breathing room is filled with exposition and humor. So we get a breakneck pace where every instant is full of something, whether it's action, intrigue, or plot details. There's always something to pay attention to. In that regard the movie's exhausting.
But it works.
And it's fun.
While some dialogue feels unnecessary the acting is great. Chris Hemsworth carries the movie with all it's heft, driving the chemistry between Hiddleston, Ruffalo, and Thompson. Everyone feels completely at ease in their roles. We're done with the completely forced contributions from the likes of Natalie Portman.
And Valkyrie is a far better love interest than Jane is. We don't even get to see their interactions flourish and grow but the little taste of their relationship is glorious and welcome.
And while everything is a vast, gorgeous, sweeping set piece with amazing visuals, the characterizations are great. The enormously CG extravaganza has all the makings of an impersonal, derivative blockbuster but, instead, the characters feel real and how they interact with each other does, too.
Now, even though everyone interacts well and has great exposition and character building, it does have to be said that Hulk feels like an unnecessary addition. We can effectively say goodbye to any hope of a Planet Hulk story arc, unless Feige and co. come up with a very clever way to reintroduce Sakaar, Korg, Miek, and the Grandmaster. His inclusion in Ragnarok feels like a way to ramp up action and to build up the character of Hulk for future movies. Now, that's not a bad thing, but he never quite feels like he belongs in the story, regardless of how well he's written or acted.
Speaking of action, it's awesome. Ragnarok brings us something that hasn't really existed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: danger. Spider-Man: Homecoming had tension but it was more of a coming-of-age story than an action movie; Civil War had a massive interpersonal conflict between groups of main characters... It's true that Age of Ultron has a character death but it's not because of inherent and ever-present danger, it's a sacrifice made by a character as redemption. Ragnarok is different. Hela's presence and inherent power is terrifying. It's true that this was spoiled in trailers, but the moment of seeing it and how each character is affected is different and profound. For once, the main characters Thor, Loki, et al never quite feel safe.
As a result the action is vigorous. Asguardians are tough to kill, as one character even mentions for us, but when they're fighting each other it's a different story. That desperate, back-peddling action is a testament to Thor's arc. He's always been nearly impervious. It seems like it's only ever been someone like Loki or similar otherworldly powers who could injure him and vice versa, so that moment where Hela uses a single hand to completely crumble Mjolnir we know he's outclassed. And the journey and trigger of his realization that there's truth to his title of "God of Thunder" is built up and immensely satisfying in the face of the "Goddess of Death." But it's not quite enough: Thunder vs Death. There's finally an actual struggle and just about every bit of action reflects that.
And to highlight that desperate action we're treated to a delicious soundtrack. Every moment of drama, tension, and action are perfectly in beat with the lively, synthetic musical backing. Previous entries have been entirely forgettable but, again for the first time, the music is almost a character unto itself.
It's utterly apparent the affect that Guardians has had on the Marvel movies and the change is utterly welcome. The gritty realism has it's place in movies like Iron Man but the refresh works amazingly for Ragnarok; what Thor had before was okay but this bold, vibrant, lively style is entirely better for the characters and stories.
TL;DR: Ragnarok is not the best Marvel movie, but it's one of the best. It's definitely the best Thor movie. That's not saying too much but it's the best by a healthy margin. The story is better, the action is better, the humor is better. And maybe the best thing: Ragnarok is the funnest Thor entry by a huge margin. And even though the movie moves fast every moment is full of drama, tension, color, action, liveliness, and a delicious soundtrack to match every single beat.
- Acting – 17 / 20
- Story – 15 / 20
- Cinematography – 16 / 20
- Soundtrack – 7 / 10
- Entertainment Factor – 9 / 10
- Sci-Fi/Fantasy – 7 / 10
- Other – 5 / 10