Review written by Ethan Collins and David Malone
Released November 3, 2017
Rated PG-13 (Sci-Fi Violence and Action, Brief Suggestive Material)
2 hr. 10 min.
Directed by and Starring Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople)
Written by Eric Pearson (Agent Carter), Craig Kyle (Hulk Vs., Planet Hulk), and Christopher Yost (Thor: The Dark World, Star Wars: Rebels)
Cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe (The Others, The Road)
Music by Mark Mothersbaugh (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie)
Edited by Zene Baker (This Is the End, Neighbors) and Joel Negron (Sleepy Hollow, The Nice Guys)
Produced by Kevin Feige (Thor, The Avengers)
Starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Rush), Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers, Crimson Peak), Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Blue Jasmine), Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, Spotlight), Idris Elba (Luther, Pacific Rim), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, Independence Day), Tessa Thompson (Creed, Westworld), Karl Urban (Star Trek, Dredd), Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs, The Edge), Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Doctor Strange), Rachel House (The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Moana), Zachary Levi (Chuck, Thor: The Dark World)
Taika Waititi’s improvisational spirit and style, and his uniquely New Zealand sense of humor, has overpowered the Marvel Cinematic Universe machine and breathed fresh life into what has, up to this point, been the blandest section of the MCU. Thor: Ragnarok is a concise, fast-paced, trippy, techno, glam metal, power metal, rock ‘n’ roll fantasy dream of a superhero film, the most Jack Kirby superhero movie ever. This is portrayed through most aspects of the filmmaking but especially through the visual effects and art design, which are not always realistic but are always excellent and beyond cool.
If you’re at all like us at E.D., you absolutely hate misleading movie trailers. We’ve all seen trailers that captivated us and whetted our appetites for a fun-filled film, only to have our hopes dashed when all of the good scenes are ones we saw in the trailer. No one likes that, and we even feel a little cheated when these situations occur. It’s just not a pleasant experience. If you haven’t yet seen Thor: Ragnarok, you may be wondering if this is the case with this particular film. Let us assuage your concerns – it’s not.
When the first previews for Thor: Ragnarok debuted, we assumed that it would top the first two Thor installments, especially considering our respect for the director. Beyond that, though, our expectations were unsure. The previews showed us lightning emanating from Thor’s eyes, Cate Blanchett crushing Thor’s hammer with one hand, and Hulk dueling with Thor in a Coliseum-like arena. Not only that, but also the addition of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” really tied the trailer together. We can proudly attest that all of the aforementioned scenes and music are included in the film. Well done, Taika Waititi!
Though the first Thor film is kind of underrated, the second is perhaps the most mediocre movie in the MCU, and Thor arguably plays the blandest part of the Avengers films. Few people would argue Thor needed a makeover like Captain America received in The Winter Soldier. And a makeover is what Thor gets here.
Not that this flick is anything like Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This one is chalk-full of jokes and situational comedy. But you shouldn’t worry that the comedy will subtract from the weight of events. In fact, some of the MCU’s most weighty events and situations to date occur here, yet Taika Waititi deftly balances the comedy with the more serious elements, producing something that certainly can be dubbed a comedy yet which never lowers the importance of events. Taika Waititi is a rising master, and he has pulled off similar tone-balancing acts before, albeit on a smaller scale.
For all the folks out there whining, “Why does a movie about the destruction of Asgard need to be funny?” Ragnarok is a movie about the God of Thunder, the God of Mischief, a fallen Valkyrie, and a green giant ultimately fighting the Goddess of Death, an Asgardian gatekeeper, an army of undead, and a huge wolf. There’s also a rainbow bridge, a trash planet, a crazy dictator with a stick that evaporates people, a rock creature, and gladiatorial games. . . They’ve hit upon the ideal tone.
Let’s talk about the characters and performances. A star-studded cast can sometimes diminish from the cohesiveness and direction of a film, and we hoped the addition of MCU newbies Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum would be natural to the story. In the case of Thor: Ragnarok, we didn’t feel like any of the characters were thrown together, and the actors really seemed to have fun with their parts.
The most notable performance is Chris Hemsworth’s as Thor. Hemsworth has always had a comedic edge to this performance, and here he takes that to a new high. It’s part of this movie’s reinvention of Thor and his world, and it works, Thor being the inherently ridiculous character he is. His character has evolved a great deal since 2011’s Thor, going from the naïve, immature son of a god to a more aware citizen of Asgard who realizes the realities his people face. In the past, Thor has turned down the throne from his father Odin, but it may be time for him to take his place as the leader of his people. Despite the challenges and dangers of extinction Asgard faces, his large ego remains intact, yet he has become a better judge of people’s character. Not only has Thor’s character changed, but his look has as well. Some people may have been apprehensive about Thor losing the long hair, but it looks just fine. While the shorter hair seems to make him appear more man than god, the rugged aspect was perfect for Thor’s showdown with Hela.
Playing things even more self-aware and fantastical is Cate Blanchett as Hela. She knows what this movie is and what her character is, and she has immense, sassy fun with it, chewing scenery at an unstoppable pace. Although Blanchett played the ever-so-proper Lady Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, casting Blanchett as the “Goddess of Death” seemed a good fit, considering her superb acting range. Charmingly dubbed, “The Goddess of Death” is the eldest child of Odin and now seeks to usurp the throne of Asgard and plow through anyone who blocks her way. If you thought Thor had confidence in spades, Hela puts him to shame. She doesn’t give Thor the time of day upon their first encounter. Putting aside any pleasantries, she immediately makes her motives known to take Asgard’s throne and demands that Thor and Loki bow before her in submission. Hela is not to be trifled with, and the people of Asgard soon find out she’s as cunning as she is ruthless, and she has the power to back herself up.
Mark Ruffalo is solid as always as Bruce Banner and Hulk. Ruffalo’s performance – troubled, sad, and resigned, yet with a bit of optimism – has been a favorite on-screen iteration of that comic character, and Ruffalo brings the same strength in a movie that lets him have more fun. His Banner here is learning to be more comfortable as Hulk, embracing that side of himself more. Normally, we only see Hulk when it’s time for the Avengers to throw down on some baddies, but Bruce Banner hasn’t made an appearance for the last two years, Hulk having taken over things. We see Hulk as a sore loser and not above taking cheap shots at Thor, but we also get to see Hulk with a childish yet hilarious sense of humor. He’s even developing as a being, learning to talk in a childish way. Not only that, but also this is perhaps the first Hulk where we see a number of facial expressions and mannerisms from Hulk, and Mark Ruffalo doesn’t disappoint in that area either. All these things were refreshing, as they give Hulk more of a personality and make him more relatable. There were few shots with Hulk where we didn’t find ourselves laughing, and aside from Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, Hulk is perhaps Ragnarok‘s funniest character.
Hiddleston is great as always as Loki. The problem child that we all love, Loki is back and still up to no good. The jealousy is still strong with this one, but the relationship between Loki and Thor is perhaps a bit better than it has been in the past. While Thor is a bit peeved at Loki for faking his own death and placing their father, Odin, under a spell, there are some somber moments exchanged between the brothers, showing they still care for each other, even if they have a strange way of showing it. Loki may still maintain his selfish ways, but, strangely enough, he does have room to care for others.
Jeff Goldblum is, well, Jeff Goldblum, except unleashed and at maximum Goldblum capacity, something all of us need a little more of in our lives. There were more than a few moments that Goldblum didn’t play the Grandmaster but was actually playing Jeff Goldblum, with his not-so-subtle sarcastic voice and playful eye movements and hand gestures. Hats off to Waititi for finding a character for Goldblum that allowed him to be himself while adding a great deal to the film. Besides, the inclusion of Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster can only be a good thing for a film with a serious story that doesn’t take itself very seriously.
As for the rest of the cast, Tessa Thompson as a one-time Valkyrie brings a playfully reckless presence but for some unexpectedly emotional reasons. Also, Anthony Hopkins has some fun, Idris Elba gets an expanded role, Waititi himself as Korg is a scene-stealer, and Karl Urban turns in a fine performance as well. Keep your eyes peeled for some fantastic cameos, too!
The music is great here also! Not just the songs used, like Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory implemented to terrific effect, but also the score itself, which is one of the first memorable ones in the MCU. It has all the orchestral flourishes and such, but additionally some wonderful synth swells and pulses.
Now, the bare bones of this movie’s plot are still generic superhero, MCU material. Evil villain, doomsday device, work together as a team to stop villain. Snooze. But what’s laid on top of that familiar foundation bumps this movie up several notches from a meh to an awesome. And what they’ve done here with all the filmmaking aspects makes this one of the tightest MCU films to date.
Our only other negative, beyond generic plot skeleton, is that the movie has two or three emotional moments that don’t pack the punch they should due to the pace and/or jokes. However, it’s not really that big of an issue, because there are several other such moments that do play out effectively. Also, not a negative for us but will be a negative for some, Waititi is in some ways a little disrespectful, in his roguish manner, to the MCU as a whole. If you’re someone who passionately loves the mythos Marvel has built up and don’t want to see it satirized or played with, that might bug you.
Thor: Ragnarok is a magnificent superhero fantasy adventure, a standout addition to the ever-expanding MCU, and a flick you shouldn’t miss.
We’re going to give Thor: Ragnarok an 88%.