The third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been solid across the board. There has not been a single bad entry since the slate of films began with Captain America: Civil War, though of course, some movies will hold up better than others. Thor: Ragnarok is one of the best Marvel films yet, weaving action and a strong comedic sense into a fast-paced and entertaining space journey.
Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Thor, the god of thunder and Avengers team member, in Marvel’s 17th film, and the third Thor film. The previous movies about the Norse legend and comic book hero were not well received, but following the attempts of Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor, director Taika Waititi has created a memorable vehicle for the character.
Following hints in Avengers: Age of Ultron to the destruction of Thor’s home, Asgard, with the prophesied Ragnarok, the blond Avenger returns home in an attempt to prevent the apocalyptic event. Sidetracked by an attempt to find their father Odin, Thor and his brother Loki go to Earth, leaving Asgard open to invasion by the villain Hela, goddess of death. After an altercation with the goddess, Thor finds himself forced into the role of gladiator, fighting his former teammate, the Hulk, hoping to escape and save his home.
There is a lot that happens in the film, and there are a lot of characters, yet Waititi is able to manage it all, maintaining a flow from beginning to end that is rarely interrupted. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange even makes a brief cameo, hinting at the conflicting protections that the different heroes provide for Earth. It feels natural and part of a living, breathing universe. After the scene ends, the film keeps moving with a strong flow, creating an enjoyable method of storytelling.
Ragnarok is notable for its humor, funny in both big and small ways. Thor undercuts moments of grandiose mythology with his always present wit, but this characteristic especially came to the forefront in the Marvel special feature directed by Waititi, Team Thor. The character’s loud, masculine posture and inexact understanding of Earth’s culture are entertaining as well.
Small moments include the revolution-inciting character Korg, voiced by Waititi, whose light touch is appreciated among the bombast of action. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki makes a reference to a moment in The Avengers, one which was not a universe-shifting plot point, and the entertainment of his line is bolstered by the sense of cohesiveness it gives to the Marvel world.
Most notable in the film is the character of the Grandmaster played by Jeff Goldblum. His stuttering and rambling speech is typical of the actor’s characters. The words are quirky and cruel, yet awkward and entertaining. He is an addition to the Marvel universe, and a character who would do well with an expanded role.
Mark Mothersbaugh’s score for Ragnarok is strong. Though there is not much in the way of noticeable character motifs across the Marvel universe, Doctor Strange’s recognizable harpsichord sound makes an appearance with the character early in the movie. The music throughout is some of the most unique in Marvel’s soundtrack library, touching on some of the traditional sounds of horns and battle, while moving away into the tones of synthesizers. This gives the film a texture of psychedelic space travel.
Thor: Ragnarok is a deconstruction of the titular character. He is confronted with the loss of his hammer, Mjolnir, forced to discover the power within himself. While Thor, the film of the character’s first appearance, delved into this with the exiling of the Norse hero, Ragnarok works a lot better, breaking down a character that is already known. In this movie, delving into the essence of the character is helped by his established enjoyable nature.
Thor’s hammer is broken by the ultra-powerful Hela, played by Cate Blanchett. The moment is one that would have been significantly unexpected in its choice to change the course of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and one of its characters, but it is just another scene revealed in a trailer.
Blanchett’s character is powerful in an undefined way, eliciting confusion with the title “goddess of death,” as the moniker is never fully explained. She does battle and kills many, but the actress shines when she swaggers through the battlefields, confidently flashing a villainous grin.
The action is exciting. Even as the Hulk and Thor make their fourth and fifth outings in the Marvel world, respectively, there is no feeling of staleness. Thor destroying enemies to the tune of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and the Hulk fighting as a space gladiator are both sources of enjoyable and lively combat. A scene where Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie fights atop flying ships is especially a thrill.
Thor: Ragnarok is best because it is a film with a vision, one which is intended to be a comic book movie. Waititi’s fifth feature-length film is a cohesive work, bringing together humor and action, faithfully developing pre-existing characters and creatively introducing new ones. It is a film that is not afraid to have fun or to entertain. It does not take itself too seriously.
With 16 films preceding it, Ragnarok is able to find its own place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is funny, the journey is exciting and the story is strong. Ragnarok is wonderful, much more than a box to check off in seeing the complete Marvel franchise.
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