As a child of the NES and Aqua Net generation, I cut my cinematic teeth on the movies from Cannon Films and Orion Pictures like Masters of the Universe and Robocop. It’s my firm belief that the best action movies truly came from the 1980s. Certainly, they aren’t high brow or even have intelligent or coherent plot logic in many cases, but they were fun. So why am I mentioning these film studios and this rad decade when talking about Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel’s latest cinematic universe release?
Because Thor: Ragnarok, intentional or not, is a love letter in many ways to this time period of action and sci-fi & fantasy films. It could sit shoulder to shoulder with the oiled up Dolph Lundgren He-Man vehicle or the underrated fantasy adventure of Krull. It’s probably the most fun movie of 2017 and the most fun MCU movie to date. Yes, possibly even (gasp!) edging out the first Guardians of the Galaxy.
You’ve got Cate Blanchett chewing scenery fabulously like bubblegum and clearly having a ball, Jeff Goldblum essentially being Space Goldblum on full tilt, basically everyone dropping wisecracks, a neon color palette, and it’s completely ridiculous but it all works and is full of all the things that make a lot of the ‘80s cult classics so awesome. Even the opening title scene music feels like something out of an ‘80s fantasy movie. And it works, chiefly, because director Taika Waititi seems to be the first director on a Marvel Film to really understand how to use Chris Hemsworth and how to make Thor more than just the straight man fish out of water. This is the first solo Thor film and film with him in general where he feels like a complete and well-rounded character. Sure, they’ve given Hemsworth a few line or twos in the past that were humorous, but Waititi goes full stop on leveraging Hemsworth’s comedic talent.
While I found the previous two Thor films okay, he always seemed overshadowed by the charismatic and villainous Loki and consequently had also felt like the most one note of the Avengers in general because in the ensemble films it almost felt like Whedon didn’t know what to do with him. When I heard Waititi would be directing the third installment of Thor, I had a huge surge of hope for the character and the film as I absolutely adore the work he did with What We Do In the Shadows (which everyone reading should go watch immediately.) And he didn’t disappoint. Spoilers but not really since he’s in the trailer, Loki is prominent in this movie but it’s the first time he doesn’t overshadow Thor in the story. If anything, it feels like Hemsworth and Hiddleston are finally more equal in terms of charisma.
But we should talk about the plot, right? It goes thusly: Thor has been trying to find answers to the dreams that have been plaguing him of Ragnarok, the fall of the Gods and Asgard. When he returns home, he finds his father, Odin, acting oddly while everyone watches a dramatic play rendition of Loki’s death and we see one of the best cameos ever in a Marvel film. Being actually more intelligent than normally portrayed in previous films, Thor realizes it’s Loki in disguise and that Odin is not on Asgard and they need to find him. Cue interception by Dr. Strange, where we see the longer version of the trailer stinger scene at the end of Dr. Strange and Strange sends Thor and Loki to Norway where Odin is. Odin is at the end of his days, but his death means she will be released. She being Hela, Goddess of Death and Odin’s first child, kept imprisoned by his power due her relentless ambition and bloodlust. All that’s gold in Asgard wasn’t won gently, as Thor eventually learns. With Odin gone, Hela breaks loose to claim Asgard, and as Thor and Loki initially stop her they are scattered through the Rainbow Bridge, ending up on the scavenger-like planet Sakaar. Enter the Grandmaster aka Jeff Goldblum in a role he was destined to play.
The Grandmaster is basically like a Roman Emperor, ruling over his planet with charm, swagger and propaganda and keeping the peasants in line and entertained with future space gladiator combat. Unfortunately for Thor, captured by one of his scavengers who was once an Asgardian Valkyrie, he finds himself the next gladiator up to fight the Gandmaster’s champion. For comic fans, this is where we see the Planet Hulk influence coming in as our fave angry green bringer of the smash arrives to the movie and Thor is ecstatic to see his friend from work. Until Hulk smashes and Thor crashes into a wall.
Meanwhile, Hela is swatting any Asgardians who rebel like flies, enlisting the aid of Skurge (Karl Ubran) as her Executioner, a gun-loving Asgardian janitor who replaced the exiled Heimdall when Loki was posing as Odin. Skurge wants glory and to be remembered, even if it means initially betraying his people. It’s delightful to see Urban in this role, as usually he’s more of the straight up hero or sassypants space doctor. It’s also funny how Marvel movies are becoming a Lord of the Rings franchise reunion, but then the UK (and by extension Oceania) only has like fifteen main actors so Bob’s your uncle.
This movie has two main stories happening; Hela’s return and takeover of Asgard and then Thor trying to escape Sakaar to fight Hela and save Asgard. Ultimately, Thor as a character has a huge growth arc in this film between his experiences on Sakaar and facing off against his ultra powerful older sister. This is, though, where one of my major but few criticism of this movie kicks in; this really felt almost like two separate movies happening at the same time and the story spends possibly too much time with the Sakaar plot and not a lot with Hela. For being the biggest and baddest villain Thor would face to date, she seems almost non-present for a lot of the film but then apparently Waititi had a lot more footage Marvel asked him to cut, so I’d be curious to see how much of her stuff was possibly cut. Separately, each storyline could work on its own, but together it feels like time in unevenly spent in the final cut. There were times when callbacks to previous films were a bit too on the nose and too much, like repeating the Hulk’s lullaby in too many scenes and while one or two sprinkled about were fine (like “Damn you, Stark. Point Break.”), it adds up eventually to be fan service in a way that makes you want some actual restraint applied. While not a criticism on my end, because I realized fairly early on the tone of the film was going for action comedy, some might find a lot of the dialogue and stuff in this movie too silly and not dramatic enough. But you know, this isn’t setting out to be like Captain America: Winter Soldier or Man of Steel. Not every Marvel superhero film needs to be high drama or survive CinemaSins with a score below 200.
Sometimes the big, loud, silly comic movie is exactly what that superhero movie should be, and Thor Ragnarok is near perfect in this regard and an instant cult classic. It absolutely sits up there for me with Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy and I strongly feel it will go down to be in people’s top 3 MCU movies. For all its quibbles, it’s still a goddamn delight of a movie to watch and like the best breather possible between conflict heavy Civil War and the impending Infinity Wars.
It’s my hope now that Avengers: Infinity Wars takes the awesomeness Waititi built upon with the character and rolls with it because this is the Thor we’ve needed to see for years now, wising up to Loki’s shit and owning up to his God of Thunder status in full.