Thor has not had the same level of quality in his solo outings as his fellow Avengers within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite becoming the third MCU character to cap off a trilogy, no Thor movie has been able to achieve the brilliance of the original Iron Man or Captain America: The Winter Solider. However, with New Zealand’s own Taika Waititi leading the charge with Thor: Ragnarok, it is our pleasure to report that the God of Thunder finally has a film worthy of his peers. This film is drenched in kitschy 80s aesthetic and brimming with self-aware humor, putting Marvel’s resident meathead at the heart of an entertaining ode to genre flicks of old.
Whisking the audience away to the vibrant, colorful world of Sakaar, the marked shift in locations from Earth to an alien world serves the son of Odin well. Thor is no longer hampered by being grounded in the familiar setting of our planet, transforming the tone from a fish out of water story into a clearly-defined adventure movie. This is Chris Hemsworth’s best work in the guise of Thor, allowing him to fully exercise his comedy chops. He’s long been among the funniest actors in Hollywood, never afraid of making himself the butt of the joke. Instead of the comedy coming from Thor’s ignorance of the world, the idea of him as a wise-cracking brute, who is almost aware that he’s playing the part of a hyperbolic hero in a movie is implemented effectively.
The rest of the cast do not disappoint, with Mark Ruffalo serving as a stand out. The dynamic between himself as both Bruce Banner and Hulk that he shares with Thor is something that will please audiences who have wanted more interactions between them since The Avengers. The buddy movie style of their relationship is surprisingly fresh in what is now movie number seventeen of this colossal franchise. Bolstering the two Avengers is a powerhouse cast that lives up fully to its promise. Cate Blanchett is, sadly, a little underutilized as Hela, with less screen time than I’d hoped for, but she dominates every scene in which she appears, as is to be expected from one of the best actors alive today. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie provides no-nonsense badassery, even playing her funnier moments completely straight and creating some top notch deadpan laughs. As for Jeff Goldblum, he is at his most Golblum-y as the Grand Master and it certainly is a sight to behold.
The strongest aspect overall is undeniably Mark Mothersbaugh’s score. The wavy synth pop influences transport the viewer back to an age of loud hair and garish clothing. This is the most wonderfully-original and unique score yet in a Marvel film, managing to forge an identity for the campy visual content without the use of already established songs a la Guardians of the Galaxy (minus one notable exception). None of the more outlandish moments feel out of place with such a boisterous musical accompaniment, and it’s a welcome change after the drab lifelessness of The Dark World’s score and color palette.
There’s a real sense of clear cut pace and direction here that understands the ever-kinetic construction of comic books. Motion and plot development is integral to keeping the story engaging and instilling fun into that makes the adventure seem worthwhile. It’s obvious that not only does Waititi respect comic books, but knows how to mold it to his own artistic vision. Ragnarok is undoubtedly a Taika Waititi film that is tuned to the frequency of Marvel’s playground. The irreverent, off-the-wall zaniness of What We Do in the Shadows is proudly displayed here, combined with satisfying if also unspectacular action. There is somewhat of a stunted third act that fails to live up to the pomposity of the first two, with the dispatch of the villain being a little abrupt, but there is more than enough goodwill built up by then that it doesn’t impact the entire film much.
Thor: Ragnarok is proof that a great Thor movie is not only possible, but that the title character is among the most likable and useful members of the Avengers roster. The talents of the cast are used in full, even if there is a desire for a little more of certain characters. While the action is nothing to write home about, the consistency of tone and charm of the main players makes for yet another solid entry into Marvel’s canon. It’s been a good year for this universe, and the decision to release an unprecedented three MCU films in a twelve-month period hasn’t led to diminishing returns. Don’t wait for the hammer to fall. See Thor: Ragnarok as soon as you can if you want entertainment in its purest form.