Review: Thor: Ragnarok Teaches an Old God a Few New Tricks

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Set two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok once again follows the extraterrestrial crown prince of Asgard as he returns to his home dimensional kingdom in the hope of preventing Ragnarok, the mythical apocalypse and prophesied fall of Asgard itself. However, obstacles soon arise in the form of the newly freed Death goddess, Hela, whose conquest results in Thor cast from his own kingdom to the garbage-strewn planet of Sakaar, ruled over by the hedonistic Grandmaster. Reuniting and joining forces with former ally and Avenger, the Hulk, and his mischievous brother, Loki, Thor must now fight to regain his rightful place within his kingdom, all the while preventing its utter annihilation.

Among the characters of the MCU, Thor unfortunately comes across as the most uneven in his place within the overall narrative, at least in terms of becoming fully integrated.   Reasoning for this likely stems from difficulty in developing a strong middle-ground in approaching what such over-the-top and grandiose material can provide, while also trying to maintain a “human level” set closer to reality.  And while solid entertainment, and the first film standing out as the first of Marvel’s productions to take audiences beyond Earth (if only briefly) to locations never seen before, Thor’s films only either seemed to just scratch the surface of a much larger universe or were only developed with a narrative designed for providing necessary filler to build and connect future projects.  But under the direction of New Zealand’s Taika Waititi, best known known for such absurd and wonderfully offbeat comedies as What We Do in the Shadows and The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Ragnarok delivers the fresh and reinvigorating boost that the Thunder God and his franchise have been needing.  Rather than downplaying the weirdness and the preposterousness, the film fully embraces it.  And told through smart writing, Waititi’s energetic and precise direction, and excellent performances all around, Ragnarok escapes the confines of Earth and dives headlong into a fun, exciting and extremely funny cosmic adventure straight out of 80s Science-Fiction/Fantasy, while successfully balancing legitimate stakes and dramatic payoffs.  All delivered with such gusto, that one is left by the end wondering why it’s only just now this has been attempted.

In terms of production the film spares no expense in delivering strong action set-pieces and production design, with impressive and unapologetic CGI filling the screen with vibrant colour and energy akin to the best drawn 80s-album covers; all set to a distinct and pulse pounding score supplied by Mark Mothersbaugh in addition to perfect use of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” (which if not already, will be stuck in your head *long* after the film’s end).

But while excellent production notwithstanding, a movie is only as good as the characters it provides, and Ragnarok delivers with yet another fine ensemble cast, with each performance a stand-out but neither stealing the show for all their own.

Chris Hemsworth  gives some of his best work taking on the title role once again, but with particular praise deserved for reinvention.  Stretching more of his comedic chops this time around, Hemsworth still maintains the same boldness and confidence charging every action scene with pure excitement, while successfully identifiable with a humanizing and vulnerable portrayal of the character.  Acknowledging that even a character of such gravitas and power is not above a bit of parody.  In support, Tom Hiddleston again radiates with his usual flair and charisma as Loki; Mark Ruffalo (in unintentionally one of the best accidental Hulk films) is finally given far more time to actually develop personality as Hulk, while serving additional levity as Banner, effectively progressing the character beyond the monster-role originally presented.  Tessa Thompson is revolutionary as the film’s liberal reinterpretation of Valkyrie; and Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum, clearly having the most fun out of all the cast, ham up the screen gloriously while still maintaining strong sense of menace respectively as Hela and Grandmaster.

If there is any criticisms to be had, it can perhaps be attributed to the films over-abundance of humour; which while almost always on point, can find itself stretching now and again, looking to gain a laugh at almost every minute.  And in comparison to past films, while a welcome change in past formula, it may come to be expected of fans of the franchise finding the sudden tone shift to be perhaps a bit jarring.  And finally while certainly providing a strong advantage in reinventing the franchise, audiences may be remiss in feeling that said tone borrows heavily from Marvel’s past success originating with 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, an influence to almost every film since even to projects directly competing with Marvel’s property. 

But as a film on its own, with a firm vision and style intact, Thor: Ragnarok is simply too much fun in it’s unashamed goal in delivering the right amount of pure entertainment one can only ask for in a blockbuster, whether for fans of superheroes, classic action or simple escapism.  Giving not only a Thor film audiences deserve, but the character himself has deserved since his debut standing out as easily the best of the trilogy, deconstructing and rebuilding the character for whole new adventures, and setting new standards in the MCU’s world-building as yet another classic among Marvel’s Phase 3 lineup.  Today, Marvel’s trail of success has ranged from average to overall critical acclaim, and it’s almost inconceivable that moviegoers would miss out on the continuing universe.  Whatever the future may bring to the MCU, when put in the hands of visionaries like Waititi and his contemporaries, and taken with the same level of risks and fun, audiences are sure to never be disappointed.

Ken Sims
Ken Sims
Ken is a graduate of the University of Alberta, studying Drama and Film Studies. When not trying his hand at writing his own projects, he actively pursues his other passions for performing on stage and screen.



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