When terrorized by Ragnarok,
(The end of the world? What a shock!),
Mighty Thor will not shrink.
With a boom and a wink,
He’ll prevail while the rest of us gawk.
MPAA rating: PG-13
It’s safe to say that the Thor movies are probably the least loved of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (except maybe The Incredible Hulk, but with Mark Ruffalo’s recast, that one’s barely even connected). Thor and Thor: The Dark World aren’t bad films and are still perfectly entertaining fusions of Shakespearean drama and alien hammer battles, but compared with the rest of the MCU, they’re just not that memorable, despite being the source of Marvel’s best villain thus far, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Hiddleston’s trickery and Chris Hemsworth’s muscular appeal helped the Thor movies not drag down their more acclaimed cousins, but it seems that Thor has finally found his hit, not with earth-threatening gravitas but tongue-in-cheek comedy, courtesy of New Zealand director Taika Waititi.
Those paying attention during Captain America: Civil War might have noticed that two of the Avengers were absent from the whole schism. So what were Thor and the Hulk up to in the meantime? Quite a lot actually. The post-credits scene of Doctor Strange hinted that Thor would be looking for his father Odin, but aside from a neat little cameo for the Sorcerer Supreme, the search for Odin isn’t a main plot point. Instead, there’s the arrival of Thor’s long-banished sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, whose power overwhelms Thor and his hammer and sends him hurtling onto a distant planet of garbage and gladiators. There he encounters both the sadistic Grandmaster (ever-colorful Jeff Goldblum) and the long lost Hulk, whose two-year leave has widened his vocabulary and made the big green guy more of an actual character than merely a secret weapon, borrowing from the Planet Hulk storyline of the comics.
While most of the buzz for Ragnarok has been positive, there is a minority who find that the lighter tone cheapens the proceedings, especially considering how dark Hela’s takeover gets. I can definitely see that; the body count is high, including characters from past Thor movies, yet only one gets even some brief token grief, while the others are sloughed off without a passing glance. This might seem callous in a film so filled with gags that it clearly doesn’t want you to dwell on anything but the entertainment. But entertaining it is.
Fans of Guardians of the Galaxy should be quite pleased with how Ragnarok emulates its quirky alien diversity, but Waititi adds his own Kiwi sense of humor, in person actually playing a soft-spoken rock-covered gladiator named Korg. He also brings along Rachel House (as the Grandmaster’s assistant) and a briefly seen Sam Neill (as an Odin actor) from his previous film Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I was also shocked to learn that Matt Damon has a cameo I totally missed. The jokes are many, often droll and sometimes at the expense of past Marvel films, stepping back from the expected superheroics to chuckle before doing them anyway. It’s a fun mix, particularly the rivalry/rapport between Thor and Loki, and although Ragnarok also follows Guardians of the Galaxy in thinking it’s funnier than it actually is, there’s enough varied humor here to please anyone, especially when the whole cast seems to have had so much fun making it.
The action, though, is where Thor: Ragnarok really ups the ante. From the big Thor vs. Hulk fight to a Guardians-ish spaceship chase, the effects are an epic thrill to behold, augmented by the presence of Hemsworth’s more cheeky Thor and likely fan favorite Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Karl Urban also has a nice little character arc as a would-be lackey of Hela’s, along with one of the many awesome scenes of the finale. But there’s no beating Thor’s big battle toward the end, made brilliantly epic by Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”
So yes, Thor: Ragnarok is far more memorable than its predecessors, attracting every conceivable synonym of “fun,” “epic,” and “awesome.” While it has its dramatic moments, the constant jokery keeps things so light that the gravity of certain situations only sinks in later. Despite the fact that Ragnarok leaves several lasting impacts on the MCU, it still feels oddly disposable, like really amusing filler meant to set the stage for next year’s Infinity War. (Can’t wait!) It may or may not go down as one of Marvel’s best, but even if it doesn’t, it’s still Thor-oughly entertaining.
Best line: (Bruce Banner, to Loki) “Last time we saw you, you were trying to kill everyone. What are you up to these days?” (Loki) “It varies from moment to moment.”
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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