Marvel will go down in the history books as having the most ingenious, self-sustaining film franchises in movie history. Since starting their “Cinematic Universe” back in 2008 with the introduction of Nick Fury and the Avengers Initiative in the post-credit scene of Iron Man, people have flocked to the theaters to get a taste of all the interconnected stories that have since built this magnificent universe. Several other companies have tried to start their own universes to muddled results because what they don’t seem to understand in building a world like this is that you need the trust of the audience to make it work. DC and Paramount have yet to earn any confidence in characters that an audience cares about and a story that doesn’t reek of desperation. Marvel’s universe was grown organically and they built a fan base before connecting their films outside of the mid/post-credit scenes. They respected their audience, hired a team that understood the source material and loved the characters to a degree that would ground the ideas in a realistic shell, but stay true to the heart of what everyone expects from a comic-book.
Marvel’s newest entry into the MCU is a third attempt at getting one of the most iconic characters on their roster to fit into their universe. By all accounts it’s been hard to find a way to fit Thor (Chris Hemsworth) into the growing storyline without it seeming false or unrelated. Which makes sense, since he is a god from another planet (and another realm), so what exactly would motivate him to play around on an insignificant planet such as Earth and help humans fight our pitiful, mundane problems? Having brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wreck havoc in an attempt to rule over Earth was a good start, but Thor always felt a little out of place in Avengers: Age of Ultron, especially since they basically sidelined him for half the movie to go on a quest that had nothing to do with the actual threat of the film, and instead was one of the only times producers tried to shoehorn in a setup for a future film.
With Thor: Ragnarok, über-producer Kevin Feige and director Taika Waititi have finally figured out the winning formula of how to make not only Thor relevant to the overall franchise, but the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) as well. Based on the previous Thor films, the tone of Ragnarok starts out a little odd, as if Feige and Waititi were looking to capitalize on the popularity of Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man instead of giving him his own voice while incorporating some of that humor naturally. From the opening shot, Thor is thrust into situations and given a slew of ham-fisted one-liners that would be much more suitable to the likes of Starlord or that wily webslinger. Fortunately, as the movie continues, you’re able to settle into this tone quite easily, setting up a wondrous second half that plays like a Laurel and Hardy buddy comedy surrounded by visually stunning action and a new team of ragtag superheroes that defeat their villains with some unexpected and unorthodox means.
When Thor returns to his home world of Asgard after spending a couple of years searching for the infinity stones and stopping anything that may seek to harm the nine realms under Asgard’s protection, he immediately finds out that his father is actually Loki in disguise. When the two brothers return to Earth to locate Odin (Anthony Hopkins), they discover his imminent death is about to bring about an evil hellbent on destroying all of the realms and ruling over the universe. It turns out this evil is Odin’s first child, a daughter, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who ruled with Odin until he locked her away because her power and drive for domination grew much too powerful.
In their first encounter with Hela, Thor and Loki are both knocked from the Bifrost and end up on Sakaar, a planet that seems to be the garbage dump for all cosmic trash. Thor is quickly found and sold to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) as a “prisoner with a job” who must defeat the Grandmaster’s ultimate beast in a battle royal to earn his freedom. When Thor finds out the beast is actually the Hulk, he uses his power of persuasion to recruit him and his captor, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), to find a way to escape the planet and stop Hela from destroying the universe.
It’s quite clear that everyone on screen is having a blast. Blanchett oozes malevolence in every pour of her being, turning Hela into one nasty, formidable villain; Goldblum is at his Jeff Golblumiest best; Ruffalo fits right in with the vibe and atmosphere of his character’s turmoil; and newcomer Thompson makes defiance and reckless abandon feel fun and natural. The film also introduces a slew of new alien creatures, one of which, Korg (voiced by Waititi himself), looks as if he may have a grand ole time if he makes it into Infinity War. None of the characters detract from our main heroes (or anti-heroes); instead they add a new layer to the already contentious relationship between Thor and Loki, giving each of them something new to think about and learn from and evolve.
Adding Hulk (aka Bruce Banner) to the mix also adds a new compelling layer to the proceedings, tying up some loose ends while turning him into a fantastic comic foil for everyone on screen and giving us a chance to see how both characters will fit in when they finally meet and team up with the Guardians and Spider-Man. I’m still not sure I’m a fan of the soundtrack to the film, which to me felt slightly off, again maybe trying a bit too hard to invoke the feel and essence form other films in the franchise (though having Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory‘s “Pure Imagination” play as Thor gets introduced to Sakaar through a weird, psychedelic head-trip of a tunnel was genius).
All-in-all, Thor: Ragnarok takes a character from the outskirts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and creates an interesting and delightful journey of self-exploration and change that should have some lasting effects, if not on the MCU as a whole, then certainly on Thor and his ultimate future as both the god of thunder and an Avenger.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include Daddy’s Home 2 and Murder on the Orient Express. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.