There’s no better cinematic experience than being won over by a movie you had doubts about. I have issues with the prior two Thor movies, which both, to some extent, squandered the kind of cosmic bombast and grandeur that a Thor movie is capable of in exchange for pedestrian storytelling that places the God of Thunder on Earth with uninteresting supporting characters for far too long (side note: I consider Thor: The Dark World to be the worst MCU film thus far); and I was worried that there would be more of the same with Thor: Ragnorak. Thankfully, the third time seems to have been the charm, as this movie, helmed by famed New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, is an impressively entertaining piece of science-fiction pulp that finally gives Thor the epic and fun solo outing he deserves.
The plot concerns the return of Thor and Loki’s evil sister, Hela, the Goddess of Death, to Asgard, as she seeks to take it over, along with the other realms of the universe. In the process of fighting her, Thor’s mighty hammer is destroyed and he himself is stranded on a strange planet in which he is forced into slavery as a gladiator. There he encounters an old friend, Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Now they, with the help of both new and familiar faces, must work together to get off the planet, return to Asgard, and end Hela’s reign of terror.
As you can probably tell by that summary, very little of this movie takes place on Earth. There’s a relatively short sequence at the beginning involving Doctor Strange when the movie is set on Earth, but after that everything is off world. There’s also no Jane (or Selvig or Darcy) this time (there’s a throw away line indicating that Thor and Jane broke up). And all of that is a good thing. I’ve had enough of the fish-out-of-water Thor in Man’s world. The character is best when he’s in various alien realms with outlandish beings, not spending time in a relatively mundane setting on Planet Earth with ordinary human beings. That the bulk of this movie seems to recognize this is terrific.
Anyways, this movie is a lot fun throughout. There’s plenty of great action, colorful scenes and sets, and terrific looking creatures. There’s no shortage of creativity and energy in the film. More importantly, this movie has impressive pacing and structure as well as writing that’s surprisingly clever at times. The narrative flows smoothly between three well-defined acts, with good plotting and a strongly-executed and quite cathartic finale. It never drags or feels rushed, but takes the right amount of time to tell its story. Moments and dialogue earlier in the film pay off later on, often very satisfyingly, and there’s a real sense of progression and development in the main characters over the course of the narrative.
Hemsworth brings the most enthusiasm to his character that he’s ever brought, and this is easily his best performance as the God of Thunder. He pulls off a swash buckling, charming, smart, and daring action hero with resounding success, and he has great chemistry with the likes of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Mark Ruffalo’s The Hulk, and MCU newcomer Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, who all turn in great performances themselves. Cate Blanchett acquits herself honorably as Hela; she hams up her performance as a diabolical nemesis to an enjoyably absurd level, cackling as she spits out archetypal lines of over-the-top villainy. And then there’s Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, the ruler of the planet where Thor is enslaved. His delightfully awkward persona feels right at home in this alien world, affirming his unique acting talent.
Unfortunately, a few of the supporting characters do get the short end of the stick. The Warriors Three are barely in this movie, and what happens to them seems like a total waste. There are similar issues regarding Idris Elba as Heimdall and Anthony Hopkins as Odin. These characters play important roles but nevertheless don’t have much screen time and end up getting slightly back burnered by the rest of the narrative. Their roles in the story could have been handled better. That said, these don’t do too much harm to the plot.
As with the previous Thor movies, this one plays heavy on the jokes; indeed, it has one foot firmly planted in the world of Flash Gordon – level camp. I admit I was annoyed by the amount of comedy in the previous Thor movies, as they always seemed to distract from what was going on and undermined the melodrama. I suppose that’s probably also a little bit true here too, but overall the comedy works much better. It’s integrated with the plot a bit more smoothly, so there are less instances where the story stops dead in its tracks for the sake of a gag. More importantly, a lot of the jokes are smarter and more high brow this time (there’s thankfully no equivalent of Thor: The Dark World‘s asinine bit of Dr. Selvig refusing to wear pants in this movie, which was a poor attempt at humor if ever there was one). I’d still have liked it if this movie played itself a touch more seriously, as I think it would go along better with the epicness of the story, but I also can’t deny that I smiled and even laughed at some of the comedy.
As I said at the beginning, I had my doubts about Thor: Ragnarok, but there’s no arguing with the quality of the end product. Not only is it a good movie, but it takes near-full advantage of the epic science-fiction narrative possibilities that the character and his world enable. I’m sure this will be up for debate, but for me, Thor: Ragnarok is the best use of Thor on film to date. It’s also, I think, the best MCU film not to feature Iron Man or Captain America (yes, I’d even put it over Guardians of the Galaxy). I am definitely looking forward to a grand turn from Thor in Avengers: Infinity War.