by Jonathan Cornell
Thor Ragnarok is the seventeenth feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the third to be released this year, after Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man Homecoming. Though Marvel Studios has yet to release a real misfire, its record setting combination of spot-on casting, action, and humor has become rather tired in the eyes of many fans. However, director Taika Waititi quickly proves that he is one hundred percent aware of “Marvel fatigue”, combining his penchant for offbeat humor with a cheeky sci-fi vibe and an incredible cast to create a film that is truly unique.
Ragnarok picks up on threads left dangling from both Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Marvel diehards will recall that fan-favorite god of mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was last seen posing as Asgardian king Odin (Anthony Hopkins) after faking his death and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) exiling himself to parts unknown after the events of Age Of Ultron.
Now let’s be honest: this is a Thor movie. Out of the pantheon of heroes this universe now encompasses, Thor seems to garner the least interest. Despite his godly status, his solo films often seem to be little more than stepping stones toward the next Avengers team-up. We all know Chris Hemsworth is ripped, but I feel like he’s never really gotten to dig into this character despite having spent six years in the role.
So, it’s great news to report that Hemsworth gives his best performance by far as the title character in Ragnarok. When the film begins with Thor breaking the fourth wall in an almost Deadpool-like fashion, it’s immediately clear that this is a different side of the character than we’re used to seeing. Hemsworth showcases some seriously underutilized comedic timing and infuses the normally stoic god of thunder with a sort of odd self-aware humor that works incredibly well within the ridiculous circumstances of the film.
Mark Ruffalo also returns as Bruce Banner and his alter-ego, the Hulk. As with Thor, we see a different side to the Hulk character, who has traded in his life of hiding and being feared on Earth for celebrity status as a champion gladiator on the trash planet of Sakaar. I kid you not, there is actually a scene where a Hulk-themed parade plays out in the streets.
Fans will immediately notice that this Hulk has developed much more of a personality than previously established. The partnership between Thor and Hulk that has been only hinted at in previous films is fully fleshed out here. They have become something akin to bickering brothers, as evidenced by a hilarious scene in which they discuss their mutual love of fire (for Hulk, it is “raging fire”). It will be interesting to see if they retain this dynamic in future MCU films.
The rest of the cast fare just as well as Hemsworth and Ruffalo. Tom Hiddleston returns as the infamous Loki and is still one of the best characters in the MCU. Watching Thor and Loki bicker and try to outwit each other may never get old. Tessa Thompson makes for a much better female lead than Natalie Portman ever was, even though her character’s arc from uncaring drunk to redemption as Thor’s ally is a bit predictable. Jeff Goldblum is hilarious as the Grandmaster, the ruler of Sakaar who presides over the gladiatorial games. It’s obvious he’s having a blast playing what is essentially a hammed-up combination of all his past roles.
Unfortunately, casting A-list actors as one-dimensional villains has been a major complaint of Marvel fans and Ragnarok doesn’t do much to buck the trend. Cate Blanchett is clearly enjoying being Hela, the goddess of death, but the character doesn’t have much depth beyond her motivation to rule Asgard. Karl Urban is given a few good moments as her henchman, Skurge, but basically follows her around with little else to do for the rest of the film.
My only other complaint is the inclusion of the character Korg, a rock-like alien portrayed by director Taika Waititi himself. Waititi indulgently relies on the character for some really forced humor a few too many times, but it’s hardly a serious issue.
Overall, Thor’s third solo outing is easily his best. It’s original, full of laughs, and most of all fun. Putting Thor and Hulk together in one film was a brilliant move on the part of Marvel.