Marvel finally figures out how to make a good Thor Movie

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Thor: Ragnarok
Now playing, wide
3.5 out of 5

As consistently good as Marvel’s output is, there’s a ceiling the MCU movies struggle to break through. Outside the first Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel has had a hard time with stakes. Sure, the films are guaranteed fun (especially compared to the DCEU), but I can’t say I’ve been all that invested in the wellbeing of the people of Sokovia, Xandar or New York when those places have been attacked.

The lack of emotional weight continues in Thor: Ragnarok but the movie makes up for it with charm and laughs. Far and away the best movie about the God of Thunder and the funniest comedy of the year not involving Stalin, the third Thor benefits from having Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople) at the helm. Waititi understands the character better than his predecessors and brings his dry, sharp comic sensibility to the table to make the most of Chris Hemsworth’s comedy chops.

We reencounter Thor back in Asgard, as he attempts to thwart Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. He seems to succeed very quickly and unmasks Loki — who had been impersonating their father — in the movie’s first 15 minutes.

Little does he realize another threat is brewing. The Odinsons’ sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), has escaped exile and wants to rule the realm and, naturally, the universe.

More powerful than both princes of Asgard combined, Hela maroons Thor on Sakaar, a planet that seems the embodiment of Idiocracy with a dash of The Hunger Games. Forced to compete in a gladiatorial tournament, Thor must figure out a way to escape and (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) put together a team to challenge his long-lost sibling.

While the plot is thin (the extended Sakaar detour is a delight but feels disconnected from the main story), the dialogue is all-net, and lets recurring characters show new colours. Thor is still noble and heroic, but his thick-headedness and insecurity provide the film’s best comedy. Loki, who we met as an out-and-out villain, has gained enough self-awareness to become sympathetic. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/the Hulk deepens the character’s pathos with a light, often hilarious, touch.

The newbies are a joy. You know you can’t go wrong with Jeff Goldblum, but his Grandmaster is up there with Dr. Ian Malcolm and Brundle-fly. A despot who likes to pretend he’s a man of the people, the Grandmaster is not unlike Donald Trump, only infinitely more likeable (I’m not even using hyperbole). Cate Blanchett’s Hela — a control freak type-A goddess — is fun, but underserved by the script (Marvel’s chronic villain problem). Then there is Valkyrie (a fantastic Tessa Thompson), a hard-living warrior who may just be Thor’s match.

Waititi himself is a scene-stealer as the CGI-gladiator Korg, an intimidating creature with the nicest of demeanors.

My only issue with Ragnarok is that, considering the lengths Thor goes to save his homeland, the film doesn’t build up the Asgardians. It’s hard to care for the fate of a faceless crowd, let alone one with zero agency — even if it IS led by everyone’s favourite Norse god, Stringer Bell (actually Idris Elba as Heimdall).

As pleasantly entertaining as Thor: Ragnarok is, the film takes some risks I won’t spoil. Suffice it to say, Marvel isn’t afraid to move the plot forward.