As high as Marvel’s batting average is, there is 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 generating stakes. Sure, the MCU movies are a guaranteed good time (especially when 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.
The lack of emotional weight rears its head again 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 movie benefits greatly from having Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) at the helm. Waititi understands the character better than his predecessors, brings his dry, sharp comic sensibility to the table and makes the most of Chris Hemsworth’s considerable comedy chops.
We reencounter Thor back in Asgard, as he attempts to thwart Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse (remember those visions from Avengers 2?). Not only he seems to succeed very quickly, he unmasks Loki -who had been impersonating their father- within the first fifteen minutes of the movie. However, a major threat is brewing. The Odinsons’ sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), has become unbound and wishes to rule the realm and eventually, the universe.
More powerful than both princes of Asgard combined, Hela maroons Thor in 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 modest (the extended Sakaar detour is a delight, but feels disconnected from the main story), the dialogue is all-net and allows mainstay characters to show new colors. Chief among them is Thor himself: Still noble and heroic, his thick-headedness and insecurity provide the finest comedy of the film. Loki, who we met as an out-and-out villain, has gained enough self-awareness to become sympathetic. He is the inverse Batman. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/the Hulk deepens the character’s pathos while displaying a noteworthy lightness of touch.
The newbies are also 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 is a man of the people, the Grandmaster is not unlike Donald Trump, only infinitely more likeable (I’m not even using hyperbole). Cate Blanchett take on Hela -a control freak type-A goddess- is fun, but underserved by the script (Marvel’s chronic villain problem). Thankfully, there is Valkyrie (a fantastic Tessa Thompson), a hard-living warrior who may just be Thor’s match. Waititi himself steals the show as the CGI-gladiator Korg, an intimidating creature with the nicest of demeanours.
My only issue with Ragnarok is that, considering the lengths Thor goes to save his homeland, the film doesn’t build the Asgardians all that much. It’s hard to care for the fate of a faceless crowd, let alone one with zero agency.
As pleasantly entertaining as Thor: Ragnarok is, the film takes some considerable risks I won’t spoil here. Suffice to say, Marvel is not afraid to move the plot forward, even though is difficult to venture what will happen after the Infinity War movie(s). Three and a half planets (out of five).
Thor: Ragnarok is now playing everywhere.