The devastation from the ruins of Asgaard brings Thor back home, in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) arrives in Asgard after hearing about trouble within his home world, and when he arrives he finds Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) style of ruling (while impersonating Odin) has led to some lapses in the rules and leads to the freeing of prisoner Hela (Cate Blanchett). Thor and Hela naturally come to blows when they meet, which sees Thor “blasted” to Sakaar, described as “a barbaric planet ruled by the charming but nefarious Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).” There he meets Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who is hiding out on the planet, and brings him to the Grandmaster to make him a gladiator, where he meets the most popular competitor in the arena, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and loses his trademark hair and hammer, giving way to a bigger, badder God of war than ever before. ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is directed by Taika Waititi, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.
What Taika Waititi has done here for the Thor franchise of films is nothing short of miraculous, and is deserving of all of the praise that only a prestigious director of his caliber can grant. In his re-vitalizing third chapter in this series, Waititi has instilled the fun to a series that frankly was struggling with a mediocre second movie that took itself and its characters a bit too seriously. In his pitch, it was his intention to bring the imagination back to this genre, reminding faithful comic book fans of the kind of antsy anticipation that can only come with bringing these storyboards to life. ‘Ragnarok’ is that breath of fresh air that reminds us how FUN superhero movies are supposed to be, offering a firework of a spectacle in production, as well as a light-hearted atmosphere in material and tone that pushes towards the comedy genre fruitfully with a consistency of laughs that never quit swinging. Even more enriching is the fact that these laughs don’t soil or overstay their welcome at any point in the film. They are well-delivered, well-timed, and well-preserved when you consider that they do no harm to the film’s serious direction when it requires it. Waititi proves that he was the best man for the job, and the many pros of his entertaining installment is deserving of future re-watches that this critic will inevitably hand over the money for.
What ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ did for colorful insertion and artistic stroke in its film, ‘Ragnarok’ ups the ante even further, providing a wondrous stage that beats at the heart of this foreign planet. This impressive series of shots within war sequences are so beautifully decadent that they could all easily be swinging within a picture frame at your local museum, they are that impressive. The film’s usage of slowed down depictions is valued, mainly because it never reaches too often for the gimmick, nor does it feel like it hinders the fluidity in progression of these detailed sequences. The sound mixing and editing throw in two valued cents of thunderous impact for good measure. Hell, Even the style choices for wardrobe sport designs that are entirely out of this world. The film dabbles its commitment to planet building accordingly, and does so with a practical presentation of futuristic ensembles that really treat the eye to some visual candy that can perfectly set the precedent for the landscape faithfully. It all does its part to crafting one of the very best production values that Marvel or any film of this decade can respectfully tip their hats to.
The music deserves its own praise for the subtlety to versatility that has a few tricks of its own up the sleeves of award winning children’s composer Mark Mothersbaugh. Keeping with the miles in parallel locations over the progression of the film, Mark tightly hones his own soundtrack to each of the respective planets with enough opposition in their impacts to feel the differences in each range. While on Asgaard, the orchestral influence of horns and trumpets pay homage to that of battle-cries that feed into this planet of warriors. While on Sakaar, there’s kind of an overthrow of techno break beats and technological sampling to relay the idea of a futuristic prism that is at stake here. I don’t want to say much else besides that because the best treat of all takes place during Thor’s hallucination before meeting The Grandmaster (Played wonderfully by the versatile Jeff Goldblum), and if you pay attention carefully you can see a hinted paying of respects to our favorite lunatic candy maker. I’ve already said too much.
This is also a story that while it does take place in a galaxy far away, does hint on some familiar territory in themes that really strike an honest chord with where the series is heading. Sibling rivalry, self-discovery, and even retribution are all taken paths that the film explores with unshakeable persistence in going a long way to working overtime for this outstanding pacing that runs slightly over two hours. To say I was entertained thoroughly is an understatement. Truth be told, ‘Ragnarok’ is that rare occasion where I gave myself over completely to the roller-coaster within, and was rewarded with some timely surprises and narrative twists that surprised even someone like me who can usually pick these things out of a trailer with ease. The minor problems that I had with the screenplay are barely worth mentioning, but they do knock it down a point when everything else feels so perfect. Mostly it’s the lack of explanation in some key scenes like Loki’s faked death or Thor and Hulk’s fight that is sampled heavily in the trailer. On the latter, it is explained that they must fight to the death, so how could they both possibly get out of this arena with their heads? Besides this, the only other problem I had was with the antagonist. I loved Blanchett’s performance, and I’ll get to that in a minute, but the film realizes that her exposition-heavy appearances are definitely the least interesting aspect of the movie, and as a result kind of forgets about her character midway through the second act. There is a noticeable half hour where her character goes missing, proving that while Marvel might be headed in the right direction with the depth of its villains, they still are leap years away on bottling it up as a perfect formula.
And finally, perhaps the most valuable aspect is in the impressive collection of talented actors who all make a presence felt. The most difficult thing to attain is giving an ensemble this big each a worthy task to appreciate their inclusion, and thankfully Waititi knows the kind of motivation in attaining the best in each of them. Hemsworth definitely feels more open-up in personality and demeanor that reflects a side of his frequent time up to this point on the planet Earth. Hemsworth has such a command over the timing of reactions when it comes to the laughs, making Thor every bit as charismatic as Tony Stark. Cate Blanchett was menacing and able to add an acclaimed side to Marvel villains that has rarely been seen to this point. There’s a big plot twist for her character early on in the film, and thankfully it was setting the motions of equality in plot structure to match her best kind of Malificient impression that beats out even Jolie with ease. Also great to see Hiddleston back again as my favorite low-life Loki. Where Hemsworth commands the time for humor, Hiddleston visually puppeteers it, earning much hearty laughter to the way his straight man reacts to some less than flattering news. I would be lying though, if I said any of these actors were my favorite performance of ‘Ragnarok’, as that belongs to Tessa Thompson commanding the viciously delicious Valkyrie. Thompson provides an air for female moviegoers in this role that they have rarely seen so far in Marvel, and Thompson’s alcoholic-laced anti-hero demands her own movie. What I found so rewarding about her character is that with much exposition, we find this is every bit a revenge plot for her as it is anyone else in the film. Without Valkyrie, much would be lost in the way of the past that comes back to haunt throughout this film, and Tessa is happy to oblige with a performance that proves she can kick ass just as good as she shakes it in that leather number. Mmmm mmmm mmmm
THE VERDICT – ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is a colorfully constructed space opera that swings for the fences because of Taika Waititi’s concentrated direction that results in a fresh reset button for the franchise. There’s an air of spoof on the over-saturation of the superhero genre that may or may not have overstayed its welcome, but the tickling of our senses proves effective none the less, making this easily the best of the Thor franchise, and one of the more versatile comic book plots of the previous decade. If this is where superhero films are headed, strap in and enjoy the ride. Thor has finally earned his throne.