Covering the Marvel Cinematic Universe from a critical perspective is always interesting: the behemoth franchise never missteps or whiffs, but often fails to feel like an individual film to be remembered.
The most inarguably flat film of the entire franchise is Thor: The Dark World. While we all have our favorites (or least favorites), this cold, heartless sequel has never again been brought up in conversation since its release. With the first outing of Thor, a compelling character arc was put in place: our hero went from being a brash, arrogant and clueless character, to a more grounded hero by the end of the film. It’s a great journey but it only lasts one film. So by the second Thor film, there was no place for him to go forward and the writers didn’t even bother. This, more than any other reason, is what made the second film so stale.
So where to go from there? If there is ever proof that anything can be great in the hands of the right person, it is Thor: Ragnarok. Entrusted in the hands of indie favorite Taika Waititi – whose last two films Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows are some of the best comedies of the decade – it was anyone’s guess what a massive scale blockbuster would look like. To our delight, the film more closely resembles the work of Waititi than a conventional Marvel film, and we are all here to benefit from it.
From the very get-go, where we see Thor in action on some brooding, otherworldly setting, there is a juxtaposition from the grandiose visuals of the Thor universe met with the oddball Waititi humor that never fails to deliver. For the first time in awhile, it feels like a director has taken command of the reins of their Marvel movie. Mind you, unlike most sequels to bad movies where they attempt to revise history or scrap previous entries, this film embraces all the story points from the last film but chooses to have a lot of fun with them. The balance of mythology from Thor with humor from the director is a sight to behold.
For the first time in awhile, it feels like a director has taken command of the reins of their Marvel movie.
The plot on its own could be a more straightforward tale: An evil villain (Cate Blanchett) who has a history at Asgard enters into the foray with the intention of ruling over the entire galaxy. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), meanwhile, is thrown off guard again and lands on a junkpile planet where, in order to escape, he must serve as a gladiator. Borrowing cues from throughout the decade, I’m struck with how well employed this 80s homage is– by setting it on a specific planet, it gives the entire universe a more layered feeling, where certain places have different atmospheres than others. The balance between the two planets, the regal Asgard and the synthesized 80s-inspired second planet, is a great contrast and the variety makes the whole adventure a delightful romp.
Driving home from the film, I passed by the wheat-pasted character posters from the movie. Often, these are comical in how they feature characters who are flat or given little screen time but are beefed up via their own poster. I’ve never seen the opposite so true: Ragnarok sports nine characters on these posters, and each one of them gets a memorable moment to shine on their own. Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are no surprise, but the entire ensemble has a great addition to the story, much resembling what made The Avengers such a special film. It’s perhaps more impressive given that half of them are fresh faces. And if that were not enough, there are even more characters (who don’t get their own poster) who also are fantastic contributions. This review is light on spoilers and plot points given how fun it is to witness firsthand.
Of the Marvel movies, the only one I can actively recall re-watching is the original Avengers. After this film, I can safely say I’d be thrilled to relish in Thor: Ragnarok again; with humor, vision, and sincerity, the bar has been raised for what Marvel can accomplish with this outing and I hope its look invites more brilliant directors to jump into the foray.
‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material. 130 minutes. Now playing in theaters everywhere.