Thor: Ragnarok Review: A Neon, Rainbow Coat of Paint for the God of Thunder

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Of the major Marvel sub-series, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) hasn’t quite found the winning combination to make these solo (so to speak) stories work quite as well as, say, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Ragnarok gets the God of Thunder closer to that achievement in a lot of ways, but not many of which really count. The fact that Marvel makes funny superhero movies is nothing new, for example, but Taika Waititi takes Thor to a much funnier place than either of his previous outings, even with the literal apocalypse on the way.

2013’s Thor: The Dark World, for those who need their memory jogged, or skipped it entirely, ended with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) assuming the role of his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) without anyone really knowing. Later, in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor had visions of the end of his world, and left Earth on a quest for the Infinity Stones (don’t even worry about them here). Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) also left Earth at the end of that film, to an unknown destination. It’s unfortunate to need to include a paragraph of background info for a new film, but this is 17th in Marvel’s continuity, so I guess here we are.

As for Ragnarok itself, with Odin gone, the seat of the throne is left open for Hela (Cate Blanchett, underwritten and chewing scenery to make up for it) to swoop in with her goth-punk eyeliner and antler headdress. She’s the Goddess of Death, as well as Thor and Loki’s secret sister. But this is really all setup for the fun. After reuniting to take on their sister, the brothers Norse are swept away through the cosmos and land on the most colorful planet made of space trash and recycled ‘80s dystopian sets—in a good way! The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) rules this planet and forces his subjects to fight in gladiator-style matches, where Hulk—surprise, surprise—is the reigning champ. There’s also Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who works here way into the plot somehow that I’ve honestly already forgotten. Thompson brings a lot of fun energy to this unruly beast of a film, though.

And fun is really the key factor here. Waititi more than brings the laughs, he full-on tries to let Marvel turn this Thor movie into a superpowered What We Do in the Shadows. The absolute best thing about Ragnarok is how close he gets. The middle act is a treasure trove of humor so delightfully silly that you’ll forget Thor’s general arc is still akin a Shakespearean drama. Colorful side characters, including a scene-stealer played by Waititi himself, and a willingness to acknowledge how ridiculous this all is (and even some clever pokes at past Marvel missteps) make Ragnarok easily the most effortlessly entertaining of the Thor films. By default that also makes it the best. Waititi lets Goldblum deliver his bizarre aura. He lets a thrilling techno-synth score accompany the admittedly lackluster action scenes. This is the rare Marvel film desperate to try and inject something new into the franchise, all while not only cherishing the winning chemistry between Hemsworth and Hiddleston, but bringing it into uncharted humorous and emotional territory.

But the producers have a firm grasp on where the film is going. The third act still has boring CGI battles, a villain you know is about to disappear, and a resolution more focused on the next chapter than this one. Marvel will be Marvel no matter who is sitting in the director’s chair. But at present, they’re hiring filmmakers with a true knack for entertaining, and until they stop, entries like Ragnarok will work. At this rate, however, it’s unlikely the studio will churn out something half as interesting or as resonant as Logan or Wonder Woman. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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