Guardians of Asgard
Thor: Ragnarok is easily the best Thor movie, as the film gracefully borrows the comedy and music that has turned the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise into a huge success. Marvel studios understands that the Thor franchise has struggled to connect with the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe audience. This tale combines the best elements of the marvel franchise: great action, terrific blend of music and self-aware comedy. In fact, the film’s protagonists also undergo significant arcs that further develop the Norse gods. Unfortunately, the powerhouse Hela is somewhat underutilized even though her backstory is compelling. Furthermore, the spectacle of the movie is on full display, yet something in the affair lacks the emotional underpinning of this year’s other Marvel offerings.
In Thor: Ragnarok, the might Thor finds himself imprisoned on the other side of the universe, while Thor is forced to fight in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk, his former ally and fellow Avenger. Thor’s quest for survival leads him into a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.
The stakes are never higher for the Asgardian prince, but the constant threat of utter annihilation somewhat dilutes the actual sting of destruction. Plot-wise, Ragnarok is centrally focused on wrapping up any unresolved story elements from the Thor trilogy. Specifically, Odin and Loki’s fate, following Thor 2’s mysterious ending, will likely satisfy audiences. Along the way, fantastic cameos from famous actors and other Marvel superheroes light up the early scenes.
Thor’s greatest action set-pieces involve Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” blasting in the background. The song’s chaotic and weird vibe perfectly matches the utter ferocity of Thor wielding the mighty Mjolnir against a score of deadly foes. The intensity continuously ramps up in every standoff perfectly timed with the song’s memorable battle cries. In a surprise, this song is even utilized twice within the movie.
Chris Hemsworth is given more leeway in exploring Thor’s character. Rather than merely performing as an “action hero” the film hints at the humanity behind by the god. A vulnerable Thor has to come to grips with his failed relationships with both his former girlfriend Jane Foster and his adopted brother Loki. At the same time, Thor must unravel his father’s mysterious advice or risk losing Asgard forever.
Tom Hiddleston returns as fan favorite villain/hero Loki. While always mischevious, this is probably the closest Loki has come to playing an actual hero. Some of Hiddleston’s best work in the role is his not-so subtle reactions to meeting the Hulk once again. Reminding audiences that this film is part of a larger universe plays to Marvel’s strengths, while enabling the film to play off of and mimic the universe’s greatest hits (literally). Jeff Goldblum’s first appearance in the Marvel Universe steals almost every scene he is a part of. Goldblum’s Grandmaster character is equally flamboyant and satirical. The Grandmaster will easily become a fan favorite and will hopefully pop up in a future Marvel adventure.
Newcomer Tessa Thompson is a welcome addition as Valkyrie. The drunken character has an interesting past that is locked behind an assumed trauma. As her story unfolds, audiences will obtain a better understanding of the character’s resistance to taking a risk in order to help others. Idris Elba returns as the all-seeing Heimdall in a different type of resistance fighter role. While given greater importance than previous Thor outings, Heimdall is still a waste for veteran actor Idris, who should be given a more prominent role in the MCU.
Cate Blanchett chews up the scenery as Marvel’s first female super-villain. The goddess of death is possibly the biggest threat audiences have encountered within the Marvel movies. There are a couple of reveals surrounding her character’s origin that I will not spoil. Hela is an equal match for Thor and all of Asgard and her inclusion definitely sets the appropriate stakes for a film centered on the “end of the world.” Unfortunately, the “Planet Hulk” Sakaar elements of the story diminish Hela’s history and danger. Hela is joined by the cowardly Executioner (played by Karl Urban). While the Executioner is given some memorable scenes, the character’s inclusion made me wonder how the Enchantress has not made her on-screen debut yet.
Speaking of Hulk, the gladiator fight between Thor and Hulk more than lives up to expectations. There is a correct blend of comedy and action in the encounter to highlight the fight between allies. While arguably, there is a clear winner, enough controversy surrounds the fight that the result is left open for interpretation. Furthermore, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth have tons of fun “buddy cop” moments that further explores the Avengers’ relationship. It is also a welcome sight for the movie to include “Planet Hulk” players Korg (played by Director Taika Waititi) and Miek.
Waititi definitely focuses on making an overall “fun” film. Comedy is inserted into almost all of the scenes, except probably the final encounter with Hela (even though there are still some jokes in that battle too). While some may bemoan Marvel’s typical choice to weaken the dramatic core of their movies, I believe the comedy is a needed tonal shift for a once struggling Avenger. Not all films need to adopt James Gunn’s winning “Guardians” formula, but space adventures filled with a heavy dose of mythology definitely benefit from much needed levity.
Thor: Raganrok is an adrenaline boost that will likely lead directly into Avengers: Infinity War and the looming Mad Titan Thanos. Ragnarok is a worthy entry in the pantheon of Marvel films and ends an already strong Marvel year on a high note.