"Thor: Ragnarok" (2017) Review
Huh. This is my first review for a Marvel movie on this site.
I've written reviews for plenty of Marvel movies elsewhere over the years, and I might even revise some of those reviews and post them here. But since this is the first, let me do a quick run-down of how I feel about the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole:
Nothing is truly flawless, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole is arguably one of the most successful blockbuster filmmaking experiments of all time. Not just from a box office perspective either, but that most of the films are well regarded by critics and audiences alike. But we're now officially seventeen movies in, with the eighteenth arriving in February. To quote Black Widow from The Avengers: Age of Ultron, "Nothing lasts forever," and this will all come to an end some day, and I hope that I'm not overwhelmed and fatigued by these movies in the meanwhile.
To tell you the truth, I haven't seen a few of them, namely Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: Homecoming. It's become kind of exhausting to keep track of each film's place in the universe, various connections in between, and so on. And while I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I felt kind of tired after it. I just wanted these movies to take a break for once, or try something different. After seeing just how different a superhero movie could be with Logan earlier this year, I wanted to feel something different. Or, at least have more fun watching these films.
I was tired when I walked out of Thor: Ragnarok.
But for a completely different reason.
I was tired because I had been grinning for so long.
I started grinning less than two minutes into Thor: Ragnarok, and I never stopped until the final post-credits scene.
Thor: Ragnarok isn't just the best Thor movie (and if we're being honest with ourselves, that's an incredibly low bar to clear), it might be one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not because it plays to some deeper meaning or anything like that, because it's downright hilarious. Marvel made a brilliant decision in hiring New Zealand based director Taika Waititi, one of the masterminds behind the mock-u-mentary What We Do in the Shadows. He brings an immediate energy and great sense of humor to the proceedings (and without saying too much, he definitely brought some New Zealand actors along for the ride in some pretty stunning ways).
Does that humor clash with the more serious stuff in the movie? Oh you bet it does. Did I care? Not enough to bother me. The plot works well enough here, Thor having to find a way to fight against the Goddess of Death, Hela (played by Cate Blanchett). Does this movie have the obligatory Marvel movie problem where the villain isn't as interesting as the hero? Yep. Did I care? Refer back to the last time I answered that question.
It might sound like I'm being sarcastic and flippant here, and it even seems like I'm being fairly critical of Thor: Ragnarok in some ways. All I've said is that it's fun and I've gone into greater detail on its flaws. The truth is that Thor: Ragnarok is almost entirely a comedy, so talking about the good parts would spoil some really great jokes, so it's hard for me to talk about what is so damn great about the movie.
The film's secret weapon is that Chris Hemsworth has incredible comedic timing. Anyone who underestimated him as another muscular good looking guy from Australia can take any snark they have about him back. This guy is a great comedy actor and the fact he's been neglected from having a whole movie like this to himself is a crying shame.
But comedy is at its best when it works on reactions, and boy oh boy does Hemsworth have a lot to work with here. Tom Hiddleston's Loki has always been a fairly sly character, but he works incredibly well with Hemsworth here. Jeff Goldblum really stands out. I mean, Jeff Goldblum always stands out in any movie he's in, but here he's downright perfect for the material he's been given. Rounding out the cast pretty nicely is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, a character I won't say too much about here. She's funny, but she carries more emotional weight than she lets on. There's are several side characters I want to mention here as well, but I'll just say this: Be on the lookout for Karl Urban and a rock monster.
And then there's The Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo. The Hulk isn't in the movie a ton, but the film makes every second count. And as cool as the big fight teased in the trailers is, the scenes where Thor and Hulk banter are just as fun.
With all that fun though, there comes the inevitable question: Does Thor: Ragnarok draw too much from the same well of comedy that Guardians of the Galaxy draws from? It's a question worth asking, especially since the Thor films up to this point have far more in common with Shakespearean dramas and C-tier episodes of Game of Thrones (and boy does Thor: Ragnarok have a shocking direct parody of that Shakespearean aspect). The answer ends up being a surprising no. Where Guardians of the Galaxy is a "team behaving badly" comedy romp, Thor: Ragnarok is undeniably Thor's movie. For all of its side characters, Thor is front and center as the film's consistent source of comedy, and that key difference is more than enough to set the films apart from one another.
For all of that fun, there are surprisingly real consequences on the Marvel Cinematic Universe by the film's end. I think my biggest fear heading into this movie was that the drastic shift in tone would reduce the stakes, but Thor: Ragnarok has some pretty huge ramifications for its hero and beyond. It even tries to sort of take on colonialism a bit. It's the most surface level examination of taking on colonialism, but it's undeniably present.
Dissonance of tone aside, Thor: Ragnarok is truly a blast. In a year of great films big and small, the fact a third Thor film has left this much of an impression on me might be one of 2017's biggest surprises.
I mean, it's not as big of a surprise that Jordan Peele made my favorite film of 2017 so far, but still. It's a pretty big surprise.