When I heard that an upcoming Marvel film would be a team-up between Thor and the Hulk, two of my least favorite Avengers, I was underwhelmed.
However, as more information came out about Thor: Ragnarok – like how it would be a partial adaptation of the fan-favorite Planet Hulk storyline from the comics, and that it would be directed by underrated comedic genius Taika Waititi – I grew more interested. When Marvel announced the film would co-star Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban and Jeff Goldblum, and the film team promised that it would shake up the Marvel universe in the same way as the well-received Captain America: Winter Soldier from three years ago, my interest grew into excitement. I missed out on NU Nights’ free Nov. 3 screening, but I jumped at the next opportunity I had to see it.
Marvel fans like myself who have been keeping up with the positive buzz might walk out of Thor: Ragnarok a tad disappointed, but the average movie-goer expecting “just another Thor movie” is in for quite a treat.
Thor: Ragnarok, the third movie starring the Asgardian superhero, is by far the best of the trilogy. The previous two films, while perfectly serviceable and entertaining, committed the Deadly Cinematic Sin of being unmemorable, but Ragnarok delivers a slew of engaging, hilarious characters, giving us an action-comedy worthy of its predecessors, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man. I had hoped for a little more emotional weight from the core cast and expected the plot to take itself a tad more seriously, but I nonetheless left largely satisfied and very entertained.
Hela (played by Blanchett), the goddess of death, intends to conquer Thor’s home of Asgard, in the process exiling Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) to the world of Sakaar, where he must fight his way through a gladiatorial arena to get back home and save the realm. If none of that sounds comedic to you, you’re not crazy; as fun as the characters of Ragnarok are, they often feel bogged down by the story they’re trudging through. And the plot sounds serious on paper but grates against the comedic treatment the characters receive. As much as I loved watching the immensely talented members of the cast interact with one another, I (in addition to several of the characters) never felt particularly interested in what they were doing, even when an entire realm was on the line.
But more about that talented cast, where the film truly shines. Hemsworth succeeds in making Thor an interesting and likable character, something his previous films have struggled with. Mark Ruffalo, returning as the Hulk, who is also forced to play gladiator (and enjoying it), finds a comedic side to the character we didn’t see much of in the Avengers films. The banter and antics of the two heroes provide plenty of hearty laughs.
The true standouts of the cast, however, are the new additions to the Marvel cinematic universe. Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Karl Urban as Skurge both lend a solid balance of humor and emotional depth to their characters. Blanchett is clearly having fun playing the despicable unapologetic baddie, making her generic goals of world domination entertaining to watch. She effortlessly balances the menace of her character with the entertainingly arrogant, almost bratty sense of entitlement Hela feels toward ruling Asgard. Jeff Goldblum plays the Grandmaster, organizing the gladiator battles that Thor and Hulk must fight through, and is a joy to watch by nature of being Jeff Goldblum and leaning heavily into some of his famous Goldblumisms: mumbling incoherently, giggling awkwardly, and trailing off mid-sentence for the sake of that comedic bizarreness only Goldblum can tap into. My favorite new addition to the Marvel cast was director Taika Waititi himself, as the overly polite gladiator Korg, offering friendly (and entirely unhelpful) advice to our heroes on every appearance.
With Waititi (from What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and a handful of episodes of the criminally underrated Flight of the Conchords) behind the camera, I wondered if the atmosphere of Ragnarok would feel fundamentally different from the average Marvel film; with the possible exception of Shane Black helming Iron Man 3, Waititi has the most distinct style out of all the Marvel directors to date, so the film had the potential to be, at best, a trailblazer in the otherwise formulaic Marvel cinematic universe, and at worst an out-of-place black sheep in an otherwise cohesive franchise.
Ultimately, Ragnarok is neither, giving us a tone and visual world-building similar to Guardians of the Galaxy. Waititi directs the action well – the final set piece at the film’s climax stands out in particular – but those hoping for the mockumentary style of Shadows or the fly-on-the-wall style of Conchords might be disappointed by the otherwise fairly standard scene direction.
That being said, the film’s visuals, particularly the world of Sakaar, offer plenty of cinematic eye candy to make even the six- or seven-year-old next to me, who didn’t particularly care for the characters or humor, at least enjoy the spectacle.
Making Thor: Ragnarok the best of the three Thor films wasn’t a particularly high bar, but that didn’t stop the crew from jumping at full strength to clear it. If you were expecting the best Marvel film to date, this movie may let you down, but if you want some solid action, a boatload of fun characters, and a (sometimes overwhelming) onslaught of one-liners and visual gags, Thor: Ragnarok fits the bill quite nicely.
Thor: Ragnarok is playing in theaters everywhere, including the Evanston Cinemark.