For the third film in a trilogy, Thor: Ragnarok is the liveliest one of the bunch. Frankly, after the dire and listless second film Thor: The Dark World, this third Thor film is a spectacular shot in the arm for the God of Thunder’s films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Thor: Ragnarok quickly picks up where the second film left us, with Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) commanding the throne of otherworldly Asgard under the guise of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) quickly deduces what Loki is up to and the two find out the consequences of Loki’s actions. In Odin’s absence, the Nine Realms that he ruled over have slipped into anarchy. This also means that Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who was imprisoned by Odin to escape and wreck havoc on Asgard. Before Thor could stop her, he is accidentally transported to the planet Sakaar, taken captive and forced to fight in gladiator-type games held by the planet’s ruler, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). As we all saw in the trailers, Thor’s opponent is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who was last seen going into self exile in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Thor must find a way to stay alive, escape his enslavement and convince the Hulk to join him in saving Asgard from Hela.
Now reading the above makes you think this will be another serious-minded Thor film with high stakes and Shakespearean undertones. But that isn’t the case with Thor: Ragnarok. The somber approach worked in the first Thor film thanks to the skillful hands of Kenneth Branagh, who is familiar with Shakespearean drama and brought that to Thor. But this time, Thor: Ragnarok’s director Taika Waititi relied on his comedic tastes and background for the film. In doing so, he brought a welcome change of pace and mood this time around as this film is more of a comedy. This approach mostly works though I have to admit there are times there are just a tad too many jokes and there are moments that should’ve had more weight but come off as too light. It’s clear that Marvel Studios wanted to repeat the look and formula that worked for Guardians of the Galaxy and this is very evident in the scenes taking place on Sakaar. The Guardians of the Galaxy films perfectly balanced its comedic tone with serious drama but Thor: Ragnarok comes up a bit short in keeping that balance.
Nevertheless, the third Thor film is a fun blast with stunning set pieces and special effects that buttress its lighter tone. Credit for that does not just go to Waititi, but the film’s stars starting with Chris Hemsworth. In other films, Hemsworth has shown that he has quite a comedic gift and he gets to display that in this film. Thor seems less pompous and more laid back in his third outing. It’s almost as if he has thrust off his original regal persona and taken on an ability to crack a joke. This does not mean he takes things lightly. Hemsworth and the director knew which moments to hold back the jokes and appropriately react to more serious moments.
The other actors are all brilliant in their roles no matter how brief, this even goes for Waititi himself who mo-caps Korg, a fellow prisoner with the personality of an alien surfer dude. Hiddleston is great as always playing the shifty and conflicted Loki, while with Blanchett you can tell is having a blast playing the latest MCU baddie. She is oddly alluring while being deadly and formidable. Unlike the villains in the last Thor film, Hela is more than a match for the God of Thunder and injects a much-needed sense of peril for our Asgardian hero. This film introduces many new characters like Skurge (Karl Urban), Hela’s conscious-ridden sidekick and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a fallen Asgardian who needs to find her way back to her true role. They are all great additions and surprisingly with all these characters, this film does not feel crowded. That is because the filmmakers knew which characters from previous films to leave out this time around.
The Hulk, no surprise, is a scene stealer, but wisely is not allowed to overtake the film. Some of the film’s funniest moments are whenever the Hulk talks and engages in goofy exchanges with Thor. It’s just too bad that BTS legal nonsense prevents the Hulk from getting another solo film because he deserves one so badly – starting with a proper Planet Hulk story. One complaint is that the Planet Hulk storyline is very truncated and worth exploring further. But that would have taken away from Thor’s story, which is the focus here. Until the Marvel and Disney lawyers could clear this up, this is the best we will get.
Look out for many Marvel Comics and MCU Easter eggs and cameos including a special appearance by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). This time he seems much more comfortable in his role as the Master of the Mystic Arts. These elements are just some of what add to the enjoyment of this film. Not mentioned are some spectacular action and fight scenes. Some moments properly evoke the feel of glorious paintings featuring the gods. They help add some needed levity to the film. In spite of the film’s lighter tone, there are several major developments that have lasting impacts not just with Thor but the MCU as well.
As for how Thor: Ragnarok compares to the other Thor films, it is light-years better than Thor: The Dark World and in some ways better than the first film. Although the third Thor film lacks some of the gravitas and grandeur of Thor, personally it is about as good as the first one. The reason is because Thor: Ragnarok took chances and tried something different. And it works so well.