As we get closer and closer to Avengers: Infinity War more Marvel Cinematic Universe solo films are spilling onto the big screen and things are starting to get real exciting…not that they weren’t already. It has been almost a month now since Thor: Ragnarok released with positive ratings and has grossed over $270 million in U.S. theaters. I wasn’t a huge fan of the previous two Thor films but with such a fantastic opening weekend and great reviews I just had to catch it in theaters. About two weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with some popcorn and a coke and caught the third installment in fantastic Cinemark XD. Is it as Marvel-ous as everyone has been saying? Find out below but first a warning there will be spoilers beginning…now!
WARNING: THE REMAINDER OF THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Taika Waititi was brought in to direct this installment of the God of Thunder. Some might know him from directing Hunt for The Wilder People as well as some episodes of Flight of the Conchords which explains the new blend of humor we see in this film. Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins return as the royal members of Asgard: Thor, Loki and Odin respectively. Additionally Idris Elba returns as Heimdall and Mark Ruffalo is back as Hulk, which should be no surprise to anyone considering they splashed him all over posters as well as the trailers…something I really wish was kept secret as it would have been a magnificent surprise to film goers. This is all the usual from Thor and Marvel however there were some new faces to bring a fresh new storyline. Cate Blanchett makes her first appearance as Hela, the outcast sister of Thor and Loki. We also get Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster, a Karl Urban siting as Skurge and the director himself Waititi plays the voice of Korg a galactic gladiator and really not so important character but one worth mentioning as he brings a lot of good laughs to the film. I should also add Benedict Cumberbatch makes a brief appearance as Doctor Strange…very brief. Anyway, OK so theres the lineup and quite a strong one at that. A magnificent cast of high-caliber actors and a talented director. The question is does all this add up to a great film?
Let’s start with the basics, Ragnarok checks all the usual superhero film boxes: action, humor, teamwork and friendship. These are all present and accounted for. The action is aplenty however it doesn’t play out on the screen on the same level as say Captain America: Civil War’s fight sequences. Those felt like solid hard-hitting action straight out of a Bourne film whereas the fights on display in Ragnarok while still entertaining felt more kiddy…if that’s the right word. Almost every scene is heavy with the CGI and this, I have always felt, takes a lot away from a film. Especially action films. There are two factors at play here that make for this: dramatics and stakes. When we see Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow take three highly trained operatives out with graceful yet powerful strikes and acrobatics we get the dramatics, the ooo and awes. On top of that there is an emotional connection because we feel real odds are at stake and we worry about the hero’s well-being. We understand there is a high cost in losing this fight/battle. Now understandably in today’s films there is going to be some CGI used at some point however when a filmmaker includes a heavy amount of it what we get instead is essentially a cartoon. When Thor and company are mowing down 9 or 10 combatants with just a swipe of an arm or a swing of a sword, it just doesn’t feel impressive or tense. We know this isn’t a real fight so we sit back watching and waiting for the real threat to arrive so we can sit back up and re-engage in the story. The same goes for when Thor and Hulk are battling it out. Each of these super powers are swinging massive weapons with incredible strength but when Hulk cracks Thor in the head and sends him flying 50 yards into a stone wall which crumbles and explodes on impact…and then he just gets up and wipes his forehead with barely a scratch we know we have nothing to worry about, we know no one is getting truly injured. So what happens is we disconnect, it becomes all viewing with no emotional content, like waiting for a ball game to end between two teams whom you don’t have any allegiance and have nothing invested in. Honestly this is probably the biggest negative about this film. if the action was handled better it would score much higher.
The other negative to Ragnarok is Hela doesn’t really have much to do in the film. She is the true antagonist and the center of all our heroes bigger problems for sure. But throughout the film she is just talking and wandering about. Theres a quick battle early on but due to the same CGI problems I mentioned earlier, the scene simply comes and goes. One moment she arrives the next she has conquered Asgard, just like that. From that moment on until Thor and his teammates arrive she becomes more like an observer to everything else happening around her, just background noise to the story as it unfolds. It’s disappointing because Blanchett does a great job portraying her. She does the sinister villain well and it would have been nice to see more of her character and watch her interact with Thor and Loki. To understand her motivations not to mention get to see more of her power. Right now if you asked me what her powers were I would probably say, “She can generate swords and weaponry out of thin air and launch them at high velocity” but I feel like there has to be more to it than that. Maybe I am wrong and this is simply it, if so it seems rather boring.
Now I have spent some time ragging on the action and how it just didn’t do it for me however the humor for Ragnarok is right on point, clever and witty with great timing. Nothing feels forced and the banter makes the film feel…well fun. Some might find that some scenes go overboard with the humor but it just feels right at home for this film, at least how Waititi has presented it. There are also some great cameos that will definitely get some good laughs, my audience went crazy for a good 10-20 seconds during a particular scene, don’t blink or you might miss it. The comedy was effective in keeping the audiences guard down. Eventually you stopped taking the film too seriously and stopped expecting a dramatic speech about duty or honor and instead you got to sit back and enjoy a fun ride. Considering the amount of recent films with such serious content it was refreshing to get a story not to worried about sending a message or making a statement and I definitely appreciated that from Ragnarok. I have to add that this is really odd for me because, as most people who know me know, I never really felt heavy humor belonged in superhero films. I always felt it made them feel more targeted towards children instead of adults. However I will say right now that I was very wrong about that, Ragnarok has just the right type and amount of humor. I will caveat by saying again that this is acceptable because of the tone that Waititi set, there are quite a few jokes and gags that land perfect in Ragnarok but would land very flat in say Avengers: Age of Ultron. I will also admit that there have been other films that also did this well, Ant-man and the first Guardians of the Galaxy films specifically. Ragnarok definitely takes things to another level, but I was happy to be along for the ride.
One interesting aspect of this Thor film I wanted to mention is that the God of Thunder loses his trusty hammer Mjolnir fairly early on. It is crushed, rather easily, by Hela during their first encounter and it actually never makes a return. This makes him quite vulnerable through the film and its funny and at the same time tragic to watch as he gets bullied around. What we do in turn see however is that Thor is almost just as powerful without the hammer. It takes some coaxing by his father to trust in himself and realize the weapon is not the man after which we get to see the God of Thunders true power and might. Up until this moment we hadn’t really got a real showing of his capabilities and to understand why he is known as one of the Avengers most powerful members. The drawback is that the film uses a lot of CGI for these scenes as he effortlessly tosses and pummels Hela’s minions. It is done in such a way that it doesn’t feel as dramatic as I would have liked. As I mentioned earlier instead we get to just sit and watch with no real emotional connectivity, I never personally felt like he was in any real danger which cheapens the battle a bit. Still though it was fascinating watching Thor do battle without Mjolnir. Honestly I had no clue what he was capable of without it and I think in a way it adds a new dimension to his character, it gives viewers another way to look at him.
Of the three Thor films Ragnarok definitely rates the highest on my list. I know I dragged on a bit about the action losing me but essentially it comes down to the amount of joy I got out of the viewing experience. Waititi blended the action and humor in a way that the previous installments just didn’t do. It isn’t perfect, again much of the action relies heavily on CGI and some of the dialogue is wanting but the humor is spot on. You get plenty of laughs and it is comedy that lands for both children and adults, something quite a few superhero films have had problems doing. The film manages to not take itself too seriously while at the same time presenting a solid story that remains true to the MCU spirit and experience. After the movie my friend and I got some great laughs talking about some of the classic scenes and dialogue and that’s when you know you had a good time. Ragnarok is great fun for everyone young and old and a film I could watch a second time and have no problem recommending others to check out. It’s not necessarily a film that needs to be seen in the theater, a home viewing would be just as enjoyable. Either way it is worth the watch and not a Marvel film you will quickly forget.
Thor Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️