Two years ago, I watched and wrote about every single film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’ve made so many more of them since then! So, now I’m watching all of the newer ones before Endgame gets here.
Poor Thor franchise. It’s always the unpopular kid at the MCU birthday party. His films, even with Tom Hiddleston’s entertaining presence, always feel underwhelming. They’re a bit too dour, the dialogue feels a bit too elegant for its own good, and they don’t seem to recognize their own inherent absurdity. Something or someone needed to puncture the franchise’s pomposity, and it turned out Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilder People, What We Do in the Shadows) was just the man to do it.
Thor: Ragnarok decided the best approach to Asgard and the complicated Thor and Loki family dynamic was to stuff it to the brim with jokes. The result was the best Thor film by far, emphasizing Chris Hemsworth’s natural charisma and comedic timing and the goofiness that always rests beneath Thor’s solemn proclamations and god-like status. For a change, Loki isn’t the only character lobbing spitballs from the sidelines.
Every time Thor attempts to point out he’s a god, he’s undermined at every turn.
From the film’s opening in which Thor mocks being held as a captive, laughing at the oncoming threat of Ragnarok to two different uses of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” it feels immediately clear that the film aims to be a rollicking good time. Everyone will be quipping and poking fun at everything around them.
The film borrows from Guardians’ anarchic tone and Doctor Strange’s LSD-inspired color palette but possesses a droll, tongue-in-cheek approach which is all its own. Love interest Jane Foster (an always-wasted Natalie Portman) is mercifully moved past the border of Movietown in favor of giving Hemsworth foils worthy of his screen presence. Beyond the usual Loki interactions, Ragnarok allows Thor to butt against Jeff Goldblum as…Jeff Goldblum and Tessa Thompson as a former Valkyrie, cynically drowning her traumas in alcohol. Joining the fray for the first time in a non-Avenger movie is Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, giving Thor an old
buddy pal co-worker to bounce off of.
Waititi brings his unique offbeat brand of humor and the tendency to feature characters underreacting to extraordinary circumstances that he brought to the dissection of daily vampire life in What We Do in the Shadows. The screenplay by Eric Pearson, Christopher Yost, and Craig Kyle is stacked to the brim with jokes and most of them work, making this one Marvel’s most effortlessly entertaining and rewatchable film to date.
Ragnarok isn’t entirely perfect. The jokes do occasionally overwhelm the narrative. Cate Blanchett entertainingly vamps as Hela, Thor’s violent, power-hungry sister, but the character herself fails to make much of an impression.
Beyond that, the film takes some fairly dark turns, including the destruction of Thor’s hammer (“I lost my hammer…like, yesterday. So, that’s still pretty fresh.”), the death of Odin (Anthony Hopkins, briefly allowed to have some fun before resorting to solemn declarations), the deaths of the Warriors Three, and the destruction of Asgard itself. Plus, Thor loses an eye!
However, because of its glib, joke-heavy tone, none of those downsides feel particularly significant. Besides, why quibble when Ragnarok has so many great lines? I’m partial to Loki’s “I didn’t get a chair” and Thor’s “Is he though?” when Bruce tries to argue he’s just as valuable in a fight as the Hulk.
Plus, while Loki’s loyalties will always ultimately be to himself, this film comes the closest to giving his relationship with Thor a complete arc.
Film history dictates the third installment of any trilogy is rarely the best, but Thor: Ragnarok bucked the odds. More than that, it achieved what I assumed to be impossible: it made me completely fall for a Thor movie.