Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Directed by Taika Waititi
Written by Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost

Marvel has been on an absolute tear, and has rewritten the way franchise movies are made along the way. Some may be experiencing superhero fatigue, and that’s perfectly fine. Not everybody needs to like every movie for any particular reason. But those who are fans of the genre, and Marvel specifically, may find themselves even more excited for the next Marvel release than they were for the last with the winning streak the comic book publisher turned movie studio. Much of their success is built on likable characters, but I also firmly believe the talented directors they have been hiring to helm their projects has gone a long way to their successes as well. With Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel has tasked New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi. And I must say, Waititi hits it out of the park with this film.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), missing from some of the more recent Avengers action, finds himself at odds against a giant fire monster, who is promising Ragnarok, the end of the world for Asgard, the home planet of Thor. After defeating the beast, he returns home to find his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) posing as his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). After seeking out their father, they discover they had an older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), Goddess of Death, who helped Odin secure the Nine Realms. But with the return of Hela comes uncertainty, as she wishes to overtake the throne and once again expand the powers of Asgard, instead of continuing their peaceful ways. Thor and Loki turn up on a strange planet, run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). There, they run into old friend Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a fellow Asgardian (Tessa Thompson), whom they must convince to help them defeat Hela and retake their home planet.

Waititi’s previous two films, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows are both fueled by their comedy, so it should be no surprise that Thor: Ragnarok continues in that vein, which is no small feat considering the plot is about the apocalypse. Perhaps Marvel’s funniest film to date, Waititi is also able to balance this with real dramatic stakes within his film, building not only on the mythos of the character of Thor, but also on the entire Asgardian people, making this a film more about community and heroism even at the smallest level than it is about super people doing super things to save the normal people. This approach is made all the more effective thanks in large part to a tremendous ensemble performance.

Hemsworth has always felt at home in the role of Thor, but here he gets some heavy help from Cate Blanchett, who can apparently sink into any role and be fantastic (not that it should be surprising). Tessa Thompson is also a revelation. I really look forward to seeing more of her. Even Idris Elba pops up, and even though not given much to do, his presence is always welcome. Essentially, I have very little to critique about this movie. It has it all: great performances, great comedy, great stakes (it’s the end of the world for Asgard afterall). It even has a great 80s synth rock score, which I wish we could have heard a little bit more of since it seemed to be mixed entirely into the background. It was a nice add to the overall tone and atmosphere created by Waititi and his collaborators.

I’ve always liked the Thor character when among the other Avengers, but never really on his own, despite loving Hemsworth in the role. With Ragnarok, there is finally a Thor film that I am extremely enthusiastic about. Not that the other films were bad per se, just that they failed to ever separate themselves as stand out installments within the Marvel franchise. With Ragnarok, I think Taika Waititi has made the best Marvel film to date. One full of energy and easily the most laughs. I had a hell of time on this adventure, and eagerly await the next film from Marvel (even though as I said, others may be more pessimistic), as director Ryan Coogler gets a chance to do something special with Black Panther. It’s hard not to be excited about the future of Marvel, even with this, the 17th film already in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

*** 1/2 – Great

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