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Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) movie poster Thor: Ragnarok

Theatrical Release: November 3, 2017 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Taika Waititi / Writers: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost (screenplay); Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby (Marvel comic book)

Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Cate Blanchett (Hela), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Jeff Goldblum (Grandmaster), Tessa Thompson (Scrapper 142/Valkyrie), Karl Urban (Skurge), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Stephen Strange), Taika Waititi (voice of Korg), Rachel House (Topaz), Clancy Brown (voice of Surtur), Tadanobu Asano (Hogun), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), Zachary Levi (Fandral), Georgia Blizzard (Asgardian Date #1), Amali Golden (Asgardian Date #2), Charlotte Nicdao (Actor Sif), Matt Damon (Loki Actor - uncredited), Luke Hemsworth (Actor Thor - uncredited), Sam Neill (Actor - uncredited), Stan Lee (Barber - uncredited), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow - uncredited)

 

Although they were critically acclaimed and globally profitable, the first two Thor movies would rank near the bottom of the canon by quality in many a Marvel fan's list.

That gave the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most lucrative brand in Hollywood at the moment, a green light to take things in a different direction for the third installment, Thor: Ragnarok. So they have. Enter Taika Waititi.

It's not a name that will be familiar to most moviegoers, but critics and film buffs have been singing the praises of Waititi, a New Zealander, for the ten years that he has been writing and directing films. They've been small comedies: the 2007 geek romance Eagle vs Shark, the 2015 vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, and the 2016 father-son forest adventure Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Waititi's body of work, though celebrated, did not make him a safe or obvious choice to helm a nearly $200 million threequel. Sometimes gambling on someone with talent has paid off for Marvel, like James Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy. Other times, the universe-weaving studio has clashed and parted ways with a filmmaker, like Edgar Wright on Ant-Man or Patty Jenkins on Thor: The Dark World.

With no tentpole directing job safe these days (see the Star Wars universe's revolving doors), you could have easily foreseen Waititi getting canned. Instead, the director, whose previous films cost between $1 and 3 million, got the studio on board with his new vision for the series (which you could and should call a "soft reboot") and it's a good thing he did because Ragnarok is one of Marvel Studios' best films and easily its freshest since Gunn's first Guardians.

"Thor: Ragnarok" forms a team out of Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), a newly short-haired Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

We open with Thor (Chris Hemsworth, as always), Asgard's God of Thunder, chained in a cage, discussing where he's been with his captor, the fire demon Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown). Surtur promises to unleash hell on Thor's planet in the form of the prophesied (and subtitled) Ragnarok. But it's only a matter of time before Thor is summoning his potent hammer and laying siege to Surtur and anyone else in his path while the all too fitting sound of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" flares. Thor returns to Asgard victorious, with the horned skull of Surtur as a trophy, only to find his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) masquerading as their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as a play (in which Matt Damon plays Loki, Luke Hemsworth plays Thor, and Wilderpeople's Sam Neill is Odin) and statue commemorate the heroic sacrifices made by Loki.

Loki is alive (who wouldn't want that?), but Odin is missing, so Thor and Loki head to New York to find him, only to instead be led to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch in a brief yet agreeable turn), who sends them to Norway, where Odin has some words of wisdom and warning for them. Odin's declining health is cause for Hela (Cate Blanchett), the first-born sibling Thor and Loki never knew they had, to return to Asgard and lay claim to the throne.

This might appear to be setting up more of the Shakespearean royal backstabbing that made Kenneth Branagh a suitable choice to direct the first Thor. Instead, the movie whisks Thor and, separately, Loki to the planet Sakaar. Captured by the boozy mercenary Scrapper 142 (Creed's Tessa Thompson), Thor is tapped by the planet's eccentric Grandmaster (a perfectly Goldblumy Jeff Goldblum) to participate in the Contest of Champions. This gladiatorial spectacle always leads to death for the challengers, but as trailers have already revealed, Thor thinks he's caught a break when he discovers the reigning champion is none other than the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), the monstrous green alter ego of his friend and fellow Avenger Bruce Banner.

Thor, Loki, Hulk, and Scrapper 142 form their own ragtag, Guardians-esque team, traveling through space and encountering epic adventure.

Cate Blanchett enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Hela, the potent and evil older sister Thor and Loki never knew they had.

Thor: Ragnarok checks off the list of elements expected from a Marvel superhero movie. There's action, humor, dynamite visuals, colorful characters, and an investable story.
But it stands out for throwing away the standard issue Marvel origin movie checklist of mentor, villain, and love interest. The screenplay, credited to Marvel television alum Eric Pearson ("Agent Carter") and, creators of the animated "Iron Man: Animated Adventures", Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, (and no doubt sharpened, sans credit, by Waititi and his improv-friendly creative process) is no slave to formula or convention. Look hard enough and you can probably find a three-act structure and something you can classify as an action climax. But Ragnarok never feels like more of the same, which is such an important feature to have in a superhero movie in 2017. The same freshness that made Spider-Man: Homecoming such a pleasant surprise elevates Ragnarok to much greater heights than the first two Thor films, above the satisfactory but not quite outstanding recent origin tales Doctor Strange and Ant-Man and summer's fun but unspectacular Guardians sequel.

You may be inclined to call Ragnarok more of a comedy than its Marvel brethren and direct predecessors, but that's not completely true. The first Thor was basically a fish out of water story akin to Splash. The second one also had its share of comic moments, some of them involving a nude Professor Selvig. And certainly Guardians aren't the Cinematic Universe's only movies to aim for and earn laughs. But Ragnarok is funnier than all of the aforementioned and the comedy never detracts from, only enhances the spirited and vivacious storytelling that unfolds here. It is rewarding whether or not you've seen or appreciated the first two movies or the two Avengers movies.

After what feels close to a hundred high-profile superhero movies released to fanfare since the turn of the millennium, it is almost impossible to make a superhero movie that surprises and doesn't play out to expectations. And I don't want to overstate Ragnarok's success on these fronts or make it sound like it's the most inspired and rewarding superhero movie of all time. But it does surprise and it does satisfy in ways that an established Marvel brand hasn't in a while. I haven't been this excited by a Marvel Cinematic Universe entry since Iron Man 3 four years ago and that one wasn't rewriting anything. The years have produced some backlash for that threequel and I have no doubt that Ragnarok will eventually find the same, probably even sooner the way that critics are gushing over it and that DC Comics fans will feel compelled to trash this in order to prop up the much-anticipated (?) upcoming Justice League film.

As it stands, though, Thor: Ragnarok is as fun and enjoyable as any other movie released this year.

Related Reviews:
2017 Superhero Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 The Lego Batman Movie Logan Wonder Woman Spider-Man: Homecoming
Now in Theaters: Blade Runner 2049 The Killing of a Sacred Deer The Florida Project Wonderstruck
Thor Thor: The Dark World Avengers: Age of Ultron
Directed by Taika Waititi: Hunt for the Wilderpeople What We Do in the Shadows Eagle vs Shark
Chris Hemsworth: The Cabin in the Woods Red Dawn (2012) | Tom Hiddleston: High-Rise Crimson Peak | Tessa Thompson: Creed
Cate Blanchett: Cinderella The Curious Case of Benjamin Button | Jeff Goldblum: Independence Day: Resurgence
Ant-Man Doctor Strange Guardians of the Galaxy Captain America: Civil War Iron Man 3

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Reviewed November 3, 2017.



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