Not content with redefining the superhero genre of movies, the latest effort from Marvel Studios has also redefined the word “psychedelic”. Apparently, the last solo effort to feature everyone’s favourite, muscle-bound God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth), Thor: The Dark World (Taylor, 2013), did not meet the expectations of many fans and critics out there; it’s easily among the top three less-than-stellar offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (though, personally, I enjoyed it quite a lot) so, in an effort to rectify this, continue the expansion of their cinematic universe, and finally allow the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) some time to shine, director Taika Waititi has stepped in to infuse the hammer-wielding hero with some of the same outlandish humour seen in the Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014; 2017) film series but does it work?
Thor: Ragnarok begins with the titular hero bound in chains in the hellish Muspelheim as a prison of the devil-like Surtur (Clancy Brown); through a humorous voice-over, we quickly learn the Thor’s search for the legendary Infinity Stones has turned up nothing and he has stumbled upon evidence to prove that Ragnarök, the twilight of the Gods, is looming on the horizon. As Ragnarök is prophesied to be caused by Surtur placing his crown into the Eternal Flame, Thor defeats the demon and claims his crown. Upon returning to Asgard, he quickly sees through the tricky of his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), easily deducing that the God of Mischief has been posing as their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
Less than impressed, Thor forces Loki to take him to Odin’s location; however, they are immediately intercepted by Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who, somewhat needlessly, ushers them along to Norway, where Odin has found himself. On the verge of death, Odin tells his sons that his passing will release his first-born child, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who desires to end all Asgardian life and bring destruction to the Nine Realms. Upon vanishing into a puff of golden sparks, this immediately comes to pass and, when Thor attempts to stop Hela, she easily catches and destroys his magical hammer, Mjolnir.
Fearful of his half-sister’s great power, Loki commands the Bifröst to transport them back to Asgard; however, Hela follows and casts her younger siblings into the void of space. Upon her arrival in Asgard, she kills Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Fandral (Zachary Levi) within the blink of an eye and recruits Scurge (Karl Urban) as her executioner.
Deposited upon the planet Sakaar, Thor is captured – his power subdued by an obedience disk – by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and becomes a prisoner of the enigmatic Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Loki is also there, having landed weeks earlier due to a time-dilation effect and, being in favour with the Grandmaster, is content to remain, leaving Thor to challenge the Grandmaster’s champion in the arena to win his freedom. Just when all hope seems lost, Thor is confronted by the champion, who turns out to be the Incredible Hulk. Revelling in his fame and glory, the now-sentient Hulk battles Thor mercilessly. However, Thor summons the powers of lightning to turn the tide and is summarily subdued by the Grandmaster.
In Hulk’s bed chambers, Thor converses with his fellow Avenger, who is less than enthusiastic about helping Thor as he was hated and feared on Earth, even by his team mates. Thor persists, even managing to convince Valkyrie to help him escape and save Asgard but, after activating the Quinjet that brought Hulk to Sakaar, Thor loses his primary means of transportation when the Hulk destroys the ship during his manic reversion back into Bruce Banner. Banner, in a state of shock as he has been trapped within the Hulk for two years, fears for the loss of his identity should he transform again, yet still teams up with Thor, Valkyrie, and Loki to steal the Grandmaster’s luxury spaceship, return to Asgard, and prevent Hela from bringing ruin to the Nine Realms.
In case it isn’t clear from the trailers or television spots, Thor: Ragnarok is an action comedy with a heavy emphasis on the comedy. Thor, whose humour was always present and based in a dry wit, quips one-liners and glib remarks throughout the film, even in the face of annihilation at the hands of Hela. However, the humour works very well; the chemistry between Hemsworth and Hiddleston is as potent as ever and both react, and act, perfectly with the Hulk.
Speaking of the Hulk, the Green Goliath finally gets a chance to show a personality; having been transformed for so long has made the Hulk capable of intelligent, if child-like, speech and able to comprehend what is happening around him. There is a clear difference between the Hulk, who is always angry and craving a fight, and Banner; Banner’s previous tenuous control over the Hulk is apparently now lost and he faces a very real fear of being consumed by the Hulk (although this is never developed beyond a short exchange with Thor).
After a strong but, undoubtedly disappointing, showing from Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), there was quite a lot of anticipation surrounding Hela. Like Ultron (James Spader), Hela has a powerful presence and a snappy wit, with clear and concise motivations: she seeks to rule the Nine Realms through anarchy and death rather than the peace and prosperity her father once sought. However, although she is easily Thor’s most powerful foe, she still succumbs to the same issues that plague many of Marvel’s villains: procrastination. The film, honestly, spends too much time on Sakaar and not enough time with Hela who, upon reaching Asgard, kills a bunch of people, stands around gloating, and is then unable to enact her plan simply because Heimdall (Idris Elba) stole the sword that activates the Bifröst. This is quite the problem as she literally storms into Asgard, leaves some bodies in her wake, awakens an undead army and her steed, Fenris Wolf, and then stands around doing nothing until Thor and his team (the “Revengers”) finally return to take her on.
Logically you would think that it would be the Grandmaster who acts as the secondary antagonist; however, you would be largely mistaken. Although Goldblum, who was clearly given free reign to ad-lib and bring as much of his awesome quirks to the character, steals every scene he is in, he isn’t even an obstacle in Thor’s path beyond making him fight the Hulk. Indeed, Thor stages an uprising (lead by Korg (Taika Waititi, whose soft-spoken take on the character was a surprise, to say the least) simply to distract the Grandmaster’s pitiful forces long enough for him to steal his ship and escape. The film appears to be treating Ragnarök as its primary threat; however, the humour laced throughout is so prominent that this apocalyptic event isn’t really treated with the weight or gravitas that you might expect, meaning that Thor’s realisation that he must revive Surtur to cause Ragnarök as the only means of defeating Hela is given barely any significance (Korg even cracks jokes during what should be the sombre and gut-wrenching destruction of Asgard).
Valkyrie is a welcome addition to the franchise; having faced Hela centuries ago and watched all of her fellow female warriors perish, she has become a bitter recluse, resigned to being an alcoholic bounty hunter. Thor gives her a chance at redemption and she takes it gladly, taking up arms once more to help rescue the Asgardians from extinction. However, her inclusion comes at a price; in a throwaway line, Thor reveals that he and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) have broken up, and (perhaps more criminally) Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) is noticeably and inexplicable absent, with no mention of her in any way, and the Warriors Three (Thor’s brothers-in-arms) are unceremoniously killed off presumably to appease Idris Elba with a more significant role for Heimdall, who basically becomes Thor’s right-hand man by the film’s end.
Yet, Thor: Ragnarok is a stunning film to watch; Sakaar is a dystopian cyber-punk dreamland, filled with the decrepit, lived-in quality of the cities and peoples seen in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. It is clear that the film is meant firmly entrench Thor in the wild, wacky cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the eighties-inspired soundtrack and visuals really help to hammer that point home (no pun intended).
In addition, the humour is truly entertaining and the action is intense and thrilling; the battle between Hulk and Thor is fantastic to watch and the sheer scope of the movie is quite impressive given that it mainly jumps back and forth between Sakaar and Asgard. Additionally, as he is devoid of Mjolnir, Thor showcases his command of lightning to great effect in this film; he truly becomes the God of Thunder, summoning lighting bolts, surrounding himself with a shield of lightning, and powering himself up to the point where is is all-but untouchable.
In the end, though, I actually expected more. I was expecting a threat such as the Goddess of Death to be treated with a bit more severity; her campaign never really gets a chance to begin before she is stopped in her tracks and the true impact of her actions or threat is never really felt meaning that, in the end, she is as ineffectual a villain as Malekith was because neither got to showcase their incredible potential due to the many other plot threads at work in the film.
Hulk, despite given much more characterisation than ever before, actually quickly fades into the background by the third act and the interesting idea that Banner and the Hulk are finally two separate entities within the same body is never truly explored. Most notably, Thor: Ragnarok goes out of its way to quickly tie up the loose ends from Thor: The Dark World with a very simple and disappointing payoff; when The Dark World ended with Loki impersonating Odin on the throne of Asgard, it posed so many questions and raised expectations of an epic battle to reclaim the throne. Instead, Thor simply reveals the deception and finds Odin maybe ten minutes later. It would have been faster if not for the unnecessary cameo by Doctor Strange; literally, Strange’s inclusion offers nothing of value (Loki could have taken Thor straight to Norway and skipped the entire New York sequence completely) except, I guess, to establish (or re-establish) that Strange acts as the mystic guardian of Earth but we already knew this from Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016). I’m all for cameos and inclusions of other Marvel characters but they’ve got to add something to the film and I really don’t think it did in this instance.
I think those who disliked Thor: The Dark World will see this film as a redemption as it is, undoubtedly, a better movie and probably the strongest of the Thor films as Hemsworth and Hiddleston truly embody their characters and the interactions between them and their fellow cast of characters was great to see. However, I can’t help but think a film about the literally death of Gods should have some more gravitas to it and be more epic in its scope and execution; instead, this is an action comedy primarily focused on integrating Thor into the cosmic aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and infusing the Hulk with some actual characterisation and, in these aspects, it succeeds spectacularly.
Recommended: Yes, though I’d have to voice a a bit of disappointment at the execution of the film’s primary plot.
Best moment: Hands down, the battle between Hulk and Thor in the arena, which delivered in every way possible.
Worst moment: Hela’s lacklustre effort as the primary villain and the execution of Ragnarök left a lot to be desired, effectively nullifying the significance of the final act of the film.