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‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Review: Probably the Best Possible Thor Movie, But It Still Has Some Problems

Thor Ragnarok
Marvel

How old is Thor? Thousands of years old? Millions? Whatever his technical age, he’s got way more miles on him than 34-year-old Chris Hemsworth’s mega-hardbody would suggest. His immortality and invincibility are an asset for superheroing, but they’re a major liability for his movies, because it’s almost impossible to care about a pompous god who can’t be killed. Figuring out ways to bring variation to an inherently static character has proven difficult for the Thor movies. Director Taika Waititi and the rest of the Marvel team’s smart idea with Thor: Ragnarok was to lean in to the notion that Thor laughs in the face of danger by creating a movie that’s almost non-stop jokes, and inviting the audience to laugh along with him.

The threat of Ragnarok, the fabled end of the Norse gods, hangs over the film, but only in the distant background, obscured by colorful visuals, eccentric characters, and plenty of irreverent humor. Most of the runtime is concerned with Thor’s misadventures on a far-off planet named Sakaar, which is ruled by a quirky alien warlord (Jeff Goldblum, playing himself, but going by the name of “Grandmaster”) who organizes gladiatorial games for his amusement. Thor gets stranded on Sakaar during an invasion of Asgard by Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett, devouring the scenery like a man who just wandered into an Old Country Buffet after a month-long hunger strike).

Eons earlier, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banished Hela, but Asgard’s Big Daddy remains weakened from the events of Thor: The Dark World. (I don’t blame him; I still haven’t fully recovered from watching it myself.) His illness enables Hela to return and exact her revenge. Thor and his mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) must put aside their differences to find a way home and rescue their brethren from Hela’s wrath.

Thor Ragnarok
Marvel

They’ll need some help, and as luck would have it, Sakaar has also become the home of one of Thor’s old buddies from the Avengers, the incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, or, in many scenes, his green, motion-captured equivalent), who has been missing since the events of 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Hulk’s pretty happy with life on Sakaar, though, and he’s not interested in helping Thor (or, as he hilariously calls him, “Baby Arms”).

Thor and Hulk don’t get along so they constantly bicker. Thor and Loki have one of the most contentious sibling rivalries in all of fiction, so they constantly bicker. Asgard’s other protectors (including Idris Elba’s Heimdall) aren’t too keen to be invaded by Hela, so they constantly bicker, at least until she attacks them with these hella-cool magical blades she summons out of thin air. Basically everyone in this movie (except maybe Anthony Hopkins, and even he gets one scene to cut loose) is constantly cracking wise. Spider-Man on his most sarcastic day has never quipped this much. It’s a striking change of pace from the dreary Thor: The Dark WorldMarvel could have called this movie Thor: The Lighthearted World.

The screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost has some sharp zingers, but most of the comedy comes from the delivery by actors like Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, a warrior of Asgard turned disillusioned drunk, and Goldblum (who maybe improvised every single word he said? If you told me he never opened his script, I would believe you). Thor: Ragnarok runs a long two hours and 15 minutes, and features more subplots and characters than it needs — and that’s before the obligatory (but narratively pointless) Marvel Cinematic Universe cameos. But the actors are all so good, and so are there performances, so it’s easy to go along for the ride, even if the movie is sometimes as sloppy as an Asgardian thunder god after too many pints of mead.

Thor Ragnarok
Marvel

Visually, Sakaar is kind of a mixed bag. What little we see of the world is a generic alien cityscape, but the interiors of Grandmaster’s palace are filled with gorgeously designed extras and technology that look like they were ripped straight from the pages of old Jack Kirby comics. Ragnarok also feels a little light on action, even with the centerpiece Hulk versus Thor sequence; the highlight is actually the prologue, where Thor battles a horde of fire demons to the sounds of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” For one brief and geektastic moment, Ragnarok morphs into the love child of a classic Dungeons & Dragons game and a sick blacklight poster.

But while Waititi definitely figured out a way to make a fun Thor movie, I’m not sure he entirely figured out how to make Thor a particularly interesting guy. The reality is this movie is so colorful and zippy and packed with outlandish supporting characters, that Hemsworth’s job is relatively easy. He just needs to look great, kick ass, nail the one-liners, and ride off into the sunset (or Avengers: Infinity War, whichever comes first). Thor: Ragnarok is sort of like a giant flatscreen TV hanging on a wall with an enormous hole in the middle of it. The TV is beautiful, but it doesn’t fix the hole. It just covers it up.

Additional Thoughts:
-With so many supporting characters in this film, I didn’t have room to talk about Karl Urban as Skurge, who plays the lone Asgardian who sides with Hela. It’s not a huge role, but Urban looks like he’s having a blast, and he really make one of Marvel’s most over-the-top character designs work for him.

– I don’t want to spoil it for you, but one of the movie’s big emotional moments comes right out of Spaceballs. I’m not sure if it’s deliberate. I’m not sure if it’s even meant as a joke. But it’s 100 percent from Spaceballs.

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