It’s been almost ten years since Marvel launched its Cinematic Universe. In that time, we have seen comic book movies catapult into popularity. Marvel has patiently constructed a universe of a nearly twenty heroes and dozens of supporting characters, a feat that really doesn’t have a cinematic parallel. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Marvel has set up three pillars that they build their movies from: Action, Comedy, and Drama. Thor: Ragnarok, the third installment in Thor’s story, takes significant chunks from these pillars and throws them all together in a spectacle quite unlike anything the MCU has ever produced.
The God of Thunder’s most recent quest sends him careening away from Asgard hammerless and strands him on a junk planet called Sakaar to compete in a gladiatorial brawl with the Hulk, all in an effort to return to Asgard to take on the Goddess of Death. It is a mouthful for sure, and at times it feels like it. Still, despite having wildly moving parts, converging story lines, new character introductions, and established character development on the docket, director Taika Waititi deftly weaves a colorful and purposeful addition to the MCU tapestry.
Chris Hemsworth’s Thor grows a lot in this film, edging his way closer and closer to becoming the king of Asgard he was meant to be. Yet, there is a playfulness that is preserved in this development that allows Hemsworth to slide right into the comedic fabric of the MCU. Hiddleston’s Loki is right there beside him in this growth, and it is evident that the success of Guardians of the Galaxy has afforded Marvel an audience that is privy to quips and jokes in otherwise dark films.
That isn’t to say that Thor: Ragnarok is a dark movie. Sure, the villain is the Goddess of Death, brilliantly performed by Cate Blanchett (goodness, does she nail it!), but that darkness is balanced by lovable characters like Korg and the banter between brothers Thor and Loki. And that isn’t even mentioning the visual brightness this film flaunts. The vibrant golds of Asgard are easily outshone by the rainbow pallet of Sakaar and its colorful inhabitants, most notably the Grandmaster, played splendidly by Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park: The Lost World), who seems to really be acting as himself.
Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk thrives as the Avengers’ unsung hero. Ruffalo, despite his Hulk never having his own film in the MCU, has carved a very developed story into the workings of the films he appears in. In fact, his Hulk is so well established that for the first time, we really get to see Hulk in his prime, and it is done really well.
Ragnarok isn’t perfect. There is a lot going on in this movie. A few notables are killed off a bit unceremoniously, with little mention of it later, and some characters (notably Idris Elba’s Heimdall) feel they could have been a little more utilized. Comic fans will notice whiffs of Planet Hulk sprinkled in, as well as appearances by Executioner (Karl Urban), and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). At times, all of these characters and storylines become a bit bloated, but the sheer scale and spectacle of Ragnarok is quick to make you forget about overthinking, which really eases the film along.
Taika Waititi, known for smaller, more indie productions like What We Do in the Shadows, delivers a pulse pounding, fist pumping, raucous roar of a good movie with Thor: Ragnarok, executing the big budget transition with noteworthy aplomb. Ragnarok further tightens the strands of an immense universe that are starting to be pulled towards the Infinity War conclusion, while adding a few of its own that fit right in with the meat of the MCU. There is a lot of fun to be had between the credits of this film, but there is also a lot of heart, two ingredients that seem to be paired less and less often. It is an ambitious effort with dazzling results | Caleb Sawyer