Overview: Traveling the nine realms in search of infinity stones, Thor Odinson returns to Asgard in an attempt to stop the destruction of Asgard at the behest of Hela, the Goddess of Death. 2017; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; PG-13; 130 minutes.
Ragnarok: After years of being the studio’s black sheep, Thor returns to his solo series with a complete reinvention. No hammer, no way home, and stuck on the other side of the universe, Thor is forced to go on a journey of self discovery.
Thor Odinson was always a valiant warrior. While Loki was the villain of the first film, it was Thor’s own hubris that provided the greatest conflict. He earned the worthiness of Mjolnir. So when Cate Blanchett’s Hela crashes onto the scene, throwing Thor’s world into complete disarray, we know he’s fighting for a worthy cause. But where is Thor’s place in all this? Not in terms the franchise world, but where does he belong as both a person and a god? He’s a man on a mission but when it’s all said and done, it’s answering this question that proves to be his biggest trial. Hemsworth brings the conflict full force as the Prince of Asgard is put through the ringer.
There’s a quiet through-line in the Thor films regarding the House of Odin: tragedy and mistakes. It turns out Odin, in all his glory and wisdom, learned just as his son did by making plenty of errors as a younger man. In Thor, it’s in how he raised Loki. In Ragnarok…you’ll have to see for yourself. How Thor and Loki confront those mistakes, and what it means to them, gives the film a weight that could have otherwise been empty calories that aren’t bad for you, but lighter than expected.
Ragnaroll: Make no mistake, Ragnarok is a great time regardless of the drama, but that additional weight absolutely grounds and drives what otherwise could have been lost to the cosmos. For those about worried Taika Waititi losing his voice in the franchise blockbuster game, sleep in comfort knowing this is wholly a Taika Waititi production. There’s a rhythm to the comedy here that ranges from awkward to outlandish, but never random. Taika Waititi reminds us of how well he can layer comedy and excitement while building characters to genuine catharsis. That comedic timing is unparalleled, some may even mistake the film as a straight up comedy at times. Let it be known that this film never loses sight of its goals. Characters and themes never get lost in the shuffle of a grander universe. This film exists for Thor and his supporting cast, and not for the cinematic universe at large.
The biggest issue with the film is in how it slightly falters in the bigger emotional sequences. They all hit precisely as they need to, Waititi’s handle of character and tone walk away without a single hindrance, but some of the emotional peaks need time to settle longer. The worlds and adventure sequences are so rich, one can’t help but wish Waititi had spent a little more time on them. But perhaps that would break up the pacing of the film. As it stands, this is arguably the MCU film that seems to not have any struggle with pacing. Characters move from realm to realm, breaking sweat in character but never in storytelling, each consistently guided by a clear motivation and culmination of an arc.
The Revengers: As the villain of multiple MCU films now, Loki has hit his rough patch. Is Loki a villain or has he simply tricked himself into thinking he’s any worse than Odin? Possibly sociopathic in his unclarity, the God of Mischief must decide what side of the fence he finally falls on. He’s survived a handful of world-ending scenarios but none involved the potential destruction of his own. Tom Hiddleston continues bringing new little nuances to the character and his journey, casually strutting and conniving his way through a script that relishes every moment he’s onscreen. Regardless of consensus on the Thor films, this series has never given Hiddleston less than fascinating material as the character. Thor might be building a team of his own, but this film starts and ends as a journey between the two brothers.
When Cate Blanchett arrives as Hela, it comes on the heels of The Dark World‘s Malekith, easily the MCU’s worst villains. So in that regard, the franchise can only go up from here. That being said, Blanchett calculates such a delightfully evil performance. Hela dominates the screen and Blanchett denies her any sympathy. It’s clear quickly where she’s coming from and what she’s after. After discovering her history with Asgard, you understand instantly why the Goddess of Death thrives on it.
Tessa Thompson joins the MCU as Valkyrie, the aggressively alcoholic, former Asgardian warrior now working at the behest of Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster (yes, it’s as ludicrously wonderful as it sounds). Valkyrie’s own checkered past with Asgard has left her destitute for sympathy and she merrily drinks and fights her way to a possible early grave. Thompson imbues the character with such a swagger and legitimacy, you’d be hardpressed to find a more badass new superhero this year. Mark my words, Valkyrie runs away with this movie. However, as you can see, Asgard has a history of developing hurt for a number of people. They just all deal with it in different manners.
Someone who hasn’t been hurt by Asgard, but rather his own home, is Bruce Banner. Mark Ruffalo returns as one of the secret MVP’s of the franchise though this time he spends as much time as Hulk as he does Bruce Banner. After the events of Age of Ultron, Hulk found his way to a literal ass end of space. Ragnarok posits the character position as a self-imposed exile, succumbed to suffering for his crimes on Earth. They don’t want him. Why should he want to go back? Banner’s predicament puts him at odds with the not-so-jolly green giant and he has to decide if his own needs trump the needs of others.
FantaSynth: Those looking for more of the traditional fantasy of the first Thor journey’s might walk away disappointed in the approach. On that note, it’s important to walk into this film knowing the history of the Thor series, but be prepared to toss aside Asgardian lore for cosmic space fantasy. Buildings constructed from a plethora of symmetrical shapes and colors, it’s a complete love letter to the aesthetics of Jack Kirby.
Waititi still gives the film a voice of his own. Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” made a smashing debut with the first teaser, and that vibe carries through the film. Waititi and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe composed imagery that could very well be the covers to heavy metal albums in their goofy ferocity. Then there’s Mark Mothersbaugh’s score, almost 8-bit in its simplicity, Waititi clamored for fantasy music with arpeggiated rhythms and synthesized fantasy. The world of Sakar doesn’t feel like Guardians of the Galaxy-lite as much as it does in Masters of the Universe style spectacle. Jean-Michel Jarre and William Onyeabor were major influences on the score, riffing on fantastical soundscapes and providing us with one of the truly standout scores of the series.
Final Thoughts: Thor: Ragnarok gives us the God of Thunder in his most comic book appropriate landscape yet, all guided by the creative mind of Taika Waititi. You’ll be hardpressed to find another comic book film like it. It’s a joyous riot from start to finish but the best thing about this adventure is the journey within the Son of Odin.
Featured Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures