An effective mashing of Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor movies, great fun, colourful and yet with good heart.
When Thor returns to Asgard and finds his father Odin to actually be his brother Loki in disguise all along, the Goddess of Death, Hela, is released from her prison and takes over Asgard. Thor and Loki are forced to fight back after being cast out, but first they need some unlikely allies from across the galaxy.
The Thor movies are perhaps the most perplexing and contain the most trivial fun of all the Marvel films, yet simultaneously they’ve had some of the most important plot elements driving the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Director Kenneth Branagh brought class and integrity to an unlikely series with the original, while Thor 2: The Dark World is often considered one of the worst that the MCU has ever produced (that, is slightly unfair, Tom Hiddleston as Loki is on fire in that film). So this third part could have been a total disaster, especially after the MCU’s recent bout of excessive cameos and crossovers.
Thor Ragnarok disposes of a lot of what makes the Thor movies… Thor movies. You have to remember that the first film came at a time Marvel Studios wasn’t owned by Disney, and were still feeling their way into the MCU. Making films that were distinct from each other yet connected (with the marvelous crescendo that was 2012’s Avengers).
Within the first, five minutes of Thor Ragnarok, we get Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song blasting at us as a newfangled “theme” for Thor’s character. Good song, but already consistency it lost from the previous entries.
Much of the film is not set on Asgard, or Earth (although that second one is a blessing) in fact Thor finds himself on the planet of Sakaar, a sort of “dumping ground of lost things”.
Marvel’s clear device here, as seen in the trailers, is that since James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was such a tremendous success, is that the MCU’s galaxy is incredibly 1980s and rich with vibrant colours. Heck, Thor falls immediately into a garbage dump. The most colourful garbage dump you have ever seen!
But director Taika Waititi is a darling among critics, having made great comedies such as What We Do in the Shadows and The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and he is a great fit for Marvel’s sense of comedic stylings. He got a lot of star power for this film, even for incredibly small and insignificant roles (there’s a good reason why there’s several New Zealand accents floating around).
But surprisingly the film juggles several characters quite well. Hiddleston’s Loki, for once, didn’t steal the show completely, leaving room for Anthony Hopkins to deliver some emotional gravitas as Odin, Cate Blanchett as one of Marvel’s more successful villains, Hela, Mark Ruffalo is a sparking ball of nervous energy that grounds us from the heady heights of god battles, Jeff Goldblum as a character he was probably born to play, and even Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange has a brief cameo that… frankly… was superb compared to his own movie. Waititi’s experience with very character-based storytelling and writing means they all get just enough time to shine.
It can be very CG heavy, but then the Thor movies by their very nature always were, while compared to Civil War and Doctor Strange, the CG seemed necessary; a massive battle between Hela and a legion of soldiers, quickly snaps Blanchett into CG-rubber-Blanchett so she can have a sword speared through her chest. For example.
It juggles a lot. Thor, Loki and Odin’s family feuds, huge spectacle, other worlds, healthy comedy that feels like it belongs, death and lost (this Marvel film actually does things with its characters), and while stylistically it doesn’t quite merge with the first Thor movies, it does respect the characters and their journey without piling MCU prerequisites on top of them. In the here and now of Marvel Studios, it was a lot of fun.
Additional Marshmallows: Massive kudos to whoever made the trailers for this film. There’s some very devious trickery and misdirection at work to give show cool scenes but to not spoil anything! Well done! One of the best trailer/film comparison I’ve seen yet!