“Thor: Ragnarok” Movie Review


     For over four decades, the “Star Wars” franchise has successfully relied on Skywalker lore as the driving force for what will soon be 8 films in the series, while still expanding the universe with an array of new characters which have brought a fresh perspective to the  storyline.  What’s amazing about the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe is the fact that other than the comic book foundation of these characters, the films in the ongoing catalog of titles have no core story to fall back on.  And yet “Thor: Ragnarok”, the third in the “Thor” standalone series, is the seventeenth in the MCU overall, which continues to churn out fun and colorful entertainment that consistently excels in the presentation of well developed larger than life characters who occupy well drawn worlds and are thrust into interesting and worth while stories.  All this and never once taking themselves too seriously.

     That last line may be the top draw for “Thor: Ragnarok”, which features a lead character, played by Chris Hemsworth, who in his first solo outings, 2011’s “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World”, projected a bland and one dimensional character who lacked the appeal of his other Avengers counterparts such as Tony Stark/Ironman and Steve Rogers/Captain America.  Clearly, this is no longer the case.  Directed by Taika Waititi, from a script by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, “Thor: Ragnarok” is one of the best films of the year, and even near the top of the heap when considering the entire MCU.  Is the third time a charm?  Perhaps, but the talents in front of and behind the camera seem to meld together perfectly, building on the formula that worked extremely well for “Captain America: Civil War”, but also injecting life into several notable new characters who compliment Thor from nearly every imaginable angle.

     This time around, we begin to understand where Thor may have been when the Earth bound “Avengers” characters might have needed him in previous films (I’m always the first to wonder where key members are in these standalone films when the world is collapsing in their absence.).  Thor, of course, is not from this planet, and has several potentially catastrophic issues to deal with in his own home world of Asgard.  Aside from an early battle with a prophetic fiery beast who claims Asgard will soon fall during an event called Ragnarok, Thor must now defend his home from the return of his sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who arrives known as the Goddess of Death and has her sights set on acquiring the throne and taking her rightful place as the ruler of Asgard given she is the oldest child of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who is no longer in place as King.  But as you might surmise, there are bumps in the road for both parties.

     After one of the newest Avengers helps Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) locate Odin on Earth, Hela confronts her two brothers and demands they kneel and cede their rights to the throne.  When their encounter leads to a clash of titans, the ensuing race back to Asgard leaves both Thor and Loki trapped on an unknown planet, while Hela arrives at her destination and easily takes over the city with her unstoppable power.  While this is going on, Thor finds himself within the grip of a planet controlled by a fight promoter called the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and is quickly captured by a mysterious bounty hunter named Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who makes her living finding contenders to fight the Grandmaster’s champion in an all out gladiator style competition to the death.  Presuming you have paid attention to the film’s marketing or have seen the trailer, you already know the champion is none other than Thor’s Avengers teammate the Hulk.  Escaping the planet alive and getting back to Asgard before Hela takes complete control is the driving force behind the films plot, and it’s certainly an entertaining ride.

     Aside from the amping up of the story and script from a comedic standpoint (“Thor: Ragnarok” is easily the funniest film thus far in the MCU.), Waititi and his collaborators have drawn some of the most original and memorable settings that I’ve seen in a Science Fiction film in quite some time.  While most art directors and production designers have gone the way of mimicking the cityscapes of “Blade Runner” and the like, Dan Hennah and Ra Vincent have created a world unlike anything you have ever seen, fully utilizing a unique and unpredictable color palette to paint the buildings, space craft, and costumes within the Grandmaster’s home world that pops in every sequence.  But more importantly, the filmmakers have also created several new supporting players, some of which are memorable and interesting enough to warrant their own standalone film someday. 

     As the primary antagonist, Hela, who sports some sweet antler like headgear when she heads into battle, is one of those villains you just can’t take your eyes off of, but who also has an unmistakable lust of power and a helluva mean streak.  We know she has arrived when she dispatches the entire Asgardian army in much the same way the Bride sliced up the Crazy 88 in “Kill Bill: Volume 1”, and does so with a smile.  In addition, the nefarious Grandmaster must have been a dream role for Jeff Goldblum who steals every scene which he appears in much the same way he did in “Jurassic Park”.  And Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is likely the best of these many new standout characters, as she continually gets the best of her godly male co-star and functions as an equal when the stakes are raised, rather than backing down and having the men do all the dirty work.  Karl Urban also appears as a conflicted former member of the Asgardian army and even the director himself lends his voice talents to Korg, the resident comic relief and fellow combatant and prisoner within the Grandmaster’s fighter pipeline.

     Aside from making a great film, Waititi has essentially paid attention to the most important elements of what has made each Marvel film successful and combined them together in his own colorful extravaganza.  “Thor: Ragnarok” takes the formula used in “Captain America: Civil War” in which Cap is surrounded by plenty of notable and popular supporting players and infuses it with the galactic screwball comedy of “Guardians of the Galaxy” to create something that feels fresh and unique and not like a sequel, helping the MCU reach heights it had yet to achieve.  One post credit scene hints as to where this crew may be heading next (There are two scenes to stay for.), but I think we are all but assured to see this newly established crew, led by Thor, crossing paths with Star-Lord and company in the very near future.  Think of these guys as Captain Sulu and his Excelsior crew in “Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country”, ready to swoop in and save the day when the Avengers team on Earth needs a hand.  Something tells me they're gonna need one soon.  GRADE: A