Colin Vanden Berg
Assoc. Arts & Culture Editor
When Marvel Studios released the first “Thor” film in 2011, the studio had only produced three films independent of companies like Sony and Fox, and Disney had purchased Marvel Comics only two years prior. Flash forward to 2017, when years of success have afforded Marvel filmmakers the luxury to experiment with the formula, and focus on making each film unique rather than emphasizing connections to the larger film universe.
The third “Thor” film, “Ragnarok”—the seventeenth installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—bares very little resemblance to the iconic Marvel character’s first theatrical feature six years ago. For instance, this film is a comedy, unlike both previous Thor outings; also, the script either glosses over or ignores several significant plot points and characters from “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World.” By taking this direction, Marvel and director Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “What We Do in the Shadows”), deliver an incredibly fun and entertaining blockbuster, while sacrificing the dramatic weight of the character’s mythology which the Thor franchise previously exploited.
Thor, the God of Thunder and founding Avenger (Chis Hemsworth), returns to his home of Asgard, only to find it threatened by Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett). After Hela defeats him and strands him on the planet Sakaar, Thor works to reclaim his world with the help of fellow Avenger Bruce Banner, AKA The Hulk (Mark Rufallo).
With the added menace of Surter (Clancy Brown), a demonic being and bringer of Ragnarok (the destruction of Asgard), the film’s premise sounds like it could be quite dramatic. However, the Ragarok portion of the plot is strangely marginalized compared to other story-lines, and with few exceptions, Waititi emphasizes the comedic angle of a given plot point over the dramatic angle. The result is a film experience bursting with frantic energy and packed with incredible jokes, even if some situations don’t quite call for humor.
Hemsworth and Rufallo both give great performances, perfectly capturing the comedic tone which Waititi establishes early on, while also anchoring the film with the pathos appropriate for the dire circumstances their characters face, after already enduring much over the combined five films they’ve appeared in. The characters who most embody the film’s comedic tone are the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), leader of the planet Sakaar, and the colossal but peaceable alien Korg, played by Waititi himself.
The film certainly isn’t devoid of drama, however. Blanchett’s Hela is an imposing force, with a magnetic and powerful presence that adds great tension and high stakes to every scene she’s in. Also, the story takes Thor, Bruce, and franchise newcomer Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), each on an emotional journey which feels earned and concludes in a satisfying manner for each lead character.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is first and foremost a popcorn film. The pacing is fast, the action is thrilling and the humor is non-stop. Its biggest flaw is that the script puts its characters through harrowing and dramatic situations, but opts for telling jokes and keeping the plot moving, allowing the characters to truly feel the weight of the high-stakes drama they experience.