Usually when films get around to their third, the quality dips… a lot, and we’re left with a shell of a franchise that tarnishes what’s come before. Thor: Ragnarok not only bucks that trend, but delivers a film that’s not only the best of the three Thor films released so far, but also one of the best in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Taika Waititi with a script by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, Thor: Ragnarok is a visual treat of a film that feels like a comic come to life in many ways. This shouldn’t be surprising as both Kyle and Yost have written comics themselves and have a long history in animated comic based franchises. Pearson was part of the team behind Agent Carter, a television series focused on a kick-ass female lead, which in itself makes some of the film not surprising.
With Odin deposed from the throne the evil Hela returns to take over Asgard and the Nine Realms. Thor is sidetracked as he’s sent to the world Sakaar where he’s forced into a gladiator role and comic book Spartacus. That latter part is a new take on comic writer Greg Pak’s “World War Hulk” storyline that saw the Hulk in a similar role. But, here the Hulk is a companion Thor must win over as we find out where he’s been all these years.
What’s immediately noticeable about the film, beyond it’s different visual tone, is the comedic sense of it all. Waititi is the director behind the hilarious shorts featuring Thor and a roommate and that same humor is here. It’s a dry sense of humor where quips are given back and forth and visual jokes are few and far apart. Chris Hemsworth in the title role plays off the humor well delivering it all with a seriousness that makes it all even more entertaining. But, that humor is also mixed with lots of action that’s well paced and keeps things flowing through the end battle. An action film with comedic elements or is it a comedic action film? That’s a hard one but the laughs were enough that I missed dialogue either because I was laughing or the audience was, making the film one you’ll need to see multiple times to get everything.
But, back to Waititi and the visuals. With an energy about it that feels like Blade Runner, Fifth Element, and bubblegum pop mixed together, the worlds are bright and visually stunning each in their own way. Sakaar is a mixed of colors which enhance each scene and brought into the design of every character. Watching the film I couldn’t help think this was Jack Kirby’s brilliance brought to the screen for us to enjoy. Warriors for the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum, look like the design of Kirby’s Celestials. The film is almost an homage to his brilliance, fitting for the year we celebrated his 100th birthday. All of it pops in the IMAX 3D I watched the film in.
The movie expands the cast too. Hemsworth is his usual entertaining self getting to up his comedic chops. Tom Hiddleston as Loki has his moments as well but generally plays the mischievous straight man to everyone else’s jokes. Mark Ruffalo, who is a newcomer to the Thor franchise, brings more interest to Bruce Banner and the Hulk, creating a neurotic man both lost and afraid of what might happen. But those newcomers are where things stand out. Idris Elba as Heimdall gets to step up and be a badass in the film, making me long for more Elba in the Marvel Universe. Goldblum brings a cosmic disco sense to it all in his Grandmaster making a villain fun. Karl Urban as Skurge is possibly the low point with just too little to do. But, Cate Blanchett as Hela and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie are the two real highlights.
Blanchett delivers a villain role that is badass and tragic and very intimidating. She is Thor’s better in every way and this is the first villain in a Marvel film I felt this. She’s not defeated in some battle, she kills unknown amounts of people, and she does it with her own hands. Thompson too rocks as Valkyrie a bounty hunter who has a history with Asgard and Hela. Her initial badassness is confirmed later as the real battle begins and again we get a character who is every bit Thor’s equal. The two women being such highlights makes me think Pearson’s role with Agent Carter might have helped. Two commanding women are not something we generally see in a Marvel film, let alone two that are better than the male lead in so many ways. Hela whips Thors as and Valkyrie gets the better of him again and again. The tide feels like it’s turning a bit when it comes to female characters in comic adaptations with the addition of DC’s Wonder Woman who herself rocked the big screen this year.
The story itself is solid with few flaws and a finale that actually doesn’t disappoint. Third acts generally have been letdowns when it comes to comic films and this is the exception to the rule.
IMAX 3D just immersed me in the movie with moments actually causing me to feel like I was falling and moving too, a fun addition to it all.
Is the film a must see? Yes, on the big screen and preferably in IMAX 3D. Then you can see it again when you realize you’ve missed a lot from laughing and being entertained. One of the best Marvel releases yet and one of the best and most entertaining films released this year.
Overall Rating: 9.35