Ealasaid A. Haas
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has always been a good-natured, funny guy with strong emotions and a fierce loyalty to his people (both his fellow Asgardians and the various characters who have battled at his side). He’s not always terribly bright, but he does his best. “Thor: Ragnarok” has taken all his best characteristics and dialed them to eleven. The only thing it’s missing is a wall-to-wall 70s/80s metal soundtrack.
After the tepid response to “Thor: The Dark World,” Marvel brought in an indie director from New Zealand, Taika Waititi. Waititi takes the story, which mostly centers around Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) trying to get back to Asgard to save it from his evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), and dips it heavily in the wry sense of humor he’s known for.
At first glance, this film is all surface. The various battles, chases, and other action sequences are long and undeniably spectacular, as though the filmmakers wanted to make sure every frame looked really, really awesome. The costumes are cool, the characters are powerful and funny, the effects are great. There’s lots of slow-motion so you can enjoy the grace and power of superheroes and supervillains duking it out.
Under the hood, though, there’s a lot going on around who the characters are and what they represent. Thor and Loki’s relationship has always been central to both of their characters. Loki is a straight-up supervillain, but one who grew up as a good guy. Thor refuses to give up on him, always trying to bring back the relationship they had as children, before Loki’s frustration and slow-burn resentment were ignited and he turned into a genocidal villain.
In “Ragnarok,” things are different. Thor has finally seen the truth of who he is and who his brother is. He doesn’t have that same naïve hope that things can go back to the way they were – and when Loki realizes that, there’s a quick moment where you can see his shock and regret. Hemsworth and Hiddleston have great brotherly chemistry, and show rather than tell how their characters’ relationship has changed.
We get a new character with her own arc of change as well: Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). After massive trauma and failure, she is hiding away on a junk yard planet, working as a slave trader to earn enough money to keep working on drinking herself to death. Thor enlists her aid, but she has a long way to go to get free of her self-imposed exile and misery. Thompson balances the humor in the film with her character’s brutal backstory with a light touch and is easily one of the best things about the film.
Hela is awesome. Blanchett has all the regal intensity she has shown in previous performances, and here she also gets to kill lots of people with amazing superpowers. As Odin’s firstborn, she’s the rightful queen of Asgard. Odin locked her away when she got too violent and power-hungry, and she’s had plenty of time to hone her rage. A good superhero movie needs a solid villain, and she delivers.
The humor is delightful, and there’s a lot more gentle mockery of Thor than one might expect. He gets taken down a peg or three over and over again in the film. When he tries to act swiftly and impulsively, the rug is yanked out from under him. He has to slow down and interact with people on their terms, not force his own terms onto them.
If you’re willing to be a little out of the loop, you don’t need to have seen the other Marvel movies to enjoy “Thor: Ragnarok.” There are plenty of references, but not enough to make the new film opaque. If you don’t like comic book superhero movies, stay far away. But if you love some awesome battles set to rock and roll, this is the film for you.