“Thor: Ragnarok” is an exhilarating breath of fresh air for the increasingly stale Marvel Cinematic Universe, a film so unlike the others in the series that you will wish that they all contained more of its inspired craziness. Gone is the serialized search for the Infinity Stones, and gone are the Earth-bound adventures that cramped Thor’s style in the first two movies of his trilogy. Instead, we have a film that out-zanies the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves, and it makes for the best Thor movie by a mile.
Director Taika Waititi directed one of my favorite movies, “What We Do in the Shadows,” a mockumentary about a quartet of vampires living in New Zealand, minding their own business, and trying to get everyone to do their household chores. It also contains one of the funniest lines every committed to celluloid (something about why vampires prefer virgins) that I laugh out loud just thinking about. (Seriously, you all need to see that movie.) The fact that Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige handed him the keys to a Thor movie that leads into the next Avengers saga is a sign that they are willing to take risks in the Marvel franchise, and that’s a great thing. This franchise is approaching 20 films, and a stylistic kick in the nuts is just what it needed.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has found himself in a bind (literally), captured by the gigantic fire demon Surtur and threatened with the fall of Asgard (the eponymous ‘Ragnarok”). After escaping and making his way home, Thor must deal with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) before finding out he has an evil, long-lost sister named Hela (Cate Blanchett) who is, um, slightly pissed at Dad. Through various machinations, Thor and his brother end up on a garbage planet, and run into an old friend while there (a large, green friend). Tessa Thompson and Jeff Goldblum play residents of this world, and they almost steal the movie from the leads. Goldblum, as always, is a magnet for the eyes and ears – his style is so unique that I wish he was in every scene of every movie ever. Forever and ever.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is first and foremost a comedy, so don’t expect the seriousness of “Captain America: Civil War” or even “Doctor Strange.” This one is “Guardians of the Galaxy” all the way, and it is better for it. We’ve done the superhero thing to death, and the best films in the genre are finding more interesting ways to interpret these stories. Just over the last two years, we’ve seen “Logan,” “Deadpool,” and “Wonder Woman” hit huge while more standard comic book-fare has struggled. The scenes in this film on the junk planet are another reinvention – a second act of a blockbuster played for virtually nothing but character-based laughs, and this cast is up to the challenge.
Eventually, our cadre of heroes return to Asgard to protect the realm and set things right. This is the one spot where the movie gets a bit CGI-sloggy, sort of like the last 20 minutes of “Wonder Woman” earlier this year. This movie is so supremely entertaining that I wish they had backed off on the theatrics a bit and let the dialogue and character breathe instead of throwing buildings at each other. Still, I loved this movie. I loved the two fantastic cameos (one of a Marvel hero and one of someone PRETENDING to be a Marvel hero). I loved that even the action scenes were littered with gags and jokes. Waititi should be forever thought of us one of our finest comedy directors and hopefully this film will spur people to search out his earlier work (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is also amazing). He is a treasure, and it’s so much fun to see him playing in the Marvel playground.
P.S. – I saw this film at a matinee, and the audience ran the gamut from small children to elderly folks. They laughed and gasped at all the right parts, loved it, yada yada. When the credits ended (BTW, there are 2 scenes in the credits so don’t leave) there is a James Bond-style stinger “Thor will return in Avengers: Infinity War.” The little boy seated to my left read it and yelled “Dad! INFINITY WAR!!!!” and several dozens of other people clapped at the news that the Infinity War story is finally upon us. THAT is why going to a movie theater is one of my favorite things to do. What we see on the big screen can be magical, and it brings people together. I love film, and I love that it has such an affect on the imagination.