By: Hawk Ripjaw (Two Beers) –
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been away for a while. After searching far and wide for one of the cosmic infinity stones, he finds himself facing the fire demon Surtur (Clancy Brown) to prevent the Norse version of the apocalypse, Ragnarok. He handily defeats the demon and returns to Asgard to find Loki (Tom Hiddelston) posing as Odin (Anthony Hopkins) after having sent their father away at the end of The Dark World. Loki has also accidentally released Hela (Cate Blanchett), the “hot-but-in-an-intimidating-way-because-she-will-kill-you” Goddess of Death, and their sister. Hela, banished for her lust for power and desire to conquer all of the realms, is ready to destroy all of Asgard and claim her place as its leader.
Despite working together, Thor and Loki are easily defeated by Hela and are booted to Sakaar, a dumpster planet run by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who pits prisoners against each other in a giant arena. Thor is delighted to find that his first opponent is Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who unfortunately has been on Sakaar for a long time, stuck in Hulk mode with little of his humanity remaining. Thor must talk some sense into Hulk, reunite his brotherly bond with Loki, and convince a former Asgardian Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to join him in retaking Asgard from Hela.
New Zealand director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) brings his shamelessly goofy brand of comedy into the MCU, and the result is one of, if not the funniest MCU movie to date. The humor mines sublimely goofy moments from semi-obvious fodder that Waititi spins into gold—Asgard’s name is incorrectly referred to as “ass-burg” by Grandmaster, Thor’s idea of a disguise is ludicrously bad, and the introduction to Sakaar features a great, weirdly specific Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory reference—to name just a couple. Thor is almost a different character the third time around, which would normally be an issue but here just feels like a character is finally getting a chance to capitalize on his abundance of personality.
It’s also beautiful to look at, awash in occasional Frazetta-flavored imagery and 80s glam, the latter spilling over into an awesome synth-lite score and not one, but two uses of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” that serves as Thor’s battle music. Like the Guardians movies, Ragnarok really marks a reinvention of sorts in the Marvel formula. While there’s still a lot of what has made the rest of the franchise such a mainstream behemoth, there are some more adventurous choices made here that signal more inventiveness going forward.
Goldblum deserves a specific mention for his absolute peak Goldblum status. The man has always had an “I want to be his friend” sense of wonderful eccentricity to the point that it’s literally a brand. Here he’s on brand in a way that he hasn’t been since he worked with Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, and his particular weirdness is nothing short of amazing. Likewise, Waititi himself gives life to the disarmingly sweet rock monster Korg, injecting Waititi’s goofy charm directly into the movie. Marvel movies don’t generally have a personality directly influenced by their directors, but Thor: Ragnarok makes a strong case for that being a good idea.
A noticeable by-product of all the fun there is to be had with Ragnarok is that the stakes have rarely felt lower for a Marvel film. Initial plot announcements pointed out the title’s reference to the Norse version of the apocalypse, something that sounded pretty dark and possibly trilogy-closing for Thor. And there is a bit of that here, but really the movie is so fun and silly and fast-paced that the dramatic bits just don’t have the weight they could have. That’s probably more of a stylistic choice than a tonal misfire, but the fact remains that “Thor’s evil sister who is the goddess of death and wants to conquer the universe with her undead army after slaughtering all of Asgard” is something that sounds a lot more dire than it ends up being. That said, as the cinematic climate continues to skew towards the dour, Ragnarok is a wonderful break.
It turns out that Taika Waititi’s uniquely wacky sense of humor is the perfect fit for Thor, and the pairing of the generally-underused Thor and Hulk makes for a promising bromance. Despite all of the attention given to the destruction of Asgard and the threat of Hela to the entire universe, the movie works just fine as a buddy comedy about the God of Thunder reuniting with the Strongest Avenger. The threat of Hela is fine, but doesn’t really feel like it belongs in what really amounts to a Thor episode with little bearing on the overall MCU. Yet, those more serious plot elements are met with indifference at worst, as the rest is such a pure delight that it’s almost impossible not to love. This is the escapism that we’ve been needing.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for each cameo you can spot
Make it a Double: if that cameo is a Taika Waititi alum
Do a Shot: whenever someone says “Devil’s anus”
Take a Drink: for every sex joke
Do a Shot: for each Jeff Goldblum-ism
Take a Drink: whenever Korg says something charmingly depressing