Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Premise: The third installment in the Thor series. The God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) allies himself with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to save Asgard from Hela, the goddess of death (Cate Blachette).
What Works: The Thor movies have been the weakest link within Marvel’s Avengers franchise. The first installment was acceptable but bland, with its performances being that film’s only outstanding quality. The Dark World was worse with its sloppy storytelling and uninspired character work. So it is a pleasant surprise to find that Ragnarok is not only the best Thor movie but also one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The credit for this is quite clearly attributable to director Taika Waititi and screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost. Previous to Ragnarok, the three writers didn’t have much in the way of feature film experience, having worked primarily on television, but they’ve put together a screenplay that is funny and self-aware. Ragnarok uses some of the familiar story structures of comic book movies but it does them in a way that feels fresh and hip. Much of the movie’s success is due to its humor and tone and that is attributable to director Taika Waititi. The filmmaker’s previous efforts include small, quirky, and character- focused titles like Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Eagle vs. Shark. Thor: Ragnarok is a nearly perfect merger of a blockbuster Hollywood franchise and a director with a singular cinematic voice. It’s not uncommon for Hollywood studios to recruit successful independent filmmakers but the process typically flattens everything unique or interesting that the filmmaker might have brought to the project. Not so in Ragnarok. The movie has Taika Waititi’s distinct voice, and in particular his offbeat sense of humor, and it recharges familiar material. This is most evident in the dialogue and the movie has a lot of humor and more laughs than a lot of recent comedies. Thor’s most entertaining quality is his braggadocio, which was done quite well in the first film but less so in The Dark World. The new film restores Thor’s swagger while also making sport of it. That humanizes the character and makes him accessible. The humor and style of Ragnarok extends to its action scenes and the movie’s set pieces don’t feel generic or over-busy the way that they do in a lot of comic book adventures. Ragnarok also has a notable music score by Mark Mothersbaugh. The music of the Marvel films has been generic but Mothersbaugh’s mix of electronic and orchestral instruments is distinctive and fun.
What Doesn’t: The Thor movies are primarily about the relationship between the God of Thunder and his adopted brother Loki. Over the course of this series, Loki has repeatedly betrayed Thor and yet—three movies in—Thor keeps trusting his brother and setting himself up for disappointment. The filmmakers of Ragnarok are cognizant of that cycle and make a few self-aware jokes about it but they don’t break the characters out of that pattern. Instead, Ragnarok introduces a new villain with even more destructive appetites to distract from the fact that Thor keeps trusting someone who has repeatedly tried to kill him. Ragnarok fails to move the Thor-Loki relationship forward or bring it to a conclusion. One of the biggest strengths of the new Thor movie is how funny it is. But Ragnarok is occasionally too tongue in cheek for its own good. Taika Waititi’s offbeat sense of humor is very funny but it’s consistent throughout the movie and runs through all the characters, especially the rhythms of their dialogue.
Bottom Line: Thor: Ragnarok is a lot of fun and one of the most entertaining comic book movies to be released in some time. It’s different from a lot of other Avengers films but it’s also better. The movie is a romp that’s very rewatchable.
Episode: #674 (November 12, 2017)