Looking at the ever-expanding list of main players within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s clear that my least favorite has always been Thor. At least, that’s what I thought before I saw the third and latest installment in the character’s solo film series, Thor: Ragnarok. Having skipped his previous two outings, I wasn’t particularly excited by Ragnarok’s announcement, especially with its release date stranded in between this summer’s awesome Spider-Man: Homecoming and next year’s potential-filled Black Panther.
However, given the spectacularly colorful and surprisingly humorous advertising, the film had gained my attention. Still, it was only upon learning that the film was being helmed by esteemed indie director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) that I was definitely in. While Ragnarok is far from being the best that the MCU has ever delivered, it provides enough entertaining sequences and funny one-liners that it ultimately overcomes its underwhelming and somewhat boring plot.
While I had hoped that Ragnarok would’ve simply been a super big-budget version of a Waititi film, it’s more just a standard Marvel affair that’s merely afforded a helpful boost by the director’s unique charm. This will probably please the bulk of the superhero moviegoing audience, as Waititi’s quirky comedic style isn’t necessarily the mainstream norm, but it was also a sort of disappointing realization on my part. Still, Thor is in good hands here, and the character’s inclination on being the self-centered airhead within the ranks of the Avengers works. There’s a number of great supporting characters surrounding the hero as well, but I also found the film lacking a substantial driving force.
In Norse mythology, “Ragnarok” translates as “the war of the Gods.” It’s a fitting subtitle then for the film, as the story centers around a clash over the throne of Asgard, with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) waging battle against his long-lost sister and self-proclaimed goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett). But forget about that, because it’s actually in the film’s CGI-heavy action set pieces where my biggest dissatisfaction lies. Many of these bombastic sequences lack real spectacle, rather looking like video game cutscenes you wish you were instead playing yourself. Ragnarok is truly at its best in quieter moments when its wonderful cast of curious gods and eccentric aliens are allowed to playfully interact with one another, all the while landing jokes at an alarming rate of fire.
And although I had no previous connection with the main character walking into Ragnarok (I’ve even skipped the Avengers films), I was surprised at how quickly and thoroughly I was able to connect with Thor, as well as series mainstays Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and Heimdall (Idris Elba). Hiddleston’s excellent performance as the arrogant brother to Thor, Loki, easily becomes one of the best of the entire film, while Hemsworth confirms that he’s perhaps his greatest when playing comedic roles. When the two of them are together, which is frequent, Ragnarok more than earns its top scenes. The additions to the cast are also especially welcome here, with the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, and Waititi himself portraying some of the most memorable new characters that the MCU has had in quite some time.
I only wish that the film held smaller ambitions, but Ragnarok remains a Marvel-produced, $200 million superhero film that needs to dedicate one-third of its running time to larger-than-life, crowd-pleasing fight scenes. The superhero conventions that wrap the film constrict its more unique and remarkable characteristics. The proposed end-of-the-world conflict is so trite at this point that its mere inclusion here frustrates, ultimately detracting from the film’s otherwise distinct sensibilities. These lesser aspects are by no means awful, but are rapidly becoming tiring as we proceed ever closer to hitting 20 films in the MCU.
For being the seventeenth entry in a long-running franchise of interconnected films, Thor: Ragnarok still yields enough good fun that it is sure to please its enormous fanbase, just as it did for me. But for those of us longing for fresh ideas from our superhero films, especially in a year terribly over-saturated with wholly better entries in the genre, Ragnarok has also left me concerned with how long I can continue to be excited over the prospect of new Marvel films. For now, though, I’ll enjoy my time with them as much as I can, and hope that 2018’s Black Panther is as exceptional as I’m expecting it will be.
3.5 stars out of 5
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor