Take Waititi’s fresh directorial vision has revived the stalest franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
After the Battle of Sokovia, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been traveling the cosmos in search of the Infinity Stones to no avail. A chance encounter with Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, finds him hammerless and stranded on the planet Sakaar, leaving Hela free to take over Asgard. Thor must reunite with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), his permanently Hulked-out co-worker Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and disgraced Asgardian protector turned warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) in hopes that they can reach Asgard before Hela brings about a Ragnarok that will destroy the home they love.
“Ragnarok” is without a doubt the most beautiful Marvel film yet. While Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” has offered dazzling visuals, “Ragnarok’s” creative team took it to a whole new level. The film’s Jackson Pollack-esque set designs not only made for truly beautiful locales, but left a lasting impression. The special effects across the board were incredible. Every strike of lightning looked threatening and ethereal, the motion capture work for Hulk was the best, most dynamic yet, especially given that the character was kept in Hulk form for the majority of the film and had to convey a bevy of emotions with minimal lines.
Ruffalo captured Hulk perfectly in “Ragnarok.” He was unapologetic, brash, self-obsessed and surprisingly smarter than he initially let on. It’s not only a great turn for the character, but a triumph for Ruffalo as an actor, too, in his character’s complex evolution.
The rest of the cast brought their A-game as well. Hemsworth was delightfully less serious than past adaptations. His comedic chops made Thor a much more likeable and sympathetic character than his past appearances as an extremely serious powerhouse with weird, occasionally poorly defined, powers. Thor’s proper characterization has found a home with Waititi, who imbued the character with a newfound humanity that boosted his likability 10 fold.
Blanchett’s Hela was also quite a treat. She chewed scenery and lived for destruction.
While she lacked a moral gray area that could have made her character more interesting, it would be silly to say she wasn’t a fascinating and arresting character as she did her thing. Her powers are occasionally incomprehensible, but they never actually strayed from the comic book or Norse mythology source material, so that criticism is quickly forgiven. Hela has definitely cemented herself as one of the better villains in the MCU.
Another bright light in the film was Valkyrie; Thompson’s portrayal was a revelation. She’s bawdy and exciting. Filled with a hidden rage at a truly horrifying past, Valkyrie’s pent up aggression revealed itself through her alcoholism and a palpable pain that while you can’t quite empathize with her, you can at least sympathize. She is, in many ways, the heart of the film. Her arc of emotional rebirth was all about finding your purpose after you feel your power has been taken away– an arc similar to Thor’s after he loses his beloved hammer. She’s a mentor and an example to the men of the film.
“Ragnarok” was all about personal sacrifice and finding inner strength when you don’t think you have anything left. It’s a powerful sentiment, and one that frames in a fresh narrative. The movie isn’t all sentimental and teachable moments, though. “Ragnarok” is an absolute riot, too, almost to the point where the jokes came so fast I couldn’t get a moment to breathe. Waititi’s balance between drama and humor is refreshing, because not every one of Marvel’s movies needs to be grim-dark serious or overly philosophical. The film’s name itself is a reference to the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean our heroes can’t have some fun along the way.
No movie is perfect, though. The insistence of using Loki really weighed the film down. Both Hiddleston and his character are fan favorites, so it makes sense to include him for the box office sales alone, but narratively? The screenwriters didn’t seem to have a cohesive idea of what to do with him. His participation far from ruined the film, and there were some funny moments Loki moments, but he still felt more like a fan-servicing afterthought.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is another homerun for Marvel. It’s intensely fun, has rapid-fire pacing, great comedy and some of the franchise’s best characters. It did its best to give us what we wanted, for better and for worse. “Ragnarok” isn’t just an improvement on the “Thor” series, its a top-tier film for the MCU as a whole.