I am largely indifferent to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I haven’t seen Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 or Spider-Man Homecoming and I’m in no rush to do so. I could care less about Infinity Stones, and those Stan Lee guest starring make me cringe so hard. If you share my feelings about the massively successful superhero franchise, you might be surprised to learn you’ll greatly enjoy Thor Ragnarok.
Meanwhile, hardcore fans of the series will definitely be entertained, but might be mad at the winning disposability of it all. Ultimately, nothing that happens in the film particularly matters, as far as it concerns the larger MCU, but as one of the connecting pieces to next year’s Avengers Infinity War it’s an entertaining lark that tosses most of the franchise rules right out the window.
“I’m trying to ignore the rest of the universe and just make my own awesome movie,” director Taika Waititi said last year in a Reddit AMA. The filmmaker certainly lives up to that statement of intent. If the story in Thor Ragnarok is very much from the Marvel template — Thor needs to save his planet from destruction, and must recruit a hodge-podge team of friends to help him — every step along the way is pure Waititi, and it starts with the titular hero himself.
Largely the straight man of the series so far, Waititi finally lets Chris Hemsworth lean into his comedy chops, and it’s effectively a total reboot of the character. Gone is the rigid, stoic and muscularly boring hero of Thor and Thor The Dark World In its place is a Thor with personality, charm and vulnerability, who is still prone to monologuing, but not without Waititi frequently finding new ways to cheekily upend those moments. In fact, much of Thor Ragnarok sees Waititi taking the piss out of the conventions we’ve come to expect from these movies.
He even cuts Thor’s long, flowing hair. The director, who encouraged frequent improvisation during the film’s production, keeps the proceedings so loose and nimble, that it’s ultimately freed from the gravitational pull of the rest of the MCU. Thor Ragnarok moves to its own delightfully oddball beat.
Everyone in the ensemble gamely jumps into the playful sandbox Waititi provides, with lively results. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk, mostly relegated to being the Emo Avenger in his appearances to date, also gets to loosen up a bit in his significant supporting role, and even throws some one liners into the mix.
Tessa Thompson arguably steals the show as the hard-drinking Valkyrie. Given one of the best character entrances of the year, the actress commands the screen, and more than holds her own in a role that sees her going toe-to-toe with Thor. Jeff Goldblum is very Jeff Goldblum in his turn as Grandmaster, while Cate Blanchett is sneeringly successful as the film’s villain, Hela.
However, it probably makes sense that the character that everyone will talking about when the lights come up is one played by Taika Waititi himself. His rock monster Korg, who eventually gets pulled into Thor’s quest, is a goldmine of jokes, and is a pure distillation of the irreverent sensibility the filmmaker brings to the entire picture.
However, Waititi’s strengths just aren’t in crafting one gag after another. Surprisingly, Thor Ragnarok might also be the best looking Marvel to date. Every frame not only pops with color (at one point, there are literal fireworks), courtesy of lensing by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe(“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “The Others”) but is insanely detailed, with lots of odds and ends to catch in the background and on the edges of the frame.
As much as Waititi may not care so much about the Marvel template, there is a lot of thought into how almost every moment of Thor Ragnarok is staged. Both in tone and aesthetically, the film stands apart from the rest of Marvel’s offerings. Even the score by Mark Mothersbaugh burbles with compelling, electronic vibrancy, largely eschewing the faceless, bombastic soundtrack most of these movies get.
However, as much as Waititi endeavors to pull away and do his own thing, the film is encumbered by the unfortunate necessities Marvel entries require. Thus, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo is here, there are some cameo appearances, and the film is bloated. Running two hours long, plus the ten extra minutes you’ll need to sit through for the post-credits scenes, Thor Ragnarok runs out of gas in the climax. It’s in this sometimes overly busy section where Waititi himself loses a bit of grip on the picture, with some jokes failing to land amidst the blitzkrieg of action that unfolds.
Marvel still wants audiences to get the most bang for their buck, but sometimes, it runs against delivering a well paced picture.
That being said, you’ll likely be having such a great time with Thor Ragnarok you ‘wott’ mind too much sitting through 15 or 20 minutes more of material that probably could’ve been cut. With Hollywood more and more treating their tentpole properties like sacred objects, and unwilling to deviate from any formula that might potentially alienate a four-quadrant audience, Thor Ragnarok is extra rewarding in that context. It’s one of the most refreshing and satisfying Marvel movies in some time, precisely because its willing to do many things that Marvel hasn’t done before.