The many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (henceforth called the MCU) have all opted for either of two formulas. The first is to follow a thriller path, and try to edge a title towards the realms of realism and respectability. Think Iron Man and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
And path number two is to go for broke with an outrageous premise and, presuming the audience is on board with that anyway, just try and have as much fun with it as possible. Think Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange.
The Thor films haven’t had it easy in this regard. While definitely a “strategy two” character, Thor is a member of the Avengers, and Marvel has had to try and cram the Asgardian God of Thunder into a “strategy one” hole, the better to have him fit with his team members. But with Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok, the gloves have come off it seems, as the film fully goes for “strategy two”. The end result is one of the barmiest and funniest Marvel films yet. In Thor Ragnarok, Thor keeps having premonitions about Ragnarok, the prophesied end of his world Asgard, and starts to investigate. What he discovers is troubling: for those who have seen Thor: The Dark World (or waited till after the end-credits of Doctor Strange), it will come as no surprise that Odin the All-father isn’t, strictly speaking, All There. And Odin’s absence has attracted a VERY dangerous enemy: Hela, the Goddess of Death, who wants the throne of Asgard for herself to start an intergalactic war of conquest.
An initial face-off between Thor and Hela ends up terribly, with The God of Thunder losing his mighty hammer and being flung to a distant planet at the other end of the universe, where he is instantly captured by an evil alien goes by the name The Grandmaster. Forced to perform as a fighter in The Grandmaster’s arena gladiator-style games, Thor must find a way to fight free, and halt Hela. Can Thor put a stop to Ragnarok, and save Asgard as well as the entire the universe?
If this sounds like bombastic run-of-the-mill hero-on-a-desperate-quest stuff, that’s because it is. It is a surprisingly dour story even, as Hela proves her title worthy by performing massacre after massacre, ridding the Marvel Cinematic Universe from many a side-character even. But all the grim death and destruction is expertly offset by loads of wit and a gleefully fun, colorful approach to nearly every tired and trusted trope. I was afraid Taika Waititi might, after a solid decade of quirky gold, stumble and fall over the double whammy of Marvel’s needs and a huge budget. Thankfully, my fears have been proven wrong.
All of the regular actors (including Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner / The Hulk) execute their roles like a pair of well-worn shoes, and Marvel Cinematic Universe newcomer Cate Blanchett makes for a marvelous presence as Hela, which is impressive as her role is written with all the depth of a tissue. Jeff Goldblum’s turn as The Grandmaster will either delight or irritate you, as he’s just bringing his usual persona to the table, neither elevating the film nor derailing it.
I’ve heard some folks describe this as the best MCU movie to date, but in my opinion, that is giving the movie a bit too much honor. Thor Ragnarok is certainly one of the funniest though, with many laugh-out-loud moments, and it’s as gaudy as a rainbow-colored piece of gold. If this is an indication of Marvel’s road ahead, the upcoming Infinity War entries will be something to look forward to for sure.