It’s the very first Thor entry that will make you want to see more of Thor.
Thor is Marvel’s silliest franchise — but traditionally, it’s also been the studio’s least fun franchise. In the first film (2011), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) couldn’t stop acting like a boy gone wild, so he was sent away from his home, Asgard and had to learn how to be a man worthy of his mighty power. In the second movie, Thor: The Dark World (2013), Thor and his posse took on a faction of dark elves, only for Thor to lose his mother and seemingly his brother while performing his duty as the protector of the nine realms.
Loss equals lessons in Thor-land, so pronounced a concept that it tends to drown out Thor’s title as a lightning bolt–hurling demigod who wields a magic twirling hammer in a world filled with frost giants, rainbow bridges, and world-sabotaging robots. His films have never implied that anyone — the characters, the audience, the cast — should be having a typically good time.
But the third installment in the franchise, Thor Ragnarok, completely changes that, flexing its self-awareness as the film and its star laugh both at themselves and with their audience. It’s the first Thor movie that will make you want to see more Thor movies, because it’s the first Thor movie with an idea of what makes its titular hero worth rooting for.
Both of Marvel’s previous Avengers movies have scratched at the idea of Thor — their resident blond super deity — being the team’s lunkhead. Thor may be worthy of controlling the mighty Mjøllnir, they appeared to suggest, but he’s so as dumb as a box of his own hair at times.
Thor Ragnarok director Taika Waititi sharpens these gags at the expense of his movie’s title character, to delightfully entertaining effect.
Thor is a bull in a china shop when regarding technology. Even though he’s faced wizards, magic, and gods and traveled through multiple dimensions, he often gets beaten up by human-made gadgetry. When he’s asked for the voice-activated password for an Avenger Quinjet, for instance, he naturally thinks the system will unlock when he says his code name as “strongest Avenger.” He even says it twice, as if Tony Stark’s invention somehow didn’t hear him the first time.
But there’s a more serious rub included in that moment: the disconnection between how Thor sees himself and how the others, including his teammates, see him.
There’s a sharp realization of Thor’s ego in Ragnarok, as the movie explores what happens to a man who’s been told he’s a god ever since the day he was born, complete with the alienation he can feel as a result. When one is spoon-fed the myth of his own greatness every day, it’s only a matter of time before he begins to believe it above all else. And somehow that’s even more tragic than Thor’s lesson that everything he’s heard about himself may have been utter lie.
By digging into these weightier character issues without skimping on the comic relief, Waititi’s topsy-turvy ride into Thor’s homeworld of Asgard and the discontents it holds yields the best Thor movie in the series so far, and probably the funniest Marvel film in the studio’s cinematic universe too (at least until the Guardians of the Galaxy’s next sequel comes out).
Ragnarok gives Hemsworth the opportunity to showcase his talents as a physical comedian, making Thor seem more natural and human than he used to be. (It also has the greatest shirtless shot in Marvel history.) And though the movie isn’t perfect, particularly in how it underuses some characters and gifted actors, those complaints are easily overridden by distinct moments where charm, oddity, and spectacle collide to create the kind of soul-soaring magic that Marvel at its best is capable of.
Thor Ragnarok is about our fathers, our leaders, and the flaws they can’t correct
Ragnarok’s writing team consisting of Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost has built a movie that beautifully captures the shock and awe that is seen on the last page of a comic book, the jarring surprise that changes the whole game. Their story picks up where we last witnessed Thor — leaping between dimensions, trying to figure out his weird visions (remember that really strange pool sequence in Avengers: Age of Ultron?), and doing his job to save Asgard and the world. Those of us who’ve been keeping up with the MCU will remember that Loki faked his own death in Thor: The Dark World and is, by the power of illusion, faking Odin (Anthony Hopkins, who gets to channel his inner Loki as he once again reprises the role of Odin) on Asgard. Because Thor wants to save Asgard, he comebacks there — and soon figures out Loki’s charade.
Asgard is rudderless and apparently powerless without the real Odin reigning. And compounding matters even further is the return of Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, who seems impossibly unstoppable and glamorous, as all the very best Marvel villains are in the first seven minutes of their introduction. Donning a retractable headdress that resembles a set of mutant deer antlers — a feature that signals she’s ready to destroy, dismantle, and obliterate — Hela and her telekinetic obsidian knives pump with an addiction for blood.
Comic books fans should feel familiar with some of Kyle and Yost’s previous work; the duo not only delivered the Wolverine clone X-23 (a version of whom is portrayed in the film Logan) for the animated X-Men Evolution TV series but also paired up to write a run on the X-Force comic book, where X-Men leader Cyclops forms a secret black-ops X-Men team of killers and trackers.
And while Yost and Kyle’s past work may feel a bit disparate in comparison with Ragnarok, they appear to be amused by the idea of how every civilization’s history is filled with great men who’ve kept everyone secured, but not without consequences — the thought that the security our fathers and our fathers’ fathers have afforded us has arrived, like Cyclops sending in a death squad, at someone else’s expense.
What if our respected leaders are reviled by others? What if the uniforms that demand our reverence or the crowns our rulers wear function more as costumes than as important symbols of a noble past? What kind of Faustian deals have these men made, and what kind of secrets do they have?
What happens when it’s time to pay up for past sins?
Odin, from what we know of him in the first two Thor movies, certainly has secrets. But in Thor Ragnarok, Yost, Kyle, and Pearson spill what is probably Odin’s most idiotic betrayal by omission — and at certain points, it’s utterly understandable provided the circumstances. But that doesn’t stop the reckoning from coming in the form of a bloodthirsty Hela.
It’s no shock to Thor to learn that his father has been withholding information about the past, because Odin keeping secrets is like Loki (Tom Hiddleston) betraying Thor at the last minute. It’s essentially a given, like clockwork. At some point, Thor, just like the normal ones, was going to have to accept the fact that his relatives are inevitably the way they are, and perhaps will always be. Not that it makes the realization hurt any less.