Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) tries to stop the end of the world in Thor: Ragnarok, a conflicted mess of a film that showcases some of the best that Marvel Studios has to offer along with some of their cringiest.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you have the main gist of it all — Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, has come to take her place on the throne of Asgard after Odin’s death releases her from the prison his life-force created.
As Odin’s firstborn, she is the strongest of his children, and she makes her mark within moments by destroying Mjolnir and sending Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into retreat. As the brothers attempt to teleport back to their homeworld with the help of the Bifröst Bridge, Hela follows them and send them off course.
Hela appears in Asgard, where her claim to the throne hits deaf ears — that’s what happens when an entire era’s history is wiped away or covered up. Viewed as an invading force, Asgard’s army tries to hold her at bay but fails miserably.
Across the universe, Thor and Loki land on the planet of Sakaar, a world of excess and refuse where there is no escape. Thor becomes a prisoner of the Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum), a sadist who runs a gladiator arena where the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) reins as Grand Champion. While Loki schemes, Thor must do all he can to survive, get offworld, return home, and save his people from Hela’s hawkish plans.
Like the two Thor movies before it, Ragnarok is a visual and thematic departure that tries to make its own mark with what was once a C-level comic character. The first Thor movie, helmed by Kenneth Branagh, was more medieval in the Shakespearian sense. Its characters were theatrical with swirling mustaches, formal English, and a plot that blended pomp with circumstance.
The second film, The Dark World, had Alan Taylor — of Game of Thrones fame — as its director, and the film looked more like HBO’s famed fantasy series with its cloaked warriors and serious tone.
Taika Waititi, director of What We Do in the Shadows, brings his trademark brand of comedy to Ragnarok, making this the funniest Marvel movie to date. There’s physical comedy, jokes, and a ton of improv along with some surprises that will have audiences cackling. It’s basically 21 Jump Street in space, and the film pairs Hemsworth with Hiddleston, Ruffalo, and Thompson for some epic buddy routines.
But no amount of humor can hide the fact that this movie’s story has no real heft to it. When the jokes fall flat, the silence of an unamused theater exposes the film’s major weaknesses — Thor: Ragnarok is an otherwise empty shell of a movie that hits the Marvel superhero movie beats like a row ship captain in steady waters.
In the first act, Thor stops Ragnarok before it even happens, exposes Loki’s charade, travels to Earth to find Odin, meets Doctor Strange, then sees his father die. No time is given to let the audience process the weight of Odin’s death except for some weird static shots — one suspects they’re actually the stand-ins — of the brothers overlooking the beach.
Hela appears immediately after Odin turns into glitter and proceeds to take over Asgard. It’s a great intro for her character, but then she disappears for the rest of the movie. Blanchett is perfect as Hela — strong, fierce, and proud — and she, like Thanos, is a looming shadow that’s kept in the background while the heroes chew up screen time.
It’s not just that most of the movie focuses on Thor and Loki, Thor and Hulk, and Thor and Valkyrie working their way out of an impossible — or so we’re told — situation. It’s that we get only the barest of character development for characters we’re very familiar with. In fact, Loki’s whole story arc hinges on the fact that he will never change. Before the brothers get off-planet through the Devil’s Anus — hyuk, hyuk — Thor comes to term with Loki’s trickster ways by announcing he’s accepted his shady brother for who he is.
Thor doesn’t know why Loki can’t stay on the straight and narrow. Thing is, no one does. Not even Loki himself.
It’s a character flaw that might make for some compelling twists and turns, but in this movie, it’s a cop-out. If Thor: Ragnarok was a sit-com, each episode would end would with the camera zooming in on Hiddleston smirking and shrugging, palms in the air, saying, “Oops.”
And while we spend a lot of time waiting for Hela to wreak more havoc as the goddess of death, Thor: Ragnarok is basically an origin story for the Revengers — Thor’s version of the Guardians of the Galaxy done with an 80’s heavy metal style. If only it had more heart, more action, and more Goldblum — who’s amazing by the way as the off-kilter keyboard-playing Grandmaster.
And when I say I want more of everything else, what I’m also saying is I wish it had less of everything else. Less jokes, less pandering to a 12-year-old crowd — despite a random orgy joke that’s the epitome of “wrong joke, wrong place, wrong time” — and less of Disney playing it safe. The Marvel movies haven’t pioneered anything lately, and they’re as formulaic as can be.
The latest Thor movie is entertaining in an oft-times hilarious kind of way. But a second viewing makes it startling clear that Thor: Ragnarok is the class clown who never turns in their homework.