For his newest motion picture, Thor has embraced the Skuxx life by taking on New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi to direct “Thor: Ragnarok,” an exciting directorial pick that pays off in dividends with a movie that’s fun through and through. Similar to how Waititi was able to wring humor out of merging realism with romantic-comedy tropes in his debut movie “Eagle vs. Shark” and smashing together the world of vampires with everyday normalcy in his 2015 comedy “What We Do In The Shadows,” “Thor: Ragnarok” offers the filmmaker the chance to juxtapose Marvel superheroes with loads of offbeat comedy that proves to be supremely entertaining.
Before we even get an opening title card, “Thor: Ragnarok” wears its love for geeky movie elements on its sleeve by having Thor duke it out with a giant fire demon named Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown), some fire demons and a giant dragon. This is just the opening scene of the movie, which sets the stage for just what “Thor: Ragnarok” is most concerned with as a movie: thrilling fun. That means this film doesn’t have the big emotional gut-punches that comprise my personal favorite MCU moments (there’s nothing as gut-wrenching as that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” ending, for example) but it really is hard to complain about the lack of deeper substance given how successfully it delivers on the promise of constant rollicking fun.
Despite Waititi’s public statements about making this new Thor adventure entirely disparate from its past entries, “Thor: Ragnarok” does continue off from the cliffhanger ending of “Thor: The Dark World,” wherein Thor’s mischevious Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been impersonating their dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) so that he can rule over all of Asgard. Thor exposes this ruse, but then learns that Loki usurping their father’s throne means a dangerous individual by the name of Hela (Cate Blanchett) that their dad had been keeping prisoner for centuries has now been unleashed. In her first moments of freedom, Hela pushes this mighty Avenger aside and banishes him to the garbage planet of Sakarr.
Here, Thor’s quest to stop Hela from destroying Asgard is stopped by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, basically playing a space version of himself, and that is the opposite of a complaint), who forces Thor to compete in his massive gladiator matches. Now Thor is trapped and his attempts to get back home will soon involve a local scavenger known as Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and fellow Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Thor’s time on Sakaar offers for plenty of chances for the screenplay (which is credited to Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, though Stephany Folsom and Taika Waititi also apparently heavily contributed to the writing) to delve deep into easily accessible cosmic weirdness ranging from portals to sticks that can melt people and everything in between.
But the best element to come out of spending time on Sakaar are the new characters we get to meet, chief among them being Valkyrie who serves as a stunning showcase for the talents of actor Tessa Thompson. From the moment she drunkenly swaggers onto the screen, Valkyrie is thoroughly engrossing as a character — she has great chemistry with the likes of Chris Hemsworth and the two different sides of the Hulk personality and she gets some of the movies best action moments. Also serving up plenty of entertainment is a loveable overly polite rock monster by the name of Korg, voiced by Taika Waititi himself, who gets some of the movies most memorable comedic lines and steals nearly every scene he pops up in.
There’s a lot going on in “Thor: Ragnarok,” and it’s easy to be worried that the movie could turn into another overstuffed mess like so many blockbusters. Luckily, there’s a spryness to the way “Thor: Ragnarok” handles its myriad of characters, worlds and plot points. The script doesn’t get bogged down by newly introduced story elements, and it doesn’t overwhelm the viewer with overly complex mechanics or tedious exposition. When a new character or two enter the story, the movie just keeps on chugging down the tracks with new passengers aboard. Darting back-and-forth between an Asgard sanctuary that looks like it leapt right out of Lord of The Rings right back to the grimy alien planet of Sakaar should cause tonal whiplash in theory but in execution, the movies able to make those two aesthetics jive simply by nature of making the story those aesthetics inhabit well-paced and engaging.
It doesn’t hurt of course that the various realms we see in the movie are beautiful to look at, especially the colorful locales on Sakaar that seem like they leaped right out of Jack Kirby’s imagination and onto the silver screen. A similar level of success can be found in the costumes, with Valkyrie and Hela’s outfits especially being standout pieces of attire that feel like they’re going to become regular Cosplay fixtures in no time and for good reason. While we’re on the subject of Hela, it should be noted, too, that Cate Blanchett turns in deliciously fun work as the movies big bad, relishing this over-the-top role of pure villainy.
But what of our lead character, Thor? He’s actually quite good and thinking on it, I’m interested in how he’s a positive example of a static character in some respects. Thor does some growing in certain areas in the movie, but he doesn’t have a profound character arc like he did in his very first solo outing and that actually works out more than fine. Playing alongside Thor throughout his third solo adventure are Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo as Loki and Hulk, respectively, and they’re both a lot of fun here, especially Ruffalo in portraying a more verbal but still dim-witted version of The Hulk. “Thor: Ragnarok” is really just packed to the gills with great performances right down to supporting players like Idris Elba and Karl Urban who each get memorable moments of their own. Waititi does a great job directing “Thor: Ragnarok,” the kind of blockbuster that’s unabashedly proud of its love for all things cosmic, humorous and fun.
Douglas Laman is a film critic, who, when not watching movies, attends Collin College, hangs out with friends and… watches movies. For more of his work and ramblings, visit his website at www.landofthenerds.blogspot.com