If you frequent my reviews, you’ll know that I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve long thought it’s the part of this decade that is going to be remembered most in film history. For that reason, and also because they’re just consistently good movies, I get excited whenever a new MCU movie hits theaters. Thor: Ragnarok is the seventeenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and far and away the best of the three Thor movies. In every way, Thor: Ragnarok is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and despite a few stumbles here and there, it’s one of the most entertaining films to come from this epic franchise.
Thor: Ragnarok kicks off sometime after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Doctor Strange. After returning from stopping a minor villain wanting to cause Ragnarok (Asgard’s version of the apocalypse,) Thor returns to Asgard to find Loki is back, has kidnapped Odin, and taken the throne. The two brothers go to Earth where Loki is keeping Odin, and after bumping into Doctor Strange, discover that Hela, the Goddess of Death, has returned. After battling with Hela, Thor’s hammer is destroyed, and Thor and Loki find themselves stranded on an unusual planet. While Hela takes over Asgard, Thor is forced to compete in a gladiatorial competition for the quirky Grandmaster, where Thor runs into a familiar friend.
Taika Waititi, a New Zealander who’s previously directed films including Hunt for the Wilderpeople and the hilarious What We Do in the Shadows, got the lofty job of helming the latest film in the MCU. The fantastic thing, though, is that Waititi is almost as perfect a fit for this franchise as James Gunn. The very best thing Waititi brings to Thor: Ragnarok is humor, and he nails it. Thor: Ragnarok goes for more humor than any previous MCU movie, including the two Guardians of the Galaxy films, and nearly every joke attempted is successful.
While the screenplay written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Chrisopher Yost had some great conceptual humor, it was when Waititi and the cast got on set that the magic started to happen. Waititi reportedly gave his actors a lot of freedom to improvise, and you can see the fruits of that decision in the film. Chris Hemsworth especially shines in this film unlike he ever has before as Thor, with him being arguably the funniest character in the film. Well, maybe I take that back. Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, and Waititi’s use of him here, had me laughing aloud on multiple occasions.
The only issue with having Thor: Ragnarok be this funny is that the humor has to take the place of something else. I’m all for humor being added to the franchise, particularly the very 21st century style of humor they go for here, but there’s only space for so much in a film, and therefore something else has to be forfeited. Thankfully, the producers, screenwriters, and Taika Waititi were smart enough not to have action be the thing that falls by the wayside. Ragnarok is still loaded with action, loaded with visual effects, and does everything right for a sci-fi action flick.
The element that is lost by bringing humor into play is characters. In Ragnarok, two new major characters are introduced: Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Cate Blanchett’s villainous Hela. Both of these characters are incredibly disappointing in this movie, as they feel fairly cheaply formulated into their roles in the movie. This is especially true for Blanchett’s villain, whose screentime in the film is only slightly more than her screentime in the trailers. With how much Blanchett was hyped up, I was extremely excited see her as a villain in this film. But since she wasn’t a humorous character, she received very little attention in the movie, and was frankly very disappointing. On top of that, Loki’s return in the film never felt justified enough to be thought of as anything more than a cheap marketing tool.
Thompson and Blanchett’s character were both major disappointments, while other characters (including Thor’s Asgardian buddies and the entire human cast) were either shrunken down to nothing or just not included at all. At the same time, however, Waititi and the screenwriters did an excellent job with doing exactly what we’ve always wanted with other characters. Hulk is developed in this movie in a fantastic way, and Idris Elba’s Heimdall is finally given the attention he deserves.
For the most part, however, the use of characters in this film is fairly lazy. I do understand Waititi’s decision to put most of the emphasis on humor, especially since he is so successful in its effort, and Ragnarok will probably be remembered as the funniest MCU film. I also think it was a fine decision considering the MCU’s long-developing problem is that they just have way too many characters. The thing is, though, is that I think Waititi came to this decision way too quickly. James Gunn made the Guardians of the Galaxy films hilarious, but be also created a set of characters we grow attached to. Ragnarok is debatably funnier, but simply not enough funnier to forgive the lack of character work in the movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Thor: Ragnarok. I was thoroughly engaged from start to finish and laughing for most of that time. But where will it fall when ranked among the rest of the MCU films? Probably somewhere in the middle.
I give Thor: Ragnarok an 8.0/10.