Review: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

I considered myself a bit late to the party when I finally made it out to see Thor: Ragnarok tonight, but the packed theater proved me wrong. Could the turnout have been affected by excitement over the recent Avengers: Infinity War trailer, or was Ragnarok just that good of a movie?

(Spoiler alert: I believe this movie may have just beaten the first Iron Man movie as my favorite of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, it’s just that good.)

We begin with our hero trapped in some sort of hammock, monologuing to a nearby skeleton a surprisingly refreshing turn on the “I’ll bet you’re wondering how I got here” trope. This sets the pace for the rest of the movie in terms of humor, and honestly, I believe Ragnarok has the most comedic bits of any Marvel movie so far. We soon learn his predicament: that he’s been captured by Surtur, a fire demon determined to bring about Ragnarok, or the end of Asgard. It does feel a bit like we’ve been dropped into the movie mid-plot, as Thor handily beats Surtur, snags his crown (which he at one point snarkily refers to as a tiara), and makes tracks back to Asgard. Almost feels like the movie should be nearly over! But the fun has only just begun.

Thor returns to Asgard and meets up with not the trusted Heimdall but Skurge, which immediately puts him on alert. When he sees his father lounging about and indulging in a bit of theater (the story of which paints Loki as the savior of Asgard), Thor’s suspicions are solidified. His father is not his father at all, but Loki—who, as we recall from the end of Thor: The Dark World, disguised himself as Odin in order to take over rule of Asgard. Thor sees through Loki’s disguise and demands to know where Odin is. Turns out, Loki cast a spell on Odin and dumped him at a retirement home in New York. Which is currently in the process of being demolished.

When Thor and Loki return to New York to find Odin, they are quickly swept up by none other than Doctor Strange, who has appointed himself the watcher for strange beings from other planets who might cause harm to Earth. I’ll admit, the parallels between Strange’s Sanctum Santorum reminded me (again?) of Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street abode, even before Benedict Cumberbatch appeared on camera. Though this scene was short, it was very enjoyable; Doctor Strange zaps Thor all around the Sanctum, causing him significant amusing disorientation, and finally agrees to help Thor and Loki find their father if only to get them to return to their own world. I do love Cumberbatch immensely, and his unexpected cameo was one of many high points in this movie.

Thor and Loki are sent to a beautifully picturesque spot in Norway, where Odin is contemplating the last moments of his life. This is where he reveals to his sons the existence of a daughter: Hela, his true first-born. He explains that he had imprisoned her since before Thor was born, in an attempt to contain her darkness and thirst for power. But once Odin is gone, she will be free, and will attempt to destroy Asgard. Odin apologizes to Thor for failing him before he dies and is beautifully transformed back into the stuff of the universe. Hela wastes no time in showing herself, engaging in some witty banter with her brothers—oh, and destroying Thor’s hammer Mjolnir with one hand. How’s that for power? Loki somewhat-wisely asks to be sent back to Asgard, a request which Hela grants, although she hops the same ride that Thor and Loki do, only to kick them out of said portal before they can reach Asgard. She arrives alone, and of course begins to wreak havoc.

Thor lands in what looks like the garbage dump of the universe, where he is quickly captured and sold into a gladiator-style entertainment battle. The leader of this crazy gladiator game? None other than Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, who is every bit as delicious as one might predict. The whole vibe of the Grandmaster’s space reminded me a bit of the End of the Line Club from Tron, although I liked Goldblum’s Grandmaster a lot more than Zuse. Loki is at the party too, and has found a favored position with the Grandmaster, so he is of course reluctant to help Thor. This leads to Thor battling the Grandmaster’s favorite champion, who is none other than the Incredible Hulk. The battle ensues, with Thor trying desperately to get the Hulk to recognize him or at the very least change back to Bruce Banner. He nearly manages it—at one point even channeling lightning even without Mjolnir—before being subdued by the electric implant his captor had originally attached to his neck when she captured him.

This brings me to a point I want to be sure to make in this review. I love the variety of female characters in Ragnarok. You have Hela, the villain; Valkyrie, the warrior-turned-bounty-hunter who captures Thor on the Grandmaster’s dumpster world; and of course various Asgardian women, some caring for their children, some helping guide their fellow citizens to safety. Basically, there’s no one archetype at play here. I sometimes feel like Black Widow (who also makes a surprise appearance, sort of) is kind of the “token” female Avenger in this series. But in Ragnarok, I felt like women got equal screen time just as men did—because there were characters needed and some were male and some were female. It felt like a good balance to me. And the performances were fantastic; Tessa Thompson was tough and smart-alecky as Valkyrie, and Cate Blanchett’s Hela was everything I wanted in a villain.

Speaking of Hela, while Thor and Hulk are catching up, she’s resurrecting her undead army and massive demon dog, and turning them onto the people of Asgard. It’s interesting to note that she finds a great many items stored away in the castle vaults, including the Tesseract and something that looks like the Infinity Gauntlet, which she sweeps aside and dismisses as fake. Heimdall, meanwhile, has stolen the Bifrost sword and is trying to lead the people away from Hela’s army to concealed safety.

After the battle on the Grandmaster’s garbage world, Thor is able to speak privately to Hulk, where he learns that Banner has not been in control since Avengers 2 two years ago. When he escaped Earth in a Quinjet, he ended up crash landing on this planet, and has remained (as Hulk) ever since. When Thor realizes they have a method of escape, he steals the device that’s controlling his electric shock restraint from Valkyrie and convinces her that they could use her help. Turns out, she’s faced Hela before, and she’s the only one of her team who survived. Yay, vengeance subplot!

There’s a bit more attempted betrayal by Loki, along with some new-found friends who also travel to Asgard along with our heroes, which culminates in an all-hands-on-deck mega battle on the Bifrost Bridge. We even get a clue as to why we see Loki holding the Tesseract in the Infinity Wars trailer. Hela and her army are eventually defeated, although I’m not going to tell you how—I have to leave you some suspense, right? We finish with Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, Heimdall, the fellow escapees from the garbage planet, and—oh yeah, the ENTIRE POPULATION OF ASGARD on a massive ship headed toward…you guessed it, Earth. Because, you know, there’s another movie coming!

There really is a lot of humor and snark happening all through this movie. It felt a bit more like Guardians of the Galaxy, only we weren’t also taking time to get to know the lead character. Yes, there were massive fight scenes. Yes, there were plot beats that kind of screamed “don’t forget, you’re watching a sci-fi movie!!”. And there were also moments of human struggle, mixed with beats of comedy just kind of for comedy’s sake. I particularly enjoyed Banner donning an outfit of Tony Stark’s that Thor found on the Quinjet, only to spend his next few scenes complaining about how tight Tony wears his pants. In fact, Banner spent a lot of his time in this movie kind of freaking out—a nice departure from the mostly-collected, “I’m always angry” Banner in the earlier movies. It was just plain fun, all around.

There are plenty of Marvel CU goodies to keep an eye out for, including the standard Stan Lee cameo, a new “big buddy” who kind of reminds me of Drax (again with the GotG feels!), and two post-credit short scenes—one of which is likely a big hint as to the upcoming fate of this group of characters. And Led Zeppelin! All in all, Thor: Ragnarok is an immensely satisfying Marvel movie, and does a great job keeping the energy going as we move toward the finale of the series next year.

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