After four previous film appearances, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has become a Marvel character of considerable baggage. The original charm of Thor – a god who is cocky, headstrong, and naive – has somewhat worn out its welcome. There’s only so many times that those foibles can be retread before it becomes boring. The two previous Thor films (THOR and THOR: THE DARK WORLD) focused on those attributes, whereas the two previous Avengers films (THE AVENGERS and AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON) have placed Thor in more of a supporting role – as that of the outsider who is somewhat awkward around his fellow Avengers. But in THOR: RAGNAROK, the very essence of Thor is shattered and rebuilt from the ground up for a refreshing and bold direction.
In this film, we see Thor at the height of his powers. He has confidence in his abilities, but he’s no longer a brat. Instead, director Taika Waititi (best known for his comedies) focuses on the comedic side of Thor. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that THOR: RAGNAROK is a comedy – it is extremely funny. The more lighthearted tone is a perfect fit for Thor, who has already taken audiences through two films that were much darker and more serious. While the overall idea of Ragnarok (the destruction of Asgard!) is certainly high stakes drama – the film doesn’t need to beat the seriousness of it into our heads.
In THOR: RAGNAROK, Thor has seemingly met his match. Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, successfully invades Asgard, with Ragnarok close at hand. Thor and his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), are able to escape Hela’s wrath – but at a terrible cost. Thor’s iconic hammer is destroyed, and the two are stranded on an alien world that revolves around gladiatorial sports. The current gladiator champion? It’s the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It’s a race against time as Thor bands his friends together to escape the planet and return to Asgard to face Hela.
One of the most incredible things about THOR: RAGNAROK is that it pulls out so many masterful performances from the actors. Thor and Loki are at their best here, as is Odin (Anthony Hopkins). The Hulk’s depiction is virtually astonishing. He has a range of depth that is unlike anything seen in his previous appearances. One of my bigger complaints, though, is that Heimdall (Idris Elba) is virtually wasted here. Elba is such an incredible actor, and it’s painful that he hasn’t received a more juicy, vital role in the Marvel films.
Luckily, the new additions are pitch perfect – so excellent that I think any of them could headline their own film. Hela steals every scene she is in – chewing the scenery as a deliciously evil villain. There’s a smoldering rage that she carries, and the raw tension can be felt with every line she speaks. While I wish her character had even more screen time, she’s awesome every time she appears. Similarly, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is delightful. She’s brash, a drunk, and an absolute beast of a fighter. Thompson plays her with such swagger and bravado that it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from her whenever she is on the screen. Perhaps my favorite new character is Korg (voiced by Taika Waititi), a quirky gladiator that provides a ton of laughs throughout the film.
There are some wonderful cameos to be found in THOR: RAGNAROK, including a very funny scene with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). The film also contains one of the best Stan Lee cameos yet. There’s also another cameo that, while I won’t spoil, is perhaps one of the best, most unexpected, surprises that I’ve seen in a film in quite some time.
THOR: RAGNAROK has a light tone, though there are certainly times when the tone seems a bit at odds with the drama unfolding. As a title like RAGNAROK suggests – there’s quite a high body count in this film. But to me, it felt like the film lacked the appropriate weight for some of the deaths and major twists found in the film. For some, this could be a deal breaker. For me, though, I found that the tone was so refreshing that I could overlook it.
There’s really no understating how fresh and new the THOR series feels now. Between the lighthearted tone, the use of vivid colors, the imagery of artist Jack Kirby, and how changed the characters all are at the conclusion of the film – it really feels like a brand new landscape is waiting just around the corner. As Marvel fans know, this is all part of the build up to AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – the next big Marvel film that will unite the Avengers, including Thor. THOR: RAGNAROK leads perfectly into that, creating new motivations and character arcs that will be fully realized in future films. As a character, Thor has never felt more interesting and exciting. As a series, the THOR films have never felt more rejuvenated.