Thor: Ragnarok begins with a visual gag that’s a little bit weird and a little bit macabre and 100% indicative of what a ride Ragnarok will be. Reimagined by Taika Waititi as a Flash Gordon-inspired sci-fi/fantasy caper, and catering to Chris Hemsworth’s latent comedy skills, Ragnarok is the Thor movie you weren’t waiting for—no one could guess THIS is what Waititi and Hemsworth would cook up between them in an effort to remake Thor for his third solo film. Even expecting a lot, Ragnarok blows past every expectation. It’s funnier, weirder, and more surprisingly wonderful than anticipated, a gleefully dumb and lavishly appointed superhero movie that is perfect for the moment. Who knew that the hero we need is Thor Odinson and his indomitable spirit and can-do attitude?
Apparently Taika Waititi knew, and his prints are all over Ragnarok. Marvel has been (justifiably) criticized in the past for boxing in filmmakers and enforcing a house style that doesn’t always agree with individual artistic tastes. Ragnarok is definitely a Marvel movie, but it feels freer than any Marvel movie before it, not just competently executed but entirely fueled by a singular vision and crafted for one voice. No one but Taika Waititi could deliver this movie, and no one but Chris Hemsworth could embody this Thor. He’s always been well cast in the role, but for the first time—in FIVE outings—it truly feels like Hemsworth is fully engaged and locked in as Thor, who isn’t reduced to a dum-dum fish out of water. This is a Thor who has saved planets, trekked the cosmos, and fought his own brother. He’s grown up and been humbled, but he hasn’t lost his good cheer and optimism. Thor 5.0 is like a high school quarterback who enthusiastically joins the spring musical.
“Enthusiasm” is the key to Ragnarok. From actors who can be seen breaking into laughter during takes, to the blatant delight with which Cate Blanchett purrs her lines and chews her scenery, to the exuberance of action sequences, to the spirit of Thor himself, Ragnarok rollicks along, riding laughter and zeal to definitely the most fun Marvel movie, and possibly the best one, too. Yes, there are a lot of jokes in Ragnarok, but there are also beats of real emotion, especially between Thor, Odin, and Loki, whose family drama has fueled the franchise since day one. And Bruce Banner and the Hulk, once again both portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, get a nice little arc tucked into the subplot, too. But it’s Tessa Thompson hard-drinking Valkyrie who steals the show from the moment she appears on screen. Thompson infuses the character with so much swagger and personality that EVERYONE wants to be Valkyrie, including Thor and Loki. And she isn’t mere window dressing—Valkyrie has her own emotional labor to do.
This is Taika Waititi’s signature touch. Ragnarok is the kind of movie that just wants to be a good time and to leave you smiling (which it will), but Waititi has a knack for weaving in emotional payoffs amidst the fun. It’s a VERY funny movie that happens to be about reconciliation, with the past, with disappointment, and with loss. Sure, Jeff Goldblum is a riot as the Grandmaster, with his tacky robes and gaudy “melting stick”, but don’t miss Thor and Loki coming to terms after numerous betrayals and brotherly failings. (With Thor finally firing on all cylinders, Ragnarok doesn’t need to lean so much on Loki, but Tom Hiddleston can do so much with just his expressions that there are entire movies happening in just one glance.)
Thor: Ragnarok is fun. The production design is tacky as hell—in the way that cheesy sci-fi like Space Mutiny and Flash Gordon are—and Mark Mothersbaugh’s score is the quirkiest and most distinctive ever allowed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hela is a good villain played by an actor clearly loving the role, and the only bummer is that she doesn’t have enough screen time with the rest of the ensemble. (Legendary stuntwoman Zoe Bell, one of Waititi’s fellow New Zealanders, steps in as Blanchett’s stunt double, so Hela has some moves.) And there is a strong ensemble of interesting characters orbiting Thor; this is definitely a Thor movie, but the strength of the ensemble makes it the best Thor movie. The pieces for a decent superhero movie are all in place, but with Taika Waititi’s free-wheeling comedic style and attention to emotional details, Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t settle for “decent”. It goes for broke, bringing us into a grand adventure with a space Viking and his misfit friends. It’s exactly as absurd as that sounds, and also completely wonderful.
Here are Taika and Chris at a screening of Thor in New York City.