It feels like forever since we last had a solo outing with Thor and technically that’s true. It’s been 4 years since ‘Thor – The Dark World’ hit cinemas which is a long time in terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But now the God of Thunder is back in ‘Thor Ragnarok’ and he’s bringing the Incredible Hulk with him on the ride. Directed by New Zealand director Taika Waititi, does Thor:Ragnarok finally see the Asgardian superhero find his own identity in the larger MCU? SPOILER FREE btw.
We’ll start with what I liked about Ragnarok. The first thing I will say is that ‘Ragnarok’ is MILES better than ‘The Dark World’. It manages to remedy a lot of the issues that existed in ‘The Dark World’ which really brought that film down for me. The story is a lot stronger, the action set pieces are really fun to watch and the dialogue is a lot better. Ragnarok certainly plays a lot more on the comedy this time round and with a more intergalactic story, it’s clear that the success of the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movies has played a role in this change of pace for this franchise. Chris Hemsworth really feels at home in the character now although it was a little weird seeing him play Thor a bit lighter than he has been in the MCU thus far. Tom Hiddleston remains brilliant as the trickster Loki and the chemistry between him and Hemsworth is always fun to watch.
The big change in Ragnarok is the absence of Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. It was sad to not see her involved but it didn’t make sense for the story. In her place, we have Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, an Asgardian warrior with a mysterious past and Cate Blanchett as the evil Hela. It took me a little while to warm to Valkyrie but I did like her towards the end and look forward to seeing where Marvel take the character next. Cate Blanchett however was an absolute scene stealer as the Goddess of Death. You could tell that she was having a lot of fun in the role. She does suffer from the one-note villain syndrome that plagues a lot of Marvel movies but she was still one of the better villains in the MCU.
While Cate Blanchett may be the antagonist of the movie, much of the movie is spent away from this plot and instead on the gladiator contest with the Hulk. It was good to FINALLY see some character development for the green guy although I do feel that it took up a lot more time than it should have. And then there is Jeff Goldlum as The Grandmaster, ruler of the junkyard world Sakaar. Goldblum has an absolute blast as the eccentric ruler, I would have liked to have seen more of him.
Sadly, not all of the new characters really worked. Karl Urban joins the franchise as Skurge who allies himself with Hela to save himself. I can see what they were trying to do with his character but you could remove his entire arc from the movie and it would make no difference. It’s a shame as Urban is a very capable actor. It’s also a little frustrating as supporting characters from the previous movies such as Volstagg and Fandral are blink and you’ll miss it cameos. Couldn’t they have fleshed them out to serve the Hela story more than introduce a new character that serves no purpose to the overall plot?
The biggest issue for me with Ragnarok was the comedy. A lot of it works but some of it is poorly placed in the narrative. It’s difficult to go into specifics but there are some moments which should be emotional and shocking but then a zinger comes in to lighten the tone. This was an issue in the last Thor movie – the world is about to be destroyed and you’re making jokes? It needed toned down a bit. And then there is Hela, a fearsome Goddess of Death and we didn’t actually see that much of her. She had a solid arc – we understand her aims and why but it was one-note narrative for her. I’m evil, let’s kill! There is also a connection between Valkyrie and Hela but when they meet in combat, it’s not mentioned? I would have expected more between them.
My issue with Thor has always been that it feels like it lacks it’s own identity. All the other movies in the MCU have their own look and feel while Thor is instead taking elements from all of them instead of carving his own. That being said, I did really enjoy Thor as a popcorn movie. It was certainly better than the latest Guardians of the Galaxy movie and I would say on par with Spiderman:Homecoming. If this is the last entry in the Thor franchise, then it’s certainly a good way to go out.