Written by: Chris Sawin
If you’re familiar with Taika Waititi at all, and let’s be honest if you haven’t seen What We Do In the Shadows or Hunt for the Wilderpeople then you should correct that immediately, then the announcement of the New Zealand born director helming the next Thor film should have intrigued and excited you greatly. Humor became an even bigger component of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) once the off-kilter comedy and absurd silliness of the Guardians of the Galaxy turned Peter Quill and his ragtag crew of offbeat bozos into one of the most successful (yet originally unlikely) superhero franchises the studio has to offer. With Waititi on board for Thor: Ragnarok, the Thor franchise suddenly has the potential to not take itself so seriously and be lighter in tone.
Drawing influences from the likes of Big Trouble in Little China, 48 Hrs., Withnail and I, Planes Trains and Automobiles, and Flash Gordon, Thor: Ragnarok has a visual style that seems to be lifted directly from the 70s with a keyboard/synthesizer-infused score that is an homage to the 80s. Thor: Ragnarok shows just how talented Chris Hemsworth is when it comes to comedy. Hemsworth has never been this funny for this long in anything ever and it feels like a revelation of sorts like when everyone realized how great Channing Tatum was with comedy after 21 Jump Street. According to Waititi, 80 percent of the dialogue was improvised and the film has this incredibly natural and loose flow to it. The atmosphere of the film has the humor and light tone of an outtake but Thor: Ragnarok is able to ride that wave for an entire feature film. So yes, to summarize, Thor: Ragnarok is like a coherent two hour gag reel and that is absolutely meant as a compliment.
In addition to Hemsworth returning as Thor, the superhero sequel also has Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, and Anthony Hopkins returning as Loki, Heimdall, and Odin respectively. This is also the first time we’ve seen Mark Ruffalo return as Bruce Banner/Hulk since Avengers: Age of Ultron. New to the cast is Cate Blanchett as the main villainess, goddess of death, and Thor’s sister Hela, Jeff Goldblum as planet Sakaar’s quirky leader known as the Grandmaster, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie; former Asgardian legendary warrior turned drunken bounty hunter, and Karl Urban portrays an Asgardian warrior named Skurge who has taken over Heimdall’s position at Bifrost Bridge. Be on the lookout for the characters Korg and Miek, as well. Korg is a warrior made of rocks that Thor meets on Sakaar. He is portrayed by Waititi through motion capture and is soft-spoken yet hilarious. Miek is larva-like with cybernetic limbs and is computer generated, but has no dialogue. You end up loving the two as a duo and would be all in regarding future appearances from them down the line (something Marvel is toying with).
The opening of the film takes place on Muspelheim; land of the fire demons. Thor has been captured by a fire demon named Surtur (voiced by the incredible Clancy Brown) and is bound in chains. Throwing Thor in Muspelheim is visually like sending Thor to hell and the film kicks off with some really impressive battle sequences including a really cool perspective where it looks like the camera is riding on the handle of Mjolnir as it flies through the air and crashes through countless fire demons. Being familiar with Waititi’s previous films makes the film even more entertaining because you recognize cameos from actors Waititi often collaborates with (like Rachel House and Cohen Holloway). The Loki play has some seriously great cameos, but not knowing who plays Thor, Loki, and Odin in the play makes it even more enjoyable. Jane Foster and Kat Dennings don’t return for this film despite having prominent roles in the first two films. Thor: Ragnarok is only briefly on earth with the majority of the film is split between Asgard and Sakaar. The closest thing to a love interest Thor has is Valkyrie, but the closest they get to becoming romantically involved is breathing heavily while staring into each other’s eyes after fighting side by side.
The biggest drawing point here is the fight between Hulk and Thor and it delivers in every way imaginable. Thor is going to draw some comparisons to Raiden from Mortal Kombat (they’re both gods of thunder) after this film and the character is put through some severely traumatic events that are going to affect him physically going forward, but his fight with Hulk is a spectacular showcase of super strength and brute force. This is the first Marvel film where Lou Ferrigno hasn’t voice Hulk. Mark Ruffalo takes on all of the responsibility in this film and he spends more time as Hulk than Bruce Banner whereas it’s been split 50/50 in previous films. Thor: Ragnarok actually makes a joke about a naked Hulk regarding a certain appendage that has been something on everyone’s mind in the internet community for literally forever. It’s about time somebody addressed the elephant in the room; literally.
Asgard faces what could be absolute extinction and Hela is killing everything that opposes her. While those are serious matters that don’t exactly get swept under the rug they’re story elements that refuse to affect the overall tone and fun nature of the film; something Thor: The Dark World could have benefited from. When Thor arrives on Sakaar, he’s strapped into this chair and forced to experience this disorienting and often terrifying introductory ride for the Grandmaster. Amusingly enough, “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka in the Chocolate Factory plays in the background. Jeff Goldblum adds this eccentric brilliance to a madman in charge of what is essentially a garbage planet. The cool thing about the Grandmaster’s tower is that it features giant heads of all his champions and included in those heads are the Greek god Ares, the Korbinite alien and warhammer-wielding Beta Ray Bill, the supernatural swamp monster known as Man-Thing, and the two-headed android Bi-Beast. Could these be teases for characters to be introduced in future Marvel films?
The bottom line is that Thor: Ragnarok takes a ridiculous amount of pride in being outrageously silly resulting in a different kind of superhero film that alters the landscape (even if it is only a slight alteration to the MCU formula) and has a hell of a lot of fun in doing so. Screenwriters Eric Pearson (Agent Carter), Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost (creators of X-23) and director Taika Waititi have found a way to unleash the inner slapstick colossus usually buried within each and every superhero. Thor: Ragnarok is a spontaneity driven juggernaut that puts the “comic” back in “comical.”