Review: 'Thor: Ragnarok', Finally A Thor Movie Worth Remembering

Check it out, why isn't Thor the most enjoyable of Marvel's franchises? It should be, but for some reason it's been the most bland and forgettable. I mean, aren't we talking all-powerful space gods engaged in a Game of Thrones-esque family squabble while throwing lightning bolts in-between saving the Earth? It could be argued that Thor, despite being one of the most popular members of The Avengers, has had the worst movies to call his own. Well that changes with Thor: Ragnarok, which turns out to be not only one of the best of Marvel's movies but also one of the funniest buddy comedies of the year.

Who do we have to thank for this? Taika Waititi, the New Zealand director best known for quirky oddities like Eagle vs. Shark, What We Do In The Shadows, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I kept looking around for Jemaine Clement to show up, but no dice. Waititi and screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Chris Yost basically rebuilt the entire Thor mythos from the ground up, figured out what works about it, ditched all the stuffy Shakespearean crap, and dialed the self-awareness up to Asgardian levels.  It'll make you wish there were more Thor movies coming, even though there probably won't be.

Even the opening sequence is fun when it shouldn't be. I mean, it starts with Thor, still played by hunky, blond-haired Aussie Chris Hemsworth, imprisoned by the fiery demon Surtur. Thor's always had a flippant attitude towards his enemies, it's part of his luggish charm, but he really lays it on thick. Waititi's gift for sight gags comes in handy during Thor and Surtur's face-to-face (chains have a tendency to unwind slowly), even as the demon teases the arrival of Ragnarok, the prophesied death of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and destruction of Asgard.

That's a lot for one Avenger to handle in a single movie, but it's actually only the B plot which is pretty incredible. It looks like the worst will indeed befall Thor's home with the arrival of Hela, the goddess of death played by Cate Blanchett in regal black horns and heavy makeup. She's got a very personal score to settle thanks to one of Odin's many secrets, and she basically rips everyone and everything to shreds. Not even Thor and his duplicitous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) can stop her, and they wind up hurled onto another planet, the junk-filled gladiator world of Sakaar, ruled by the garishly-dressed Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). While Loki worms his way into the Grandmaster's inner circle, Thor is captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a drunken warrior whose zest for battle is very closely mingled with Thor's. He's forced to become a fighter, which is where he encounters Sakaar's champion, his old pal Hulk.

While the film is certainly overstuffed to bursting, there are little details that Marvel has mixed in that could have long-reaching ramifications. The biggest actually involves Hulk, played once again by Mark Ruffalo. This is not your typical, lumbering, monosyllabic Hulk. In the comics we see Hulk evolve into different versions of himself all of the time (Remember the weak, grey Hulk? Boooo.), but it hasn't happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe until now. This Hulk is smarter, talks more, jokes more, and seems to have locked his alter ego Bruce Banner away completely. But it makes for a banter between Thor and Hulk that borders on Dumb and Dumber levels of idiocy. Some might think it's a bit too much having them be so goofy, but Waititi is smart enough to see there's a limit to how much you can pick these characters apart. At some point you have to make them heroes, and much like how Iron Man 3 really solidified Tony Stark as a hero not just a selfish billionaire with expensive toys, Thor: Ragnarok completes the god of thunder's evolution from bull in a china shop to protector of the helpless. Sure, he still loves a good scrap (He has a pretty good one with Hulk), a tall flagon of mead, and a pretty lady (Although he's still a bit scarred by the Jane Foster thing), Thor has figured out that with great power  comes...oh wait, that's another Marvel movie. Well, you get the point.

Part of my rationale for thinking this is the final Thor movie is that no other solo Marvel franchise has gone past three (No, you ain't getting Iron Man 4), and because Thor: Ragnarok has two stories that should have movies to themselves. Instead they are jammed together in a mish-mash of the popular "Planet Hulk" and "Ragnarok" storylines from the comics, and while it's amazing to be so successful there are a few bumps in the road. A lot of great characters don't get the attention they deserve, even as many of them undergo startling changes in personality. Idris Elba's Heimdall has gone from Asgard's gatekeeper to a lone wolf hero saving the people from Hela's wrath; Odin is revealed to be quite a bit more than he previously let on; and Blanchett's Hela has a terrific motive for revenge that could have used a full movie to explore. Waititi himself voices one of the film's breakout characters, Korg, a Kronan with a wit so dry it matches his rocky skin. The character you'll be dying to see more of is Valkyrie, with the always great Tessa Thompson giving us the female Marvel hero who needs her own movie next. While there's been some "controversy" lately about Valkyrie's sexuality, it's only more reason her story should be fast-tracked to the screen. Personally I'm far more interested in seeing Valkyrie's proud warrior past revisited. of  Fortunately, Thompson is already working her magic to make sure it happens. As for Goldblum, he's perfect as the haughty, dismissive Grandmaster, but again you just wish there was more.

You don't need to be told that Hemsworth and Hiddleston are great together, but this time they get to tackle Thor and Loki's sibling rivalry from a less serious angle. Wait until you get a load of what "Get Help" means. Despite all of the jokes, this proves to be the most enlightening film about their relationship and growing up under the iron rule of Odin, who is called the "All-Father" for a reason.

Are there connections to the rest of the MCU? Of course. Easter Eggs? You bet. Look closely and Marvel heads may spot Beta Ray Bill. Thor: Ragnarok has everything fans of what these movies want: big superheroics, colorful characters, and now it has laughs, too. It's about time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5