REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok Provides a Soft Reboot of Sorts for MARVEL Franchise, Trades Serious Tone for Comedy

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Last night, I was lucky enough to attend an early showing of the latest Marvel entry, Thor: Ragnarok. I’ve been a fan of the Marvel cinematic universe since Nick Fury appeared after the credits of Iron Man and I’ve seen every movie since. I’ve enjoyed them all as well, and although I would perhaps rank some higher than others, not one would I consider bad as they were at least all enjoyable. Well, Dr. Strange was kind of boring, but I’m digressing. They’ve all be fun rides, so how was the third entry for Thor?

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
L to R: Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth)

Well, it was great! Not as strong as Civil War, or Avengers, but extremely entertaining, tightly packed, and fun. The thing it WASN’T was a Thor movie. I’ll explain, but first let’s talk about all that worked.

The story is very fast paced, never lingering too long, and it works. The action travels fast, and you get the sense of urgency Thor himself is facing. It never drags or gets too ponderous. The film itself is obviously very influenced by Guardians of the Galaxy, in both tone and art direction, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The film is crisp and great to look at, but does its best to distinguish itself so the Guardians influence isn’t obvious. The only time it’s a little too obvious is when an older song scores an action sequence, but it only happens once or twice and Thor doesn’t have an ‘Awesome Mix’ of his own. Also, the action scenes are so greatly choregraphed and eye catching it doesn’t matter. While this might not be Marvel’s strongest film in balancing all its elements, it might be a contender in Marvel’s funniest film. Seriously. The actors and the writers all turn in hilarious work and I don’t remember the last time I laughed this much at a Marvel movie. This is honestly where it surpasses even Guardians. The greatest thing is it’s not stupid or dumb humor, it’s all based on character and situation, so even if you see a bit coming it’ll make you smile if not make you laugh out loud.

Chris Hemsworth is great (More on Thor himself later), and Tom Hiddleston is on point as usual as Loki. Hela, played by Cate Blanchett, makes herself extremely known as Marvel’s first main female villain. Her power level actually might be higher than any previous villain, and it’s not played off or written off to make the heroes win. She seethes and commands, becoming not just a villain but perhaps a force of nature turning all of Asgard on its side. Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson is a great strong female lead too. She brings a lot of pain to the role, in addition to being super tough and not to be trifled with. This is no token love interest or sidekick, she actually is another great warrior to add to the likes of Black Widow, Gamora and Wasp. Jeff Goldblum as does fantastic as the Grand Master. Every scene he’s in is a delight, and he’s so enmeshed in this character, it’s so seeped with his Jeff Goldblumy-ness you can’t help but love it and I hope to God he becomes a reoccurring character. Idris Elba returns and so does Anthony Hopkins, redeeming himself somewhat from his lunatic performance in Transformers: The Last Knight.

The star of the show however is Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo. Not just smashing, he actually balances comedy, badassness, and pathos better than the movie as a whole. Minor spoiler here, but the reason Hulk sat out the adventures since Age of Ultron was he’s been here in this arena, and for two years he’s been Hulk. As such, he’s evolved as a character, and we can see his loneliness, his frustration, his need to be loved. He’s no longer the big gun, he’s an actual Avenger who’s doing his best with his limited mind. There’s a call back to Age of Ultron that actually was my favorite emotional moment of the film. We won’t spoil that.

So the film was a great time. Laugh out loud hilarious, great turns by old characters like Hulk and some fantastic new ones like Hela and the Grand Master. A few emotional moments fall flat because they’re not allowed to sit very long, but in the end its still an excellent action film that delivers on basically every promise. The only thing, and it’s not even really a negative, more like something that depends on the individual, is that it’s not a Thor film.

I liked the first Thor. It was fun, the great type of sword and sorcery film that doesn’t take itself too serious but serious enough to have stakes. It was like playing World of Warcraft, where you could fight frost giants with hammers and use rainbow bridges but still have fun with the concept. It wasn’t Iron Man, but it was neat. Thor: The Dark world was even better, expanding on the lore of the film while still keeping the tone. I liked them both. Obviously someone higher up didn’t think that highly of them because Ragnarok goes far to distance itself. It wasn’t that they weren’t acknowledged, it was almost as if they were derided because most connections to them were burned.
First off, Thor’s funny now. Chris Hemsworth is a strong charming leading man and does great with the material, but the humor of Thor himself previously was more of being the stiff straight man. The medieval fish in a modern pond kinda thing. Not anymore. Now he’s quipping away, interrupting villains and being a little goofy. He sounds more like Iron Man or Ant Man now. Remember “Does Mother know you weareth her drapes?” Classic Tony Stark line, now something that Thor might say. If you get what I’m going for.

Here’s another minor spoiler: the ominous lead in ending from The Dark World where Odin is banished and Loki replaces him is completely blown within the first ten minutes. Loki ruins his own plan by making a giant memorial to himself, including a tribute play, because that’s the best way to keep your cover. It doesn’t play so much as Loki being out of character as wanting to get that plot point out of the way. Also, characters from the first two films are killed quickly. Sif is nowhere to be found, Jane Porter (and Natalie Portman) is explained away in a throwaway line, and the treasure vault that was a big part of the Thor lore is now openly derided by Hela, including the first films mcguffin. This film is a soft-reboot of sorts for the Thor series I suppose, heading in a new, more comedic direction that lines up with other MCU films.

This stuck in my craw despite enjoying the movie a ton. It’s not really a negative of the film itself, just something that was obvious to me. More Guardians, less Thor stuck out as a mandate. I saw the film with my sister, who wasn’t crazy about the first two, and she loved this one. Starting fresh, as it were, was the exact right thing to do in her eyes. My wife sees Thor’s new sense of humor not as a sudden character change like me but as a natural evolution. So, I’m not really counting this as a con. It’s more a personal preference. If you were a big fan of the Thor and Thor: The Dark World, or the more stoic Thor from the two Avengers films, some things might grind your gears a little. None of this, however, stops the film from being a real joy to watch.

Thor Ragnarok doesn’t forget the fun and humor that makes these adventures great, with great action scenes and some real character building moments. It doesn’t offer the joyous package of Avengers or Civil War, but it builds the world it’s playing in well and makes a real great time. So far, Marvel’s winning streak continues, with not a bad movie in the bunch. “Though Dr. Strange was kind of boring…”

THEME PARK NOTE: The dragon thing that is the main antagonist of Guardians of the Galaxy: Monsters After Dark is hardly “featured.” It’s in the movie for like the first three minutes then promptly killed, so don’t expect any cool connection here.

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Scott Smith

3 Comments

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  • The Marvel films overall, disappoint. I consider them missed opportunities, due to the large crowds that they draw, to push a political agenda that counters that of Trump and his mean spirited followers. This reviews does nothing to restore my hope that Marvel can turn the tide against this current administration and set this country back on the right path.
    I also detest the injection of humor into these films, which is clearly done to cater to the lowest common denominator sitting in the theater.