THOR: RAGNAROK bursts onto screen, effervescent and irreverent, brimming with confidence, flare, panache, and a bunch other adjectives that all add up to a movie that is raucous, rambunctious, and riotously funny. Entertaining as hell is another way to put it. It’s also a little thin, which should be a major issue, but the damn thing is so engaging it almost doesn’t matter. Almost.
Going into this film I was REALLY curious about how Hulk had gotten himself onto some distant planet where he is now some kind of gladiator champion. I was dimly aware that there was a run of comics called PLANET HULK and that this movie was likely using some of that, but I don’t read comic books so that’s where my knowledge stopped. As far as I was concerned the last we knew of anything about Hulk he was on a QuinJet, alone, heading out into the oblivion at the end of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. If you remember your MCU history there was a lovely arc in that movie involving a burgeoning attraction between Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow/Natasha Romanov and Hulk’s human-self, Bruce Banner. Bruce/Hulk ultimately decided to head off into the unknown rather than pursue a relationship with Black Widow out of fear of losing control and hurting her (and others). That decision and internal struggle is at the heart of what is going on with Hulk in this film, but I wouldn’t say it’s really explored either. It is referenced. It informs Hulk/Bruce’s behavior, but to say that the film dives into this as a major thematic element or does any kind of meaningful character building would not be correct. The same can be said of what is going on with Thor.
Last we saw Thor he had taken a swim in the magical mystery pool, seen some stuff (I still don’t understand what was happening there), and then decided to head off into the ether to find out more about the Infinity Stones (SIDEBAR: that storyline is basically nonexistent in this installment, but it is the reason he’s wandering out in space, so…). The opening of the film finds Thor doing battle with some kind of giant-antlered-fire-demon—seriously, what is it with these Thor villains and their head gear?—in the film’s cold open. Marvel films almost always have a cold open now. Eventually we learn that Thor’s sister and the true first born of Odin, Hela, played by Cate Blanchett (who is also heavily antlered), has taken over Asgard and wants to do evil things like take over other realms and be mean and kill people. Thor can’t have this and so he needs to get back to Asgard so he can stop her. There are a bunch of complications that ensue, including a particularly entertaining diversion to hang out with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, but suffice it to say the road back to Asgard is a winding one and it will take up the majority of the film. It is further complicated by the knowledge that Thor and Loki’s father, Odin, has been lying to them for their entire lives by omitting the existence of their sister AND his history of doing evil deeds with her like taking over other realms, being mean, and killing a bunch of people. This is the heart of what is going on with Thor in this film, but I wouldn’t say it’s really explored either. It is referenced. It informs Thor’s behavior, but to say that the film dives into this as a major thematic element or does any kind of meaningful character building would not be correct. To be fair this internal struggle is more central to the story than Hulk’s—it is a Thor film after all and this struggle does get some service in the ultimate machinations that make up the film’s climax, but, again, it’s thin. So, why doesn’t this matter?
Because the film is really, really fun. And funny. Hilarious, actually. Director Taika Waititi brought the mad-cap, anarchic style of What We Do in the Shadows (a mockumentary about vampire roommates) and married it to the MCU. It’s brilliant. I used the word irreverent earlier and it’s a really appropriate one to use. At every turn the humor in the film undercuts any kind of seriousness, self-seriousness, and gravitas on display. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film be self-deprecating before, but Thor: Ragnarok is. The wit is razor sharp and the pacing is lightning fast. Jokes scream by at light speed to the point that I’m convinced I missed a large percentage of them because I was busy laughing. The film also slingshots us back and forth between the planet Hulk and Thor are on and what Cate Blanchett is doing in Asgard so quickly I almost got whiplash. The furious pace makes the film fly by like a breeze. It also masks the thinness, so, bonus. And in the middle of it all you have Jeff Goldblum prancing around giving zero fucks about anything but being weird and delightful.
Overall I would highly recommend this film to anyone who likes having a good time. So, everyone. The thematic/emotional elements are really interesting and I wish they were explored further. This is rich stuff they’re dealing with, but what we have instead is also great fun. Taika Waititi is to be commended for bending the MCU to his will and making something his own. It definitely still functions as an MCU movie (and has some of the same problems), but I don’t think another filmmaker could have made this movie in this particular way. Oh, and Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Mark Ruffalo are their usual charming selves. Newcomer Tessa Thompson is fierce as well. Thor: Ragnarok opens across the galaxy on Friday, November 3rd.