Review - Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), PG-13, 2h 10min - Of all of the characters that Marvel Studios has introduced into their cinematic universe (MCU), Thor may be the most diverse.  Thor: Ragnarok is the third Thor-centric film in the ever-expanding MCU, and each has had a very different tone to it.  Ragnarok is a sharp departure from the prevailing gloom of Thor: The Dark World, bringing a much lighter, humorous tone to the action-adventure nature of the character while he combats another end-of-the-world-level threat.

The events of Thor: Ragnarok begin with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in a very precarious position: being held captive by classic Thor comics villain Surtur, (who is voiced by Clancy Brown) and talking to his long-dead cellmate about how he came to be in said tough spot.  It's an amusing way to bring us up to speed with what Thor has been up to since the events of 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron (the last time we have seen either he or the Hulk).  Surtur threatens that Asgard will fall by his hands before Thor breaks free and fights his way out of Surtur's realm to Led Zeppelin's perfectly fitting "Immigrant Song".  Upon returning to Asgard, Thor finds things to be a bit off and is quick to expose the charade that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has pulled over Asgard's eyes, in which he has been ruling under the guise of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who Loki has actually sent to Earth to 'retire'.  After finding Odin, the brothers first learn of their sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, Odin's first born, whom he warns will return to Asgard to claim the throne after his passing when his power can no longer keep her at bay.  True to Odin's word, Hela appears almost immediately, and in the ensuing confrontation, her great power knocks Thor and Loki out of the bifrost, jettisoning them both onto the far-off world of Sakaar.  It is here that Thor is captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), sold to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), and forced to fight in the gladiator-like Contest of Champions, where he comes face to face with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  After an epic battle in the Grandmaster's arena, Thor begins to plot an escape from Sakaar so that he can return to Asgard and stop Hela's invasion.

Where Thor: The Dark World (true to its name) was a very darkly lit film, Ragnarok is bright and colorful, often paying homage to the visual works of Thor's co-creator Jack Kirby (much the same way Doctor Strange took visual queues from co-creator Steve Ditko's work). Director Taika Waititi does an excellent job of melding the comedic nature of the script with the epic action sequences and locations throughout the film.  After first hearing that they wanted to make a 'buddy-cop-like' film, I was a little worried that it may be over the top, but Thor: Ragnarok actually has great balance to it, and the comedy never gives off a forced feeling.

Hemsworth and Hiddleston are great once again in the roles that they have become synonymous with.  The continue to really capture the complex love/hate relationship between the brothers who also happen to be the Gods of Thunder and Mischief respectively.  Cate Blanchett's Hela is one of the best MCU villains that we have seen, and Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie is a nice addition to the Asgardian corner of the MCU.  Goldblum's Grandmaster is eccentric, ridiculous, and over the top.  Honestly, he's everything that you'd expect a Goldblum-played character to be, and he's quite entertaining.  The biggest surprise is probably the stone giant Korg (played by director Waititi), who is constantly sharing conflicting thoughts of revolution and hopelessness.  We also see Idris Elba return as Heimdall and Karl Urban in a small roll as Loki-turned-Hela lackey Skurge.

Thor: Ragnarok leaves its characters in an interesting place leading into next summer's Avengers: Infinity War and could lead to some very cool story possibilities once the MCU gets back to Thor's 'solo' adventures.  It does a wonderful job of filling the viewer in on what came before, so while it wouldn't hurt to have seen Thor, AvengersThor: The Dark World, and Avengers: Age of Ultron beforehand (mostly as context for the Thor/Loki relationship), it isn't absolutely necessary.  Thor: Ragnarok is great fun, and may be one of the best entries to the MCU yet.  I'd love to see it again, but after one viewing I feel safe in saying that it definitely deserves a place in the upper echelon of MCU films.


- You know the drill for MCU films by now.  Stay to the end of the credits if you want to see the two post film sequences.  The first is mid-credits and shows Thor and Loki discussing whether or not it is a good idea to be taking Loki back to Earth when they are interrupted by an ominous looking ship approaching.  This likely leads into next summer's Avengers: Infinity War.  The second is post-credits and is honestly a complete throw away that's just an excuse to get Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster a couple more minutes of screen time.

- Beta Ray Bill, Man-Thing, Ares, and Bi-Beast heads can be seen as part of the architecture of Grandmaster's tower, which also had an incomplete Hulk head being erected at the top.  Does this imply that they were former Champions of Grandmaster's contest?  I didn't catch Man-Thing or Bi-Beast myself when I saw it.  My friend David told me about Man-Thing and I read about Bi-Beast on the web.

- Grandmaster's 'Contest of Champions' takes its name from a Marvel comics mini-series from 1982 as well as the 2015 mobile app.

- When Thor first arrives at Grandmaster's tower, he is subjected to a voice over/introduction from Grandmaster himself while the tune to 'Pure Imagination' from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) plays in the background.

- In the comics, Hela is the Goddess of Death but is not a sibling of Thor and Loki.  I felt that this change made sense and worked well for the film though.

- Hela revives the Fenris Wolf in the depths below Asgard, which first appeared in the comics in the Journey into Mystery title in the mid-1960's.

- I didn't know this until I read it after seeing the film, but when Valkyrie is first introduced, she's referred to as 'Scrapper 142'.  This is apparently a reference to the character's first comic appearance in The Incredible Hulk #142 from 1971.

- The Warriors Three - Fandral (Zachary Levi), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) all appear in very limited roles.  They are all basically 'cannon-fodder' during Hela's invasion of Asgard.  I'm a little bummed that these classic Thor allies were reduced to such a small, inconsequential role in this film.

- Ragnarok took Sakaar and elements occurring on it from the Planet Hulk story line written by Greg Pak in the comics.  In the comic, Hulk battled Silver Surfer in the arena instead of Thor.  However this change is not unprecedented as Silver Surfer was swapped out for Thor in the animated Planet Hulk movie from 2010.

- Korg (Waititi) was a part of the Planet Hulk story line in the comics.  Another of his race was smashed to bits by Thor at the beginning of Thor: The Dark World.

- Waititi also performed the motion capture for the old, weak version of Surtur who is holding Thor captive at the beginning of the film.

- Stan Lee's obligatory cameo came in the form of the old man who cut Thor's hair before he entered the arena.  These used to be fun, but I find myself growing tired of them.

- If the characters performing in the Asgardian play looked familiar it is because they Matt Damon was Loki, Chris Hemsworth's older brother Luke was Thor, and Sam Neill was Odin.

- We get a Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) cameo, part of which is a slight re-work of the mid-credits scene from the end of Doctor Strange.

- There is also a very short Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) cameo worked in by way of recorded message in the Hulk's crashed Avengers Quinjet.

- The password that finally allows Thor to access the Quinjet was 'Point Break', a call back to 2012's Avengers when Tony Stark joking referred to Thor by the name of the 1991 action/heist flick starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves.

- Thor mentions the time Loki turned him into a frog.  This is a nod to events that take place in Walter Simonson's epic run on The Mighty Thor comic in the early-mid '80s.

- I like the idea that Asgard is an ideal/a people as opposed to a physical location.  It may be a bit of a loop hole in that they were able to have Asgard physically destroyed by Surtur/Hela without any significant consequence, but it worked and I like the possibilities that it could lead too (like a location on/nearer Earth like in J. Michael Straczynski's Thor run in the comics).

- I felt like Surtur could have been used in a greater role considering his status as one of Thor's greatest enemies from the comics.

- Thor loses an eye at the hands of Hela towards the end of the film, leaving him with a patch like his father Odin.  This is very similar to the 'Old King Thor' incarnation of the character as seen in Jason Aaron's current Thor run that began in Thor: God of Thunder (2012).


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