Of the various franchises which make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Thor series was probably the top candidate for a new vision, and What We Do in the Shadows director Taika Waititi proves to be up to the task with the third entry, Thor: Ragnarok. Long gone is the bland, brooding heir to the Asgardian throne, and in his place audiences will find a funny and endearing hero whose personality – all wisecracks and arrogance – falls somewhere between Tony Stark and Peter Quill.
Cast out from Asgard after a hostile takeover by the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), Thor finds himself stranded on the alien world of Sakaar, where the only source of entertainment is the daily gladiatorial contests overseen by a mysterious figure known as The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Captured and forced to fight, the God of Thunder is elated when he learns the monarch’s “champion” is none other than his Avengers teammate, the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Thor hatches a plan to reclaim Asgard with the help of his big green buddy, but there’s a little problem: Hulk is enjoying his new life and has no interest in relinquishing his spot at the top of the food chain.
Comic book fans have long been hoping for a big-screen adaptation of the Planet Hulk storyline, and Thor: Ragnarok draws plenty of influence from those pages, introducing several key characters and locations and repurposing them to fit within the confines of the film’s narrative. The main attraction will likely be the much-hyped matchup between Thor and Hulk, a terrific blend of action and humor that showcases precisely why Taika Waititi was the right choice to step in and shepherd the series in a new direction. The director’s sense of humor permeates the entire film, particularly in scenes where he voices the amiable Kronan warrior, Korg, a character destined to become a new favorite among audiences.
Intergalactic travel allows for Thor: Ragnarok to showcase multiple new locales, but the bright colors and strange creatures of Sakaar feel like something that would be more at home in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. The same holds true for Ragnarok‘s clear preference for comedy over action: it’s definitely one of the funniest entries in the MCU, although this transition may feel a bit jarring for audiences expecting something more in line with the tone of Thor’s previous adventures. There’s nothing inherently wrong with taking the series in a new direction, but to make this change so suddenly feels a bit incongruous, and a more gradual shift might have been the better approach.
As with other superhero films, Thor: Ragnarok often finds difficulty in juggling its massive supporting cast, leaving some returning characters with precious little to do. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) only has about seven minutes of screentime, Loki is practically a non-entity until the third act, and the inclusion of the Warriors Three feels like a complete afterthought. Conversely, new characters like Skurge (Karl Urban) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) are great additions to the universe, with the characterization of the latter being completely different than most fans will expect.
Ragnarok is easily the most entertaining adventure yet for the God of Thunder, although the bar wasn’t set especially high, and while it doesn’t reach the heights of the MCU’s upper echelon (Captain America: The Winter Soldier still holds the top honor), it continues Marvel’s track record of churning out exciting, fun-filled action that even non-readers will find accessible – not to mention revitalizing one of the studio’s most important characters, who will no doubt have a major part to play in the events still to come.
Director Taika Waititi moves the franchise in a new direction with a bold, almost jarring shift toward pure comedy serving up an 80s-influenced adventure that helps revitalize the Thor character.