This article contains spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok and the wider MCU.
“Life is about growth; it’s about change…”
With Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in full swing, having already introduced a couple of major new characters (Doctor Strange, Spider-Man) and raised the stakes for the Earth-bound Avengers (in Captain America: Civil War), it was time for the Mighty Thor’s third big-screen outing. It’s fair to say, though, that the God of Thunder was in need of a bit of a rethink after his largely soulless second adventure, The Dark World. As Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian hero tells his up-to-his-old-tricks brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), sometimes a change can do you good…
The man tasked by Marvel with leading that change was Taika Waititi. And change things he did. The Kiwi helmer used his cheeky humor and trademark quirkiness (honed on movies such as What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople) to light a much-needed fire under the Thor franchise, imbuing the third installment with bags of personality – something that was sorely lacking from its predecessor.
Ditto the main man himself. Ragnarok showcased a perfect combo of director and star (as evidenced by the hilarious Team Thor shorts that preceded the film’s release), with Waititi really bringing out the best in his fellow Antipodean and pushing his headliner’s comedy chops to their full potential. Hemsworth has always had the physical side of the character nailed but, with Waititi’s help, he gives his most relaxed, most rounded and, dare we say it, most likeable turn in the role yet.
The same could also be said for Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk – an appearance that relies a lot more on performance capture than previous outings thanks to ol’ greenie’s growing sentience. Capitalizing on the buddy-movie chemistry with Thor glimpsed in the first two Avengers movies, Hulk is here given a chance to shine away from the MCU’s more crowded ensemble extravaganzas and, just like Hemsworth, Ruffalo grabs the opportunity with both hands.
With Waititi’s psychedelic vision allowing Marvel to cross off “full-on ’80s fantasy movie” on its genre bingo sheet, Ragnarok‘s color-soaked visuals, synth-heavy score and vibrant playing grounds are worlds apart from the muted tones and forgettable locales of The Dark World – and the film is all the better for it.
Gone is the second film’s meandering plotting, too; Waititi and screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost pick up the pace in lightning-fast fashion and rarely lose momentum. Ragnarok‘s opening 25 minutes alone see Thor defeating fire demon Surtur; uncovering Loki’s treacherous plot to rule Asgard; meeting Doctor Strange (“So, Earth has wizards now”); witnessing the death of his dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins); being confronted by long-lost evil sis Hela (Cate Blanchett); and losing his beloved hammer Mjolnir. Phew.
As you might expect from a Waititi movie, the humor is really upped this time out, too, and an impressive amount of it lands – even some of the more delightfully juvenile witticisms (“I’m asking for safe passage…through the anus”). Quips come thick and fast, with Thor especially getting much more to work with in the one-liner stakes, but it’s the inspired visual gags that really stand out, piercing the film’s traditional hero moments – Thor’s attempted window escape, Banner’s climactic bridge jump – with a knowing wink.
There’s some merciless trolling of MCU movies past, too: Loki’s “death” scene in The Dark World is perfectly sent up in a scene that sees a trio of Asgardian actors (some game cameos from Sam Neill, Matt Damon, and Hemsworth’s real-life brother Luke) paying tribute, while Age Of Ultron‘s slightly goofy, Hulk-calming “sun’s getting real low” line is used to increasingly useless effect by a blundering Thor.
Humor doesn’t mean the stakes aren’t high – the film gives us Odin’s poignant passing, the destruction of Asgard and an unusually high body count for a Marvel movie (not including Infinity War, obviously). But by making Thor’s world funnier, weirder and more dynamic, the franchise finally has a strong identity of its own. Bursting with wit and inventiveness, Waititi’s movie really rejuvenates the series, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Cap and Iron Man’s best efforts. Marvel’s trust in directors with unique voices pays off; in return, Waititi rewards them with that rarest of things: a trilogy closer that’s the best of the three by a mile.
First appearances: Ragnarok introduces a trio of memorable characters who all threaten to steal the show at various points throughout the movie. First up, there’s Jeff Goldblum going full Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, the eccentric, twisted ruler of trash planet Sakaar. Then there’s Thor’s stone-man buddy Korg: a laid-back, Kiwi-accented Kronan (“Ah yeah, nah…”) – mo-capped and voiced by Waititi himself – who nabs some of the film’s best lines.
And finally, we have Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, a hard-drinking, ass-kicking Asgardian warrior who’s immediately easy to root for and who sparks instant onscreen chemistry with both Thor and Banner. A future Avenger, perhaps? Props go to Blanchett, too, for her deliciously larger-than-life turn as Thor’s big bad sis, the goth goddess Hela – a formidable foe who finally provides a real match for our titular hero.
So long, farewell: Unfortunately, it looks like that’s the last we’ll see of Blanchett’s Goddess of Death, who’s consumed by the fires of Ragnarok that destroy Asgard in the film’s finale. Same goes for Hopkins as Odin, who bows out with a small but underrated appearance – his hilarious mimicry of the duplicitous Loki (“Shit!”) at the beginning of the film is a genuine highlight, as is his mid-finale pep-talk (“Are you Thor, God of Hammers?”). It’s the end of the line for the Warriors Three, too, although they don’t exactly get the best send-off: Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) are all casually murdered by Hela after mere seconds of screen-time to make way for the (admittedly more interesting) new characters.
Best quip: “Piss off, ghost!” Korg has the best reaction to one of Loki’s infamous illusions.
Standout scene: It’d be remiss of us not to mention the bruising Hulk vs Thor fight in the Grandmaster’s gladiatorial Contest of Champions arena, an exhilarating superhero smash-up that’s since become the source for countless gif reactions (“Yeeeesssssss!”). But the most spine-tingling moment for us is when a newly lightening-charged Thor lands on the Rainbow Bridge to join his fellow ‘Revengers’ in the fight against Hela’s undead army, the four heroes battling their way through swathes of zombie soldiers (and in Hulk’s case, the giant Fenris Wolf) to the banging tune of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” Great stuff.
It’s all connected: Thor: Ragnarok contains a few key MCU references, mostly throwbacks to previous Avengers movies and setting up Infinity War…
• In his opening speech, Thor tells us he “went searching through the cosmos for some magic colorful Infinity Stone things…didn’t find any.” At this point in the MCU, we know the whereabouts of five stones – even if Thor doesn’t: the Space Stone is on Asgard, the Reality Stone on Knowhere, the Power Stone on Xandar, and the Mind and Time Stones on Earth (with Vision and Doctor Strange respectively). The only one left to find is the all-important Soul Stone…
• In the fighting pit, Thor experiences the same smash-y beating from Hulk as Loki does in Avengers. “Yes, that’s how it feels!” the God of Mischief gloats.
• This is actually the first reunion between Loki and Banner since the Battle of New York. “Last time I saw you, you were trying to kill everybody,” says Banner. “Where are you these days?” He gets a typical Loki response: “It varies from moment to moment.”
• While Thor is telling Korg about his lost Mjolnir, he tells him it was “made inside the heart of a dying star.” We’ll get to visit that star – aka Nidavellir – in Avengers: Infinity War, where Thor helps the dwarf king Eitri to forge a new weapon known as Stormbreaker.
• Thor’s password for the Quinjet that brought Hulk to Sakaar is “Point Break” – the nickname Tony Stark bestows on him in Avengers.
• The recording of Black Widow asking Hulk to turn the Quinjet around, as seen in Age Of Ultron, is played back, finally managing to make him transition back to Banner. We learn that the events of Ragnarok take place two years after the Battle of Sokovia.
• In Odin’s treasure room, Hela walks past a “fake” Infinity Gauntlet, the Frost Giants’ ice-blasting Casket of Ancient Winters from the first Thor movie (a relic she describes as “weak”) and the Tesseract (“That’s not bad”). Loki passes the Tesseract when he goes back into the vault to resurrect Surtur, and we can presume he takes it before leaving Asgard, seeing as he’s in possession of it at the beginning of Infinity War.
Credit check: Two additional scenes here. The mid-credits sting sees Thor and Loki on the Grandmaster’s ship, which is housing the Asgardian survivors, debating the merits of going back to Earth. “Don’t worry brother, I feel like everything’s going to work out fine,” Thor says optimistically, before they are confronted by Thanos’ looming spaceship.
After the credits, we get to see the fate of Goldblum’s Grandmaster, who tries to talk his way out of a Sakaarian rebellion, declaring it a “tie.” “This revolution has been a been a huge success. Yay us!” he says. “I’ve been a big part of it… You can’t have a revolution without someone to overthrow…”
What are your thoughts on Thor: Ragnarok? Have we missed your favorite moment or reference? Let us know in the comments below…