Note: This review contains spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok.
After the critical and commercial success of Guardians of the Galaxy and general apathy toward the standalone Thor film franchise, it made sense for Marvel to sprinkle some wacky, rad-tastic space adventure into Thor: Ragnarok — more jokes, more color, more everything.
But, like an empty-nester still shopping at Forever 21, Thor: Ragnarok might be trying a little too hard to stay hip.
To be clear, I completely understand the impulse to “fun” up this movie. The first Thor was average at best, with an over-reliance on CGI and very little style outside of the fan-favorite villain, Loki. Thor: The Dark World doubled down on the serious, building on the Infinity Stone sub-plot and offering up quite possibly the most forgettable villain of the entire MCU. Thor: Ragnarok needed to bring something a little bit different, and hey, most other successful Marvel movies are action-comedies, so why not Thor? Let me answer that rhetorical question.
Thor isn’t a funny character — at least not on his own.
My “meh” attitude toward Chris Hemsworth’s performance is well documented, and I still don’t think he brings anything of value to the character, his fellow actors, or the movie as a whole. He isn’t bad, he just isn’t special. But the real issue here is the writing. I just don’t think Thor: Ragnarok is all that funny, which is not a great look when your action-comedy is attempting to be more comedy than action.
The buddy movie angle works, though more in theory than in practice. Thor and Hulk make a good combo, and it’s still fun to see them beat the hell out of each other. But I don’t think any of the previous movies tried hard enough to establish these guys as “friends,” and Ragnarok hinges a lot of its story on that relationship. Thor tries to be best buds with Hulk, then with Bruce, and they both feel forced in a contrived way.
The side characters often steal the spotlight, as well, further highlighting that Thor isn’t meant to carry a comedy script. Unsurprisingly, Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster steals every scene he’s in. He’s quite odd, and plays well off every other character in the room. Director Taika Waititi lends his vocal talents as the rock creature Korg, who has the whole “scary-looking nice guy” thing going for him. Not all of his dialogue works, but I chuckled more than a few times.
Valkyrie is the new love interest for Thor after Natalie Portman bowed out of doing a third movie, and she’s pretty okay. She has some chemistry with Thor, and while I wish her sister-like relationship with Hulk was more developed, she’s a pretty cool side-kick. But I still prefer Lady Sif.
Cate Blanchett is sexy as hell as Hela, the Goddess of Death. Seriously, I don’t think she’s aged in 20 years. But her character feels like she’d be a better villain in a different movie. Her whole thing is that she’s the forgotten sister to Thor and Loki, having been banished for basically being too hardcore and killing too much stuff. She could have brought an actual air of danger and horror to the movie, but everything else that’s happening is so light and fun that it loses impact. It’s hard to feel any tension from her story on Asgard when we’re cutting back to Thor and Hulk throwing giant toys at one another.
Loki also got on my nerves a bit in this one. I like Tom Hiddleston, and I like Loki, but it’s beginning to feel like they don’t know what to do with his character. He betrays Thor, Thor kicks his ass, Thor forgives him when it seems like Loki has changed his ways, then Loki betrays Thor again. Rinse and repeat. And that cycle happens like three times in this one movie. Judging from how Ragnarok ends, it looks like Loki will play a part in Infinity War, but I’m kind of hoping his character takes a break.
On the positive side of things, the color and visual flair really do add a lot to this movie. There’s a flash there that just makes the movie a more pleasant viewing experience. It doesn’t hit the levels of Doctor Strange, but it’s better than the bland gold sheen of previous Thor films. Sakaar could have used some additional world-building, but it’s an interesting enough diversion that I certainly enjoyed more than what was happening on Asgard.
The action is also suitably frenetic. There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before, but the Thor/Hulk fight delivers on the promised brutality. I thought the final fight between our heroes and Hela’s minions lasted a little too long, but there were still some good moves in there — Karl Urban’s pointless Skurge notwithstanding.
The climax between Hela and Surtur ties back to the opening scene in a satisfying (if obvious) way, but I’m more curious to see if Hela comes back. I find it hard to believe she will, what with Asgard being completely demolished, but she’s a potentially interesting character that could compete with Thanos in terms of power level. It would be a waste to have her gone for good. Speaking of Thanos, pretty safe to assume that was his ship in the stinger, right? That might make it difficult for Thor to get back to Earth. And will he get Mjolnir back at some point? What about his eye?
Thor: Ragnarok really feels like two separate movies. On the one hand, there’s the buddy comedy in space, which is mostly fun, if inessential. And then there’s the Hela story on Asgard, where she’s killing all of Thor’s friends, raising an army of the dead, and trying to take over the universe. Those two stories just never mesh in any satisfying way, and the end result is a forgettable Guardians of the Galaxy wannabe with less interesting characters and worse writing.