By Tennessee Jones
To begin, I have to admit as I walked into my local theater to see “Thor: Ragnarok,” I did not have much hope. Sure, the previews looked great (Led Zeppelin, Hulk vs. Thor round 2, and retro graphics, all right!), but in my opinion, the “Thor” film series has arguably been one of the weaker franchises in Marvel’s stable of heroes and their cinematic journeys. The first movie was an enjoyable but bland stepping stone on the way to the forming the Avengers, simultaneously introducing moviegoers to Marvel’s Nordic Avenger as well as Loki, his meddlesome adopted brother and eventual villain of the first Avengers movie. Meanwhile, in my opinion, the second film really only served to introduce another of the fabled Infinity Stones to the MCU as Marvel builds towards an epic culmination to an unprecedented cinematic universe with the release of “The Avengers: Infinity War” and the forthcoming untitled Avengers 4. Needless to say, I sat down and readied myself for inevitable disappointment as the “Coming Soon” trailers began to roll; two hours and ten minutes later, I seriously wondered why I ever doubted this movie as I left the theater. In a word, it was AMAZING!
The plot of the movie is pretty simple and straightforward; Thor has spent the last two years since “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” looking for information on the Infinity Stones and trying to stop Ragnarok, the fabled and prophesized destruction of Asgard (in Norse mythology, Ragnarok would also be the death of several Norse gods, including Odin, Loki, Heimdall, and Thor himself!). The plot, while simplistic, is enjoyable and is basically summarized as “stop the bad guys and watch these cool fight scenes!” The strength of “Thor: Ragnarok” is not in the plot of the movie but in the characters and the actors portraying them. Karl Urban, of the rebooted “Dredd” and “Star Trek” movies, is possibly Marvel’s best second-tier villain yet as Skurge; he isn’t evil for the sake of evil, he just wants recognition that he feels he is lacking. Cate Blanchett brings a zealotry and sense of chaos to her role as Hela that I was not expecting but probably should have, given her enormous talent (and the fact that Hela is being substituted for Hel, the Norse god of death).
Tom Hiddleston is fantastic as ever as Loki and continues to show layers to a character that could have so easily been relegated to being a one-trick pony. In limited action, Anthony Hopkins gives his best turn yet as Odin; one of my few complaints about the movie is that it didn’t feature more scenes with Hopkins, as I felt his performance as Odin in this movie was more nuanced and layered and added to Thor’s character development. Considering the importance Marvel has put recently on the relationship between father and son (Tony Stark and his dad in “Captain America: Civil War,” Peter Quill and Ego the Living Planet in “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” and Peter Parker and surrogate father Tony Stark in “Spider-Man: Homecoming), I feel like “Thor: Ragnarok” could have explored a similar theme in more detail between Thor and Odin without detracting from the plot or overall quality of the movie. Chris Hemsworth continues to personify Thor, to me he is the god of thunder (short hair or long hair, don’t care); he brings a new dimension to the character by showing his continued growth from arrogant would-be king to wizened warrior-king (and the relaxed, more comedic tone from Taika Waititi towards the film and the character itself certainly does not hurt and allows Hemsworth, an underrated comedic actor, to really shine).
The standout performances to me were Mark Ruffalo and Tessa Thompson as Hulk and Valkyrie, respectively. In limited screen time as Bruce Banner, Ruffalo shows a new side to the duality of the character (with the timely help of a cameo/throwback to “Age of Ultron” featuring Black Widow) and injects a sense of fear into the character. This time around, though, it isn’t a fear of losing control and Hulking out; rather, it is a fear of losing himself permanently should “the other guy” be allowed to come out again. Thompson, in no uncertain terms, steals the show. As Valkyrie, Thompson succeeds in cultivating this tough as nails persona as a scavenger before being revealed as a former soldier of Asgard and managing to show a depth and level of pain and remorse not really seen or explored in a Marvel hero (Winter Soldier and Black Widow notwithstanding, but their exploits as a HYDRA agent and KGB agent, respectively, haven’t really been explored yet in film). The flashback scene to the last ride of Valkyrie and her comrades was one of my favorites, as much for the scope and visuals of the scene as it was for the performance of Thompson.
The negatives of the movie were few and far between and didn’t really detract from the overall enjoyment of the movie, but they were noticeable. The pacing of the movie was an issue for me; I felt as if the plot moved almost too fast, and I would have enjoyed more time on character development for Heimdall (portrayed by Idris Elba) and the Grandmaster (portrayed to perfection by the always enjoyable Jeff Goldblum). Certain characters were written out of Thor’s universe with incredibly quick deaths (sorry, the Warriors Three) or hastily explained by Thor himself (I didn’t get dumped by Jane, I dumped her! It was mutual!) At least their absence was explained though, as I missed the character of Lady Sif (portrayed by Jaime Alexander in the previous films); I really feel like this movie could have served to flesh out that character further and establish a relationship between Sif and Thor that is closer to the comic book version.
Last but not least, this is the comic book nerd in me, but it was hard for me to watch the iconic “Planet Hulk” storyline (and the characters that came with it) be watered down to essentially a gladiator battle between Hulk and Thor. An amazing gladiator battle to say the least, but still, I wish “Planet Hulk” could have been given the movie that storyline deserves. These issues though, as previously stated, are minor in nature and in no way detracts from a thoroughly enjoyable movie.
Great music, amazing cinematography, the history of Asgard flushed out, new layers added to Odin, and a great turn by director Taika Waititi as Korg more than make up these minor flaws. Easter eggs aplenty are scattered throughout the movie, the mid-credits scene serves to further set up the next installment of the Avengers, and a comedic tone that in no way detracts from the high stakes of Thor’s latest adventure. This is the Thor movie I (and the rest of the world) have been waiting for. On a scale of 1 to 10, “Thor: Ragnarok” earns a solid 8. RIP, Moljnir!