As I sat down to watch the colorful Thor: Ragnarok, a wave of apprehension came over me because I know so very little about the character. I wasn’t a devout reader of the comic books and I’ve not seen the first two standalone films featuring Thor (Chris Hemsworth). This might make me a prude for checking-in mid-stream, however Kevin Feige has seen fit to create a shared universe full of characters and I’ve gone along for the ride. I don’t mind saying that there have been some pleasant surprises and some less-than-stellar films. Fortunately, Taika Waititi delivers on the former in Thor’s latest adventure, Ragnarok.
Based on the screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, Mr. Waititi delivers a tale that focuses on family and legacies. Set two years after the events in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor is still on a quest to find the Infinity Stones when he learns that Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is not on Asgard. On his return to Asgard, Thor finds Loki (Tom Hiddleston) waiting for him and together they join forces to battle their sister, Hela (Cate Blanchette).
Mr. Waititi and Mr. Hemsworth armed the Thor character with a sense of vulnerability in this film. At the same time, he is required to use all his senses, with less hair. Loki’s mischievousness keeps him on his toes while ‘Scrapper 142’ (Tessa Thompson) plays with his affections, and gives the film a sense of direction. Ms. Thompson was alluring, but didn’t come across as the ‘bad sheep’ of the family. As Heimdall, Idris Elba gets to stretch his action-acting chops while Karl Urban stretches his dramatic acting chops as Skurge.
In the role of the colorful Grandmaster is Jeff Goldblum, whose self-deprecating sense of humor is perfect for this type of film. The character was a cross between a hedonistic Egyptian merchant and Ming the Merciless; you could tell that he enjoyed himself as he forced Thor to battle Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). The brotherhood between Hulk and Thor was a nice touch as a counterbalance to Loki’s mischievousness and the constant warring with Hela. I was happy to see the straight-laced Rachel House make an appearance as Topaz, the Grandmaster’s bodyguard. Audiences will hopefully remember her from Mr. Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. There are several other cameos throughout the film, but I won’t spoil them for you here.
One of the biggest challenges that I had with the film was its use of humor as if the story was written around the humor instead of the humor being used to accentuate the seriousness of the story. As hammy as the film felt, I was consistently reminded of another colorful sci-fi film, Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon. Ragnarok doesn’t feel serialized like the aforementioned film, but it does carry its colorful characteristics in certain key characters and settings. It’s probably the most modern rock-ballad type film we’ve gotten in quite a while. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Mr. Waititi would have worked with the rock band Queen if Freddie Mercury were still alive. However, Mark Mothersbaugh channeled his inner Queen to find the right balance between the humor and the dramatic, something that he has down pat thanks to his work with Wes Anderson over the years.
At the end of the day, Thor: Ragnarok takes a step back from the political machinations of the prior Avengers entries and allows us to kick our feet up with a good time. The comedy notwithstanding, the eye candy visuals, the music and the characters are all brought together under Mr. Waititi’s deft direction leaving me to feel like a kid in a candy store.
In theaters on November 3, 2017, Thor: Ragnarok is rated PG-13 by the MPAA.