THOR: RAGNAROK review by Mark Walters – The God of Thunder’s third time is the charm

THOR: RAGNAROK review by Mark Walters – The God of Thunder’s third time is the charm

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Marvel’s Thor is a character that probably shouldn’t work on the big screen, but the 2011 cinematic debut proved a hit with audiences and made a star out of Chris Hemsworth – at this point it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing that part. Since then the character has appeared in multiple AVENGERS movies, and had one sequel with THOR: THE DARK WORLD that was financially successful though not as good as the first movie. In the last few years, we’ve seen some daring directional changes within the Marvel movies, with eclectic stories like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and DOCTOR STRANGE showing that trying something odd and different can yield very positive results. Audiences are dangerously close to getting superhero movie fatigue, so the same old formula isn’t going to cut it anymore. In what may be one of the most inspired choices the studio has made to date, they brought in New Zealand director Taika Waititi (HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE) to handle THOR: RAGNAROK, and the end result may just be one of the best Marvel movies to date.

The story opens with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in chains, talking to a molten monster holding him prisoner named Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown). This clever sequence is actually more of a reminder for the audience about where things left off before now. When Thor returns to his home world of Asgard, he finds Loki (Tom Hiddleston) masquerading as Odin, ruling his people haphazardly. Once the truth is revealed, the brothers travel to Earth to find Odin, who was sent there to be hidden by Loki. Their journey eventually finds them in an open field atop some mountain cliffs, with a weary Odin (Anthony Hopkins) informing them that they will soon face a secretly banished sister who pre-dated them, kept secret by Odin after early battles in Asgard got ugly and she was exiled. And sadly, her return also fits a prophecy that means “Ragnarok” will descend upon Asgard… it’s unstoppable destruction. Hela (Cate Blanchett) eventually appears to Loki and Thor, and they’re quickly outmatched by her power. In an effort to escape, Loki calls for Asgard to bring them home, but this allows Hela to return there as well, and she knocks both of them out from the cosmic transport. While Hela begins her revenge on Asgard, Thor and Loki find themselves on Skaar, a barbaric planet controlled by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who amuses himself by making captured warriors fight each other. Loki befriends the man, but Thor is captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who sells The God of Thunder into slavery for Grandmaster. Things get more complicated when we discover Thor’s opponent in the fighting ring is none other than The Incredible Hulk, who seems to have suppressed Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and become a full-time monster. Now Thor must find a way off this planet, and assemble a fighting force to take down Hela back on Asgard.

There are two things you notice almost immediately about THOR: RAGNAROK – first, it’s really funny in addition to being exciting and action-packed… and second, it’s at times really weird. This is all likely the result of Taika Waititi being behind the camera, and it’s such a refreshing and unusual take that it makes this quite a memorable entry in the franchise. After the success of the quirky GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films, it’s clear Marvel saw an opportunity to inject some of that sensibility into their next Thor outing. One thing I greatly appreciated (especially as a comic book fan) is the extensive use of Jack Kirby designs on the backgrounds, spaceships and tech on display, all of it looking like it was sculpted directly from the artistic mind of Kirby, which is very nice to see since he pretty much defined the look of the earliest days of Marvel’s comic book universe. Even the color scheme emulates some of the more psychedelic visuals of the 1960s interior pages. It’s not the sort of thing that non-comic fans will pick up on, but those who know the classic imagery will be blown away by it. Even the musical score feels like a fun and fitting throwback to 1970s and 80s Sci-Fi films, thanks to Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh composing. The look and style of this film is intoxicating and feels very fresh, while at the same time playing well off the work that came before it.

Hemsworth is once again right at home playing Thor, this time getting a chance to show his more comedic side, really humanizing the character more than we’ve seen before. It’s probably the best version of this role we’ve seen from him to date, and hopefully will help define any future performances he delivers. Hiddleston isn’t quite as endearing as we’ve seen previously, but he’s still so perfect playing Loki that even his presence on screen is a welcome treat. Here he’s a bit downplayed because of the story, not being quite as mischievous as we’re used to, but still finding moments to remind us of the kind of person he really is. Tessa Thompson has fun playing Valkyrie, a tough and frequently intoxicated bounty hunter who has a dark past. Jeff Goldblum is terrific as Grandmaster, stealing almost every scene he’s in, and adding solid humor to the proceedings. Mark Ruffalo is a welcome addition playing Bruce Banner, but Hulk gets most of the screen time, and we finally get the comic book Hulk we’ve been waiting for – the lovable monster with stunted speech, but the mental capacity to know when and where to step up and help. And one of the best additions here is the CGI rock-skinned character of Korg, voiced brilliantly by director Taika Waititi… he’s an instant audience favorite, and for all the right reasons. But one of the most impressive and striking performances here is Cate Blanchett as Hela, the powerful and exceedingly evil presence our heroes must destroy at all costs. Blanchett is 48, and often plays regal characters, but here she exudes a youthful and sinister quality and really sells the role. In her skintight costume with a crown of thorny spikes, she looks and come across as one of the very best Marvel villains to date.

THOR: RAGNAROK ends up not only being one of the most impressive and overall entertaining Marvel Studios productions to date, it’s pretty much the best Thor movie so far. The bar has been raised and will hopefully influence some of the upcoming Marvel films as a result. In fairness, there’s a few moments that bothered me, particularly in the handling of some of the supporting characters from previous Thor outings, but the good far outweighs the bad. It’s also visually one of the coolest movies of the year, so much so that I want to see it again just to see what I missed going on within certain scenes. If you like comic book movies, this is easily one of the strongest to hit theaters in recent years… if you’re a hardcore fan of Marvel movies, get ready to be ecstatic.

THOR: RAGNAROK opens November 3, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.