My fiance, Zach, is a lover of cinema as well as a huge fan of Marvel. He did Smoosh the honor of writing a review of Marvel Studio’s most recent film, Thor: Ragnarok. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, feel free to still read ahead as he didn’t include any spoilers. Hope you enjoy and get the chance to see Thor while it’s still in theaters! —Shannon
Let’s get this out of the way early: Thor: Ragnarok is good. It’s very, very good. It’s hilarious, heartwarming, well-paced, cool, and most of all, it’s just plain fun. Yes, it sags in the middle, has way too many characters and moving parts, and is about as weighty as cotton candy. All those would be a problem if this movie attempted to address any of it, but it doesn’t. The cast smiles and winks their way through all of it and does it so convincingly that most people won’t even notice those issues. Thor’s tongue is squarely in its cheek, and if you’re willing to go along for the ride, you’re going to have a blast. If you’re one of the last people on Earth who has managed to avoid watching any of the 17 movies in this franchise or just have a general aversion to these films, this isn’t going to move the needle for you. For everyone else, it’s a great time.
If you were familiar with the name Taika Waititi before this, you’re automatically a little cooler than most of your friends. The writer/director, who hails from New Zealand, brings his distinct brand of Kiwi humor with him in every feature but has struggled to get footing on this side of the globe. His films What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (one of the best, and most overlooked, movies of 2016) garnered critical acclaim but still only moderate cult status here. Taika doesn’t sacrifice any of his homegrown sensibilities for Thor, and especially not his signature brand of humor. Thor is more an outright buddy comedy than anything else, and it’s easily one of the funniest in the Marvel pantheon to date. It’s a testament to the studio’s faith in him; despite boasting a budget of over $180 million, this movie still feels distinctly Taika-esque. In a year where other directors at the House of Mouse are being shown the door for exercising too much artistic license, and with Marvel’s own Edgar Wright fiasco, Thor stands as a testament to injecting a unique voice into big-budget behemoths.
Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is just as hilarious as he is charming here, and it’s great to see him be able to exercise his comedic muscle in the role rather than just his Shakespearean one. Mark Ruffalo is similarly playing a completely different version of the Bruce Banner and Hulk we’ve seen several times in the past, and it’s just as refreshing to see him have a great time as it is watching Cate Blanchett, as the villainous Hela, chew up the scenery at every opportunity. Tessa Thompson is a fantastic addition to the group and is allowed to be something more interesting than just another love interest, while Jeff Goldblum doesn’t so much play a character here as he does just show up to be Jeff Goldblum, and those scenes are absolutely the best parts of the film. When you’re talking about Norse gods and green rage monsters, it’s no small feat that Taika and the actors still manage to make these characters more relatable than they’ve ever been in the past.There are some great uses of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, and the action both looks great and is scored to a fantastic underlying synth beat, a refreshing break from the typical orchestral faire. Thor is definitely greater than the sum of its individual parts, and where it excels easily makes up for the its lapses elsewhere.
When The Avengers debuted in 2012 to over a billion dollars worldwide, Marvel Studios was credited with bringing comics’ biggest strength to the silver screen: solo outings leading into gigantic crossovers. As any comic reader knows, that’s not really the medium’s true advantage. The novelty of the crossover quickly fades as publishers continue to pump them out, and a fatigue settles in as readers lament that the individual stories suffer in service to the whole. It’s a complaint that has been levied against Marvel Studios in the past, often rightfully so. The real strength of comics and superheroes however — and the reason they’ve managed to survive since the early ‘40s — is reinvention. It’s the reason why you can pluck a Thor book off the stands today and follow along without needing to read 80 years of back issues. With Thor: Ragnarok and specifically Taika Waititi, Marvel has finally managed to tap into that vein. We’ve been conditioned to understand that Thor has the long hair, the hammer, and the thunder. So when they decide to strip all those away, it feels like a brand new thing. They can trust that the audience will recognize Thor and still come along for the ride. The future of Marvel Studios isn’t in new Avengers movies but in what the next unique filmmaker can do in their sandbox. If they can continue to mine the Taikas of the world to tell their stories, their next decade will be just as successful as their last.