#8 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.
Colors! Funnies! A decent antagonist! Just enough story to tie it all together!
Well, that’s certainly nice to have.
What makes this movie work is its sense of outlandish fun which seeps into every part of the filmmaking process. From the script to performances and even set design and special effects, the movie prioritizes being fun over anything else. I think it muddles some of the basic storytelling elements, but not enough to actually drag the movie down that much.
Thor is away from Asgard trying to prevent a recurring dream he’s been having of Ragnarok taking place and wiping out his home world, so he has come to find Surtur, the demon who will perform that apocalypse and defeats him in battle. Upon returning to Asgard, he discovers that Odin is not Odin but Loki in disguise. Taking Loki with him, they find Odin and discover that their never mentioned (honestly, for good reasons within the narrative) older sister, Hela the goddess of Death, has been waiting for the power within Odin to dissipate with his death to return and lay claim to Asgard. Thor and Loki get cast out and land on a trash covered planet where Thor gets roped into gladiatorial games that have been using the Hulk for the past two years. Thor teams up with Hulk, Loki, and a long drunk Valkyrie to escape the planet, go to Asgard, and eventually give the planet up to Surtur in an effort to save the people of Asgard over the place itself.
That second to last sentence above? That’s about an hour of the film, and it was the core of my reticence of the film’s efficacy as a story. There’s a thick layer of humor and fun over that hour, but I didn’t quite understand the purpose of it narratively. Perhaps too much time is dedicated to the Hulk, who carries much of the humor and subplot within that hour, but ultimately the hour does serve a narrative purpose. Thor begins the film trying to prevent Ragnarok as heir to the throne of Asgard, and he ends the film as king of Asgard while triggering Raganarok. That’s quite a journey, and it felt like most of that came in the final act when he faces Hela and realizes the scope of the danger she represents. However, the full hour in the middle does show the other part of Thor’s journey, that of him becoming king. It’s done with brightly colored sets, costumes, and lots of humor, but it’s still there. Thor starts with nothing and ends that hour with a following. He starts the process of learning how to apply the lessons Odin had taught him about being king and developing relationships with people to create loyalty in a populace. It’s not the focus of that section, the humor definitely is, but it raises the humor from being merely fun into actually serving the story to some degree (I still think this could be stronger).
But the movie is really only trying to be fun, right? Its only purpose is to make you smile for two hours, right? Well, it’s still trying to tell a narrative story, and it’s valid to judge the film’s merits on that level. It would be find if the movie only wanted to make us laugh, then it could be a sketch show of two hours and it could work quite well at that, however the film does have characters, a plot, and a theme at its core. To ignore that all in favor of just the giggles is a disservice to the film as a whole.
From Korg, the rock monster, to Thor’s new flippant attitude, to Skurge’s pride in his stuff (like “Des” and “Troy”), the movie wishes primarily to provide light entertainment and it succeeds quite well at that. It also does that in a vividly visual design sensibility that uses color in set design unlike anything Marvel had done before. The Guardians of the Galaxy movies started the bright, cosmic, colorful trend in visual storytelling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Thor: Ragnarok takes it in a direction with more straight lines and clear delineation between the colors. It creates a unique look both in and out of the MCU. The use of music is also similar to that in Guardians, but the influences are of a different era and style (a good helping of Led Zeppelin, for instance) that gives Ragnarok an entirely different energy.
The acting is quite entertaining throughout, with no one quite taking their roles too seriously. Chris Hemsworth is having a blast as Thor, Tessa Thompson is happily drunk as Valkyrie, Mark Ruffalo is appropriately befuddled as Banner, and Cate Blanchett is sexy and appropriately hammy as Hela. Overall, the movie is quite enjoyable, but there was definite room for tightening the narrative a bit.
Netflix Rating: 4/5
Quality Rating: 3/4