“Thor: Ragnarok” is a thunderous film that sparks life into the Norse god’s tired trilogy.
The last time audiences saw the god of thunder was in the disjointed “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and his previous stand-alone film, “Thor: The Dark World,” which felt humdrum and anticlimactic. “Ragnarok” is easily the best “Thor” film, eschewing the film’s routine action sequences and seriousness for a surprisingly funny ensemble plot that embraces the spectacle and whimsy of Thor’s galactic playground.
The new unconventional approach is apparent before audiences even step into the theater – the bright, neon-colored posters for the film are a huge departure from the darker, more dramatic aesthetic of past “Thor” films.
“Ragnarok” refers to a prophecy that foretells the fall of Asgard, the home planet of Thor (Chris Hemsworth). After years of fighting monsters and creatures in various realms and planets, Thor believes he has finally stopped the oncoming apocalypse. But the arrival of the goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), throws everything into chaos. To save Asgard, Thor teams up with his scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), a mysterious scavenger Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Bruce Banner, better known as the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
The success of the film is largely a product of the impeccably cast ensemble. “Ragnarok” seamlessly blends veteran “Thor” actors with newcomers, who work as a cohesive unit whether they’re trading jokes or blows.
Hemsworth delivers his best performance as Thor since the first film of the series back in 2011. The film provides Thor with a nuance and range typically missing from his character in previous films – this film calls on more than just Hemsworth’s talent for action scenes, demanding depth and complexity. In director Taika Waititi’s skillful hands, Thor is hilarious yet flawed, delivering some of the film’s best quips while simultaneously grappling with loss and the potential destruction of his home.
Hemsworth’s ability to hold his own while on screen with Hiddleston is also impressive. Loki has long been a fan-favorite character, beloved for his sneering charm and quick wit, and this film is no different. “Ragnarok” puts Loki on a path to redemption, finally forcing him to face his past failings as he too is drawn into the fight to save his home.
Loki’s withering sarcasm serves as an incredible foil for Thor’s eager swagger, infusing their fraternal relationship with authenticity. In one scene, Thor and Loki visit a street corner in New York. As they talk, a group of women come up to Thor, giggling as they ask to take a picture with him, while Loki looks on, rolling his eyes – a perfect encapsulation of their dynamic.
When it comes to the newer cast members, there is no shortage of talent. In a less talented actress’s hands, Hela might have fallen into the stereotypes of past villainesses with her booming threats and malevolent laughter. But Blanchett perfectly infuses Hela with a snarling relish – she is easily the best villain from the “Thor” franchise, simultaneously entrancing and horrifying in her unending ambition.
Of the many cameos and smaller roles, Jeff Goldblum’s performance as the Grandmaster of the alien planet of Sakaar is the most memorable. The Grandmaster hosts a gladiatorial competition that requires participants to fight to the death, but Goldblum manages to make the character oddly endearing, and just outlandish enough to be lovable. He vaporizes contestants with a staff and a reluctant shrug, turning the role from authoritarian dictator to a mercurial yet playful figure.
However, Thompson as Valkyrie is by far the standout performance in a cast of incredible performances. The departure of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster left room in the franchise for a new love interest for Thor – but Valkyrie is so much more than that. She matches Thor for strength and bravado, infused with an unpolished devil-may-care attitude that is mesmerizing because it is so different from previous Marvel female characters.
In her first scene, she drunkenly stumbles off her plane and into a fight, smirking as she takes out dozens of scavengers while utterly intoxicated. However, her alcohol-induced stupor is a way of hiding from her past, and Thompson does a beautiful job conveying the pain Valkyrie feels as she’s forced to contend with her traumatic history with Hela.
Valkyrie marks a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is plagued by a dearth of female characters, especially in light of the success of DC Entertainment’s “Wonder Woman.”
“Ragnarok” won’t be a film for everyone. The film breaks superhero convention, falling more in the vein of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, with an offbeat sense of humor complemented by the brightly colored, bizarre world that the characters explore.
However, for those looking for an exciting film that defies convention and makes audiences laugh, “Thor: Ragnarok” will electrify.