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Thor | Ragnarok’s director Taika Waititi’s imagination seems to have been given free reign by the higher ups at Marvel Studios and the resultant movie, wisely, breaks with much of the formulas of previous Marvel films. The Marvel movies are typically very good and certainly make money hand-over-fist, but their patterns were beginning to calcify. The stories were beginning to be all too predictable. The plots repetitive.
Giving creative people freedom to explore what these characters may become and allowing these creators to make changes to them is a bold and good impulse. While trying to be too bold with Marvel characters may have cost Edgar Wright, the original director of Ant-Man his job might have, seen through the lens of James Gunn’s unpredicatble success with The Guardians of the Galaxy led to Waititi’s Thor | Ragnarok. Choosing talented people and letting them make the movies they envision may be the new Marvel method.
If so, bravo Marvel. Keep movies like this one coming.
Thor | Ragnarok is one of the zaniest, craziest, over-the-top movies I have seen in quite a while. Evoking for me memories of the off-the-wall insanity of The Lego Movie and the first Despicable Me (the writers/directors of those had to be altered in some fashion, right?), Thor | Ragnarok plays like some kind of joyous, Technicolor LSD trip, juiced up on steroids.
The basic plot of the titular hero attempting to stop”the end of everything” on his home world Asgard is not stunningly original. The execution, however, is anything but boring and the over 2 hour running time of the movie flies by before one can catch one’s breath from laughter.
There is a lot of fun being had in Thor | Ragnarok. The returning assemble is clearly having a lot more fun than the did in the relatively deary last entry Thor: The Dark World (possibly the low-water mark for Marvel Studios) and the additions to the cast are winning and delightfully entertaining.
Tessa Thompson, as Valkyrie, is a wonderful creation. As removed from her comic book origins as any character in a Marvel Studios movie has been, Thompson captures the audience with a Han Solo like bravado and a strength of performance so natural that the question of whether she can stand toe-to-toe with the ever lovable Chris Hemsworth never arises in the audience’s mind. Her Valkyrie may be the first original lead character in a Marvel Studios film and, if she is any indication of where these movies can go if they jettison the source material with a little more freedom, more power to them.
Cate Blanchett gives a delicious performance as Hela, the primary antagonist of the movie. Rumor has it that she took the movie on the urging of her young son who wanted to see his mom in a Marvel movie and she should thank him if that is true. She has more fun destroying things and people throughout the movie and is more fun to watch doing it than the majority of Marvel villains. Though her motivation and plot is no more complex than most of the other evils Marvel heroes have faced in this vast movie mythology, her performance forgives that failure utterly.
And Jeff Goldblum is all anyone could want him to be and more. There is no “top” he will not soar over and each scene he is in seems more ridiculous and terrific than the last. Though few will be clamoring for a Grandmaster movie, I imagine we will see much more of Goldblum in Marvel Studios movies to come. I eagerly await that.
Outside of the strong and winning performance by Hemsworth, the rest of the returning Thor Players seem to know they are in something special, too. Tom Hiddleston remains the best of the Marvel antagonists and his Loki continues to engage and surprise. The Warriors Three are here and more than adequate with the little they are allowed to do. It was said that Anthony Hopkins turned down reprising his role as Odin until he read and loved the script. Though his part is small, it is great to see him here having fun and providing the gravitas that only he can. Idris Elba’s Heimdhal might be the most heroic character in the movie and I would loved to have seen more of him. He and Hemsworth have an easy chemistry and they are great to watch together.
Cameos (and extended cameos) abound here. The Hulk is featured and Mark Ruffalo is just what we want him to be. And the Hulk is more than we could have hoped for. Marvel has finally figured this character out and while he might never headline a movie, if they can continue to hew closely to this arc, fans should be happy. Benedict Cumberbatch shows up as Doctor Strange and, while it was nice to see him, his scenes actually do very little to advance the plot of the movie. They might, in fact, be the only place where Thor | Ragnarok slips into fan service. As a fan, I was okay with this… The other cameos are so spoiler-y they cannot be mentioned but an audiences will be delighted by them.
Taika Waititi makes very few missteps here. His choices are bold, bright and fun. However, the movie is not perfect. Karl Urban’s Skurge is, unfortunately, never fully realized. And, while the antics of the movie are fun and amusing and the stakes seem high enough for a superhero movie like this one, I fear there is not a lot of heart at the center of Thor | Ragnarok. Perhaps there does not have to be. After all, this is a big budget, big action entertainment. Maybe it does not need to be more than that. The movie delivers everywhere it should. There may have been the potential to deliver just a little more. May have.
Thor | Ragnarok plays something like a mix of Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers and that is a great tone to strike. It is grand. It is a Jack “King” Kirby comic book played out before one’s eyes. It is a terrific two hours at the movies.
It is, as the Hulk might say, a smash.
THOR | RAGNAROK receives FOUR and a HALF AIR CRAZY CAMEOS out of a possible FIVE.