Of all the outings in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the solo Thor movies have always been my least favorite. The first one certainly works, mainly thanks to Chris Hemsworth’s enormous charm. But The Dark World represents the MCU’s nadir: a dull, plodding film that adds nothing of consequence to the rest of the series. It was pure contractual compulsion.
So I am extremely pleased to report that Thor: Ragnarok blows both films out of the water. It’s a candy-colored delight, filled with more jokes than any other single MCU entry. It’s the opposite of The Dark World. Instead of everyone seemingly there out of obligation, the entire cast seems to be having a ball, and so will you.
The film’s only real flaw is that it’s so much fun that it robs any weight out of scenes where Asgardians are obliterated by Hela (Cate Blanchett, redeeming herself for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). She’s still menacing and memorable, but the film spends so much of its time landing laughs, it’s almost impossible to take the threat or stakes seriously.
That might kill the movie for some, but in a world that’s inundated with too serious blockbusters, it’s totally refreshing. This is the movie that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 wanted to be. While that film got weighed down with daddy issues, Ragnarok is light on its feet, cracking jokes at every turn. Whether that humor’s visual or verbal, there’s both quantity and quality.
That’s all due to Kiwi director Taika Waititi, maker of such stellar comedies as Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows. He’s got the comedic chops, but it’s his visual flair that makes this a standout entry. While there’s obviously ton of CGI, Waititi has a way of grounding the scenes so the fighting and landscape feel more real, and not just a swirl of ones and zeroes. He also manages to sneak in some clever cameos and political relevance, as well as one clear homage to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
But the film’s secret weapon is Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, the eccentric dictator of an interdimensional garbage dump, who holds gladiator-style matches between the Hulk and any man or beast who stumbles onto his planet. His outlandish outfits and offhanded way he dispatches his minions to track down escaped prisoners is pitch-perfect.
I also have to give a shout-out to Tessa Thompson, whose popularity in Hollywood should skyrocket thanks to her fierce, effortless performance as Valkyrie, an Asgardian ex-pat working for the Grandmaster. Her character is always nonchalant, no matter the situation, in contrast to the panicky boys she teams up with. Of the heroes, she shines the brightest. She's a ray of light in one of the year's shiniest films.
After a year of dreadful comedies and a few years of dire comic book adventures, Thor: Ragnarok is refreshing remedy to both.