Review by C.J. Bunce
You probably haven’t had this much fun watching a rollicking fantasy movie this cool since you first saw the 1980 Flash Gordon movie starring Sam Jones, Max Von Sydow, Melody Anderson, Timothy Dalton, and Brian Blessed, accompanied by that memorable Queen soundtrack. It shouldn’t be hard to believe–seven weeks from its premiere and Thor: Ragnarok continues to sell-out theater screenings across the country. In a year full of so many comic book adaptations, and great ones at that, from Logan and Logan Noir to Spider-man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and even The LEGO Batman Movie, this was a great year for comic books on film. But Thor: Ragnarok rivaled them all from an entertainment standpoint. In many ways Thor: Ragnarok is a natural progression from both the past Thor films and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. But something about director Taika Waititi’s vision for Avengers Thor and Hulk in this latest film changed how the MCU can entertain. Instead of focusing on the events that the earlier Marvel entries–and comic books–are best known for, events like Civil War, Waititi returned to the reason we all turn to superheroes for entertainment: it’s because we like the characters. The end of the world is coming for Asgard, three great villains are wreaking havoc for our heroes, but Taikiki does something novel. He puts the setting where it belongs: in the background. And so we get closer to Thor, Hulk, Loki, Valkyrie, and even Thor and Loki’s sister Hela, by watching them interact. The result is a film that should be vying for the top spot with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Logan, and Spider-man: Homecoming, on your comic book movie best-of shortlist.
Waititi really accomplished something difficult here. It’s not often the third film in a series completely exceeds the prior films (although it’s certainly arguable Spider-man: Homecoming trounced four prior Spider-man movies). The Incredible Hulk and Hulk were hardly comparable to Thor: Ragnarok as a Hulk movie (sans title only). And Thor and Thor: The Dark World weren’t remotely as memorable as Thor: Ragnarok. So what made it all come together? Clever dialogue from a tight script for one. And each actor needed no time to take their characters and march forward. Chris Hemsworth’s cocky God of Thunder has always sported a humorous side, but partnered with Tom Hiddleston’s on-again, off-again baddie Loki, and a Bruce Banner after he’s stuck in “Hulk mode” for two years (played by Mark Ruffalo), Thor: Ragnarok is every bit the next Avengers team-up film–it may as well be called Avengers: Ragnarok. It’s also a buddy comedy. Why not? In the comic books the serious and powerful characters of Hulk and Thor have always been less accessible than the rest so how better to reach audiences? And why not take that most-comic book of tropes and let them have their hero battle in the ring? Many comic book readers have been waiting for this film for a long time.
The entire art design and sound should be credited with the film’s success, too. Classic Jack Kirby imagery and style can be found throughout the production design. Funky psychedelic colors, lights, and imagery make this a fantasy film, as opposed to a superhero or sci-fi movie. Action choreography appears like it’s torn from the panels of a comic book page. Dazzling fantasy costumes by Mayes C. Rubeo (The Great Wall, John Carter, Avatar, The Librarian) include Cate Blanchett’s Hela destroyer outfit, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie/Scrapper 142 outfit, Idris Elba’s Heimdall in Robin Hood garb, and Karl Urban’s iridescent Scurge armor. Music by Mark Mothersbaugh (The LEGO Movie, Lords of Dogtown, Fanboys, 21 Jump Street) includes audacious, sometimes triumphant, sometimes hilarious choices. And Magic Sword’s “In the Face of Evil,” Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, were simply inspired inclusions that made the characters and film exactly how we want these characters to look and feel: Cool.
Yes, when other comic book movies this year fell flat in part because of uninspired villains, Thor: Ragnarok offered up three solid antagonists, with Blanchett’s Hela, refreshingly more powerful than her younger brothers, Clancy Brown’s Surtur was a magnificent fiery CGI beast done right, and (unless you’re a nitpicker and uber-fan of the comic book version), Jeff Goldblum made the Grandmaster someone we actually wouldn’t mind seeing again. The use of Hela and Surtur made for a great payoff and satisfying end to the film.
But the two best characters must include Tessa Thompson’s completely new take on Valkyrie, a confident mercenary, ex-warrior, badass fighter, who could hold her own with similar solo warriors like Star Wars’ Rey, Killjoys’ Dutch, Star Trek Beyond’s Jaylah, and Mad Max: Fury Road’s Furiosa. And last but not least is the surprising newcomer, the CGI friendly brute Korg, voiced by none other than director Taika Waititi himself. How great does a movie have to be when we don’t get to mention until last that great scene with Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange? And how about those three cameos in that epic family of gods dramatic play on Asgard?
Was any film this year this much fun? So as you think about going to the movies over the holiday season, don’t forget Thor: Ragnarok. It’s still in theaters, and one of the year’s best fantasy films and comic book adaptations. If you’ve seen it, you know it’s worth seeing again, and if you haven’t, we didn’t give anything away–check it out on the big screen before it’s gone.