‘Thor: Ragnarok’ opens nationwide November 3, 2017 • Cate Blanchett, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston • TLM Rating 3/4
Gone is the Thor of yore. The god of thunder is no longer the stoic, hopelessly noble Avenger, but a ditsy cut-up unable to take even the direst circumstances seriously. As he dangles from a chain in front of a fiery demon whose entire existence is predicated on bringing forth the apocalypse (also known as Ragnarok), Thor eschews his mighty hammer for a flurry of wisecracks. While this might initially seem like odd behavior, when put within the context of the film, this Thor is called for.
Thor himself isn’t the only thing that’s changed. The film itself bears almost no resemblance to the previous two entries (“Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World”), both of which played like your typical fantasy film in which characters wave around swords and talk in broken Shakespeare—heavy on the “th” sound and light on the wit. “Ragnarok” lets its hair down. Led Zeppelin blares, as it should, while undead Vikings attack en masse.
In a highly anticipated rematch, Thor and Hulk—decked out in gladiatorial armor—battle in an extraterrestrial coliseum, as Jeff Goldblum looks on from above with unfettered glee. Korg, an enslaved rock creature with an effeminate voice, recounts his attempts at revolution, which were thwarted due to a pamphlet deficiency. To put it plainly, the movie is spastic fun, as if the filmmakers’ children crept onto the set when no one was looking and made their Thor movie.
The primary threat this time is Hela (Cate Blanchett), a long-gone “founding father” of Asgard. She finds that Odin, the realm’s current ruler, has grown soft and forgotten the virtues of colonialism. Hela doesn’t offer much in the way of intrigue—should you forget she’s evil, she sports a helmet with lengthy, tar-black antlers sticking out of it. But Blanchett takes a gratuitous amount of pleasure in her performance, hamming it up to match the frequency the film broadcasts on. We’ve seen many super-villains in Marvel films, but rarely one who so enjoys that status.
Elsewhere, the film is populated with a diverse group of oddballs. Success as a gladiator has rendered the Hulk little more than a spoiled child, as he spends his days soaking in a hot tub and using his limited vocabulary to convey his admiration for fire. Karl Urban plays Skurge, a feebleminded collector of weapons—he has two assault rifles from a place on Earth he calls “Te-Xas.” After years of being a stick in the mud, Chris Hemsworth seems relieved to be able to give Thor a personality, no matter how dopey. For a movie that will bring out the little boy in many, perhaps it’s fitting that the main character is a little boy himself.
Even though the film is essentially a satire, it does what all great satires do: pokes fun at its subject, but with great respect. That means that no matter how much time is spent on subverting expectations, the film still delivers the goods with a handful of impressive action sequences that are appropriately bonkers. When you’re working with a god who wields lightning, a green behemoth, a steamboat-sized canine and a plethora of spaceships, there are few excuses for convention.
“Thor: Ragnarok” doesn’t rewrite the book on the superhero genre, but it does defile the book with crayon and rip out a few pages to make paper airplanes. This is definitely a result of bringing aboard writer and director, Taika Waititi, known for his energy and anarchic sense of humor. With this fresh approach, “Ragnarok” doesn’t feel like the ending of a trilogy, but the beginning of one.
Hunter Lanier is a Houston-based film reviewer who appears on the Critics Circle podcast from the Houston Film Critics Society
All images courtesy Marvel Studios