MarvelBlog Retro Review — Thor: Ragnarok
Everyone has a favorite Marvel film. For my wife, it’s Thor: Ragnarok. She’s not in the habit of rewatching movies the same way I do.
However, whenever Cate Blanchett kills stuff, my better half puts down the remote and watches intently. It’s…unsettling.
For this reason, I have watched Thor: Ragnarok MANY more times than you. So that makes me feel better equipped than usual to do a retro review.
How well does Thor: Ragnarok hold up after four years? Shockingly well…
A Humble Hero
After the debacle of Thor: The Dark World, Kenneth Branagh politely chose to stay away from the MCU.
Chris Hemsworth still liked currency, though. So, they persuaded him to return alongside a new director, a former co-star, and some new characters.
The result is magic, and the key to it all is Taika Waititi, the New Zealander with a wicked albeit offbeat sense of humor.
To wit, this film opens with Thor imprisoned by Surtur, the eventual purveyor of Ragnarok. It’s a misdirect, though.
Our hero, self-proclaimed by the way, has allowed himself to be captured to learn about dreams he’s had. The only person who can explain them is Surtur.
Meanwhile, high on the Bifrost, Skurge tries to impress two women. He’s…no Heimdall.
Elsewhere, Matt Damon enters the MCU as Loki. Well, an actor playing Loki. Also, Sam Neill portrays Odin. And the real-life brother of Chris Hemsworth plays actor Thor.
After less than 15 minutes, we know that this movie isn’t taking itself seriously. So, we shouldn’t, either.
There’s even some shameless product placement for a smartphone at one point. For a movie about the end of Asgard, Ragnarok isn’t that dramatic.
Then, Dr. Strange summons Thor to New York City, Cate Blanchett appears as Hela, the Goddess of Death, and the story grows more serious. Kind of.
We also get a spin on the Illuminati banishing Thor from the comics. This choice ultimately led to Planet Hulk and World War Hulk.
In the MCU, it just means that Bruce Banner winds up on the same random planet as Thor, who semi-teleports into the Grandmaster’s domicile.
Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t shortchange anybody on the size of the cast.
Welcome to Sakaar
Look, everyone! It’s drunken Valkyrie! When we first meet her, she, well, kills dozens of people. But we love Tessa Thompson anyway, right?
Really, that’s Thor: Ragnarok in a nutshell. Because we know everything’s a joke, any extreme violence falls into the Itchy and Scratchy cartoon category.
Similarly, Hela wipes out many Asgardians and raises an army of the dead. We don’t care, though, because it’s all in good fun. And it’s Cate Blanchett!
Waititi possesses an almost unprecedented ability to anticipate audience reactions. He shows characters during horrible things. But then, we somehow laugh despite ourselves.
I’m not just talking about this film, either. Have you watched Jojo Rabbit?
In Thor: Ragnarok, the jokes involve an alien gladiator named Korg, whatever squishy critter Miek is, and many, many Hulk trouncings of Thor.
Yeah, that’s where the first hour leads. Sometime around Marvel’s The Avengers, everyone recognized that the real money was in Avengers vs. Avengers.
Hulk and Thor often fought in that film, sometimes for supremacy and sometimes playfully. Ragnarok expands on that concept by having the two fight as gladiators.
This scene stands as one of the best in the MCU to date. Thor’s initial trepidation over his mystery opponent vanishes when he recognizes his “friend from work.”
For whatever reason, none of us ever gets tired of Hulk ragdolling anybody, especially Thor. I suspect the entire reason this film exists is for this fight.
The Story of Hulk
I say this because not much happens in terms of story…other than, you know, Ragnarok itself.
Odin dies, Thor and Loki go to a far-off planet, reunite with Hulk, and make new friends in Valkyrie and Korg.
Eventually, everyone returns to Asgard and fights together to…lose to Hela. But, of course, you never think about it that way, do you? But that’s what happens.
Surtur, the deus ex machina, magically reappears to trigger the big moment, but that’s a cheat. We all know it. We just don’t care.
A surefire sign that we’re having fun as viewers is when we overlook the silly. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 earned billions in merchandise this way.
Somehow, the movie’s two hours still feel full. We get a reunion between Loki and Thor that leads to multiple betrayals.
Valkyrie reveals herself as emotionally damaged and hiding behind a glass.
The Hulk displays the torment of everyone hating and fearing him. Then, Bruce Banner returns after three years of Hulk calling the shots.
Thor finally grows into adulthood after thousands of years. And the whole thing is fun!
Plus, two very different villains stylistically both get their comeuppances.
He’s every bit as silly as Blanchett is serious. Waititi’s story balances them deftly, switching between the joy of life on Sakaar and the horrors of Asgard.
Somehow, Karl Urban merges the two. As Skurge, he starts as comic relief, making jokes about Texas before quickly bending the knee for Hela.
Later, Skurge develops a conscience as he rebels against Asgard’s oppressor.
Finally, and most importantly, Loki and Thor finally see each other for who they are, something explored well in the Loki TV show as well.
The Perfect Popcorn Movie
I suspect that my wife adores Thor: Ragnarok because it creates a vibe, a mood.
I defy anyone to watch this movie and not feel better. We’re two years into a pandemic, and mental health discussions have risen in importance.
A movie about the end of the world – well, Asgard – shouldn’t make everyone so happy, but it does.
Out of all MCU titles to date, this one’s the closest to a cartoon. There’s even a moment when the comically large Hulk blithely attacks the comically larger Surtur.
I mean, Thor loses a freakin’ eye in this film and gets force-fed a haircut by Stan Lee. All it does is make him look like a lightning pirate.
Tessa Thompson struts confidently as Led Zeppelin plays and fireworks shoot off in the background. Technically, that’s stuff exploding, but the effect’s the same.
Thor: Ragnarok oozes cool. It also seems to have an algorithm that guarantees each character gets enough awesome moments.
The whole thing comes across as the movie Michael Bay has spent his entire career trying to make. Meanwhile, Waititi nails it in one attempt.
When you want a background movie that will make you smile every time you look up, Thor: Ragnarok is as good as it gets.
Whenever I think about what the MCU should aspire to be, it’s this title. Even my beloved Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn’t for everyone…but Thor: Ragnarok is.