Thor: Ragnarok would be the best ever entry in the Thor franchise if not for its own trailer, which encapsulates slam-bang, hyper-stylized, Led Zeppelin-scored, rainbow-colored lunacy into a two-and-a-half-minute joy nugget. Clearly, that is the ideal length for these Thor films, which are unmatched in their ridiculous mythological over-plotting, and that’s not even considering the additional layer of required crossover sequences in order for the series to maintain its Marvel Cinematic Universe membership. In its entirety, the film extends the trailer’s length by about 128 minutes, but even if it can’t maintain succinctness, damn if it doesn’t stay true to its tone. Ragnarok is light, wild, and broadly fun – finally, after three tries, a film that gets this character right.
Far removed from the stilted regality of the 2011 original and mercifully very far removed from the dank ineptitude of its 2013 sequel, The Dark World, this third installment functions as a full-on reboot. Make no mistake, it’s still contractually committed to wedging in countless MCU references, including an extended sequence involving Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange that’s nothing more than a useless diversion foisted upon us to please the Mothership. But the film otherwise ignores its two preceding installments, delivering a lark of a standalone story that certainly ticks the standard hero-will-rise boxes but does so with its own comic-art punk verve.
In terms of that comic art, Thor: Ragnarok is the most visually compelling Marvel movie to date, crafting a veritable acid trip of an environment, replete with heavy splashes of greens, pinks, and oranges, easily the most comic-booky of all MCU films. Its attitude is equally trippy, an endless swirl of jokes-within-jokes delivered so incessantly that it would take multiple viewings to catch them all. Both the visual and tonal panache are very clearly the work of director Taika Waititi, quirky indie comedy darling, who manages to take a Marvel commodity and spin it into a true Taika Waititi film, like Hunt for the Wilderpeople with a mythic upgrade. The resulting hyper-comic energy is likely a dream come true for titular star Chris Hemsworth, whose perfect goofball vibe was the saving grace in the earlier films, now finally matched with a filmmaker who fuses the enterprise to his comic magnetism.
I’ve consciously avoided plot synopsis, because as ever, that’s where even the best Thor film goes cross-eyed. Mercifully, even the film’s central doomsday scenario is delivered with a wink and smirk by all involved. “Ragnarok” is a term that represents the total destruction of Thor’s mythic home of Asgard, a threat made increasingly dire when his evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) is sprung from centuries of imprisonment to wreak havoc on the kingdom that spurned her. At the heart of this conflict is Asgard’s apparently sordid history, which the characters recite as if reading from The Complete Comic Geek’s History of the Universe, rife with implications for Asgard’s subjugated inhabitants that Thor, as the de facto heir to Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) throne, must reckon with.
Those implications are hazy, shuffled amid the bombast of kinetic otherworldly action, over-the-top characters, and ceaseless jocularity. So, basically, who cares about dense plotting when everything drowning it out is so much fun? That’s the wonder of Thor: Ragnarok – it suffers the roteness of its franchise requirements because it only has to care about them long enough to string one gonzo sequence to another. Everyone involved is permitted to let their freak flags fly, from Hemsworth’s easy charm to Tom Hiddleston’s increasingly hammy portrayal of persistent MCU villain Loki to Mark Ruffalo, who is somehow more over-the-top as Bruce Banner than as the Incredible Hulk. New editions Tessa Thompson as a kick-ass, hard-drinking Asgardian Valkyrie, and Jeff Goldblum at his absolute Goldblumiest, are more than game for the ride. And come on – Cate Blanchett as an arch MCU baddie is like a bow-down moment for the franchise. So goes Thor: Ragnarok, entirely bloated and totally overlong but letting neither supposed flaw to mitigate its epic flow.