Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett
Directed by Taika Waititi
Running Time 2hr, 10min, PG-13
My Rating: B+
At this point the Marvel universe has expanded so much that film executives no longer feel the need to go with the bigger-is-always-better sequel mentality. Audiences are used to being hand-fed multimillion-dollar spectacles. Being floored by a particularly gutsy action sequence or visual snack is so “yesterday”. It’s the goofy, “knowing” stuff that flies highest now.
As such, more comedic excursions like 2016’s “Deadpool” and 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” have fared better than the likes of more dramatic adventures like “Doctor Strange” (2016) or “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017). An unbridled sense of fun is more appealing than a general heaviness that’s sometimes interrupted by screwball comedy.
It’s always lightheartedness that wins in the long run. And “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) knows it. It’s simultaneously the best movie in the Thor series and the first movie within its superheroic universe that doesn’t seem all that concerned with outdoing its counterparts. Directed by Taika Waititi, who is a true original best known for his work on television’s “Flight of the Conchords” (2007-09), “What We Do in the Shadows” (2014), and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (2016). “Ragnarok” is an anomaly in the Marvel canon in that it is more a product of its maker.
As great as canon-definers James Gunn and Joss Whedon are, their comedy styles are nonetheless easy to weave into the grand scheme of superhero-led action. By contrast, Waititi’s sensibilities are idiosyncratic. For example, scenes are propelled by awkward silences, bizarre one-liners delivered with monotone affectation, and more. In this case, that’s a good thing: The “Thor” movies thus far have been enjoyable placeholders, and the Marvel universe as a whole is in great need of ego deflation.
In “Thor: Ragnarok,” we follows its title character (Chris Hemsworth) as he tries to stop Hela (Cate Blanchett), his estranged sister who happens to also be the Goddess of Death, from taking over his home planet after their father (Anthony Hopkins) dies.
Granted, the movie is a lot more complicated than that. For most of its length, Thor, as well as his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), are trapped on a goofy planet where an eccentric, totalitarian leader (Jeff Goldblum, apparently playing himself) forces the population to compete in an extravagant, arena-housed battle to the death. Jokes are cracked. So are bones. It’s all very “Flash Gordon” (1980), almost a satire of all the superhero movies and space operas preceding it.
Given its silliness, we’re tempted to call it throwaway. But then we try to think of the last Marvel movie we saw where the comedy was at the forefront and the action set pieces were merely decorations. And we come up with nothing. “Ragnarok” is one of the few Marvel movies that seems to understand that superhero movies don’t have to be more than their sensorial pleasures. The movie is certainly much more primed for repeated viewings than many of its peers.
“Ragnarok” exceeds expectations. It not only showcases lead Hemsworth’s comedic timing in ways the saga hasn’t before, but also uses Waititi’s style of humor, as well as the abilities of its exceptional supporting cast, to make us crave more of whatever kind of superhero movie this is. Give me more, please.