In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a highly important event that essentially results in the end of the world as we know it. There are countless natural disasters, there is a huge battle that results in the death of some beloved Norse gods, and it is ultimately inevitable. However, afterward the world is born anew and recreated.
Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok, directed by Taika Waititi, is appropriately titled because it does just that on several levels — for the character of Thor, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and for the audience dying of laughter, to name a few. It is probably the most fun I’ve had while watching a Marvel movie, and still surprisingly managed to tell a powerful story about family, identity, and one’s place in the world while remaining a unique entry in the MCU, 17 movies in.
The movie lets the audience know of its expectations and lighthearted demeanor off the bat by opening with Thor, in chains, facing off against the fire demon Surtur in an exchange of witty banter, a first for the initially empty-headed God of Thunder. Letting Surtur, the catalyst of the prophesied Ragnarok, know that he couldn’t care less of his ramblings on his inevitable plans for destroying the world, Thor takes his sweet time to listen to Surtur’s big evil speech as the chains he dangles from cause him to rotate ever so slowly before freeing himself with the help of Mjolnir and kicking the movie off with a bang with an intense and vibrant massacre of Surtur’s minions.
This opening sequence of events is a great summary of how well Waititi revitalizes the Thor franchise. In a film series that is known for being truly tertiary to the larger plans of the MCU, the What We Do In The Shadows director plants down his feet and, ironically, demands the Thor franchise to be taken seriously in its latest installment. Waititi truly makes the film his own through reinventing the series’ genre, not holding back on the humor that he and the actors incorporate, and giving the film a carefree air amid the impending doom of the film. Waititi continues to expand a distinct and colorful style that the MCU has begun to experiment with yet still operates within what he is given to create his own color palette for Thor: Ragnarok, tapping into the beauty of Asgard that was previously poorly showcased in previous Thor installments.
Most notably, Waititi reinvents Thor as a character, with the aid of star Chris Hemsworth in one of his best performances yet. Not only is Thor an entertaining, hilarious character, but in Thor: Ragnarok, Hemsworth helps to flesh out Thor into a three-dimensional character and makes the God of Thunder incredibly human. Hemsworth gives Thor’s struggles a personal edge through his quest to find his own inner power, his identity, and his place among Earth and Asgard, making his journey refreshing and incredibly satisfying.
Other standout characters include Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, stealing hearts with his tortured bad-boy charm since 2011, and Jeff Goldblum being Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster. Additionally, Hela was one of the most entertaining and terrifying villains I had seen in a movie for a long time.
Cate Blanchett incorporated the perfect balance of deadpan humor, pure fear, and raw power into her portrayal as the Goddess of Death, demanding to be noticed and known throughout all of Asgard. Often she’d help to break up huge, tense, dramatic moments with her own humor, which surprisingly suits Blanchett really well. She had no shame or moral boundaries keeping her from slaughtering an entire army of Asgard with a wicked smile on her face, which made me love her even more.
However, everything about Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie was flawless. Her introduction enraptured audiences immediately and her presence as a mighty warrior and overall bada** was felt in every scene she was in. Like Hemsworth, Thompson did an amazing job of humanizing Valkyrie’s struggles to the audience, fleshing her out through the entire movie and truly making Valkyrie come alive. While Valkyrie was pretty much a god, Thompson made her feel so real and organic, easily making her the breakout star of the movie.
What made Thor: Ragnarok an amazing cinematic experience was busting your guts out with the audience while reveling in the complex and well-executed interconnected nature of the MCU and of Waititi’s direction. Not only does Waititi tie in classic Marvel moments perfectly into this story, he also pays homage to the old and new of the MCU in general. He makes it incredibly accessible for all Marvel fans, and his love of Marvel, his love of filmmaking, and his love for his movie shine as brightly and vividly as Thor: Ragnarok’s color scheme. While the movie is not technically perfect, it is by far the most enjoyable experience in the theater I’ve had this year and one I’d revisit over and over.