Rating: 3.5 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
Thor’s back, and he’s funny now!
Odin, Thor’s dad, has been exiled to Earth by Loki, Thor’s brother. By coincidence or design—it’s unclear—Odin is also dying, and as he dies he reveals his power has been keeping Hela, Thor’s previously unknown sister and the “goddess of death”, prisoner, and she will now be freed. She immediately appears, destroys Thor’s hammer, hitches a ride on the bifrost back to Asgard, sends Thor and Loki tumbling through the universe to the junk planet Sakaar, and, within an hour or so of her arrival, completely takes over the place.
On Sakaar, Thor has to rally the reluctant troops—Loki, who always puts himself first and doesn’t want to risk his life against Hela, Hulk, who landed on Sakaar after the events of Age of Ultron and is a beloved gladiator, and Valkyrie, the sole-survivor of the last time Asgard and Hela warred against each other—to overcome the Grandmaster and escape back to Asgard, before Hela can lead an army of dead soldiers and take over the universe.
All of the returning actors are good, and all of the new actors are good. Jeff Goldblum is a fantastic Grandmaster, and Cate Blanchett is never not compelling to watch. Tessa Thompson is fine as Valkyrie, but hopefully her true breakout moment is still coming up in some future Marvel film.
Thor: Ragnarok is legitimately funny, which is good, because there are a lot of jokes.
Sakaar looks amazing. I loved all the random weirdo extras and little details in the background. Their goal was to make a Jack Kirby comic come to life, and it certainly is reminiscent of one.
The fight scene between Thor and Hulk was really good, considering it’s basically just CGI.
I like the underlying idea of exposing Asgard as a ruthless imperial power, subjugating its way through the cosmos, now papered-over and forgotten when they decided to become more benevolent rulers, but I don’t think the movie goes far enough with that concept.
“I was falling for 30-minutes!”
“My name is Grandmaster. I preside over a little harlequinade called the Contest of Champions. People come from far and wide to unwillingly participate in it.”
“Where do you think all this gold came from?”
“There was one time when we were children, he transformed himself into a snake—and he knows that I love snakes—so I went to pick up the snake to admire it, and he transformed back into himself and he was like, “Yeah, it’s me!” and he stabbed me. We were eight at the time.”
Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t want audiences to feel anything other than “This is funny” or sometimes “This is cool.” There are several different times in the film where we’ll be building to some dramatic moment, but it’s quickly undercut by a pratfall or some other bit of shtick. The worst one is towards the end, when Bruce Banner, still in shock at having lost two years of his life to the Hulk, and warning that his next transformation may be irreversible, essentially decides to commit suicide to save a few hundred aliens he’s never met, and instead of an actual dramatic moment to recognize this sacrifice, he belly-flops onto the bridge with a record-scratch. The entire attitude of this movie is nothing matters, superhero drama is dumb, and everything is a joke anyway so why not laugh at everything? It’s all very too cool for school and it pushed me away from actually caring about this movie even as I was laughing and having a good time.
Cate Blanchett is so arresting a screen presence that I think it makes it hard to notice how empty a villain Hela is. Take Blanchett out of it, and you have another Malekith, another Steppenwolf. She has no personality outside of being evil, and no desire outside of ruling the universe for some reason. She’s been imprisoned alone for countless thousands of years and doesn’t even need a moment to re-adjust before she starts stabbing and conquering, because she’s a plot device first, a costume design second, and a character a distant third. The best villains are the ones where we can understand where they’re coming from, even if we want the hero to stop them, but there’s nothing like that even attempted for Hela. Also, she’s the goddess of death, but instead of ruling a land of the dead or having power over the dead (she needs the Eternal Flame to create her undead army) her power seems to be the ability to make infinite swords and daggers. Thor is mocked by his memory of Odin, “Are you Thor, God of Hammers?” but how is that any sillier than Hela being literally the Goddess of Knives?
As I said earlier, I like the imperialism theme, but where does Sakaar fit into it? It’s like there’s the first act of a Thor movie about Ragnarok, then a really, really long second act that’s an entirely different Planet Hulk movie, and then the third act we’re back to Ragnarok again.
All the Korg stuff was pretty funny the first time, but on a re-watch it starts to wear a little thin, and what’s more it feels a little self-indulgent on the director’s part to make Korg such a big part of the movie.
Asgard isn’t a place, it’s a people. Except Hela draws her power from Asgard, and she’s getting stronger by the minute, so by destroying the place, we can stop her. Except Thor also draws his power from Asgard, and he’s fine, because he still has the people, who are the true Asgard.