By Jarrod Jones. Among being many, many other things, Thor: Ragnarok is a heart-shaped valentine to Jack Kirby, cut from red and green construction paper, glued together with care, and gleaming with liberal amounts of glitter.
Undulating orbs form and dissipate around Hela (Cate Blanchett), who struts into the film with a set of jet antlers atop her magnificently pitiless face. Speaking of faces, they often fill the screen, the cameras and CGI teams working overtime to nail Kirby’s unique brand of forced perspective. It’s glorious. Even the complication of Kirby’s mega-structures take physical shape here, thrust into sets and costume design with wanton abandon. If you think the King’s hallucinatory renderings look impressive on blacklight posters — and you’re right, they do — wait ’til you get a load of this.
It takes a certain amount of levity to pull off that look, and “levity” is certainly something Thor: Ragnarok has in abundance. And it’s a good look for Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth), who has spent the majority of this Marvel enterprise pin-balling around the shared universe looking for a personality of his own, actively seeking some of the spotlight that had been all but soaked up by his scene-stealing brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). He’s been an arrogant showboat, an easy-on-the-eyes plot device, a glowering mope. With Ragnarok, under the guiding hand of What We Do in the Shadows director Taika Waititi, Thor settles into the comedic groove advertised in that amusing Thor & Daryl short (which should probably be considered canon if we’re being honest with each other). Hemsworth, who’s appeared as the God of Thunder in six of these things, wears it well.
Which is handy, because the film moves at such a brisk pace that he — and you — can do little more than simply go along with it. Ragnarok follows Thor as he takes a sabbatical from his Infinity Stone Easter egg hunt to bring an end to the prophesied (and calamitous) end to Asgard, his celestial home. (Asgard is still more of an ornate prop than an actual place, but at least the movie points that out this time.) Once he’s secured victory, he returns home to find that Loki has led the Realm Eternal towards a decadent ruin, his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has gone missing, and Hela, his long-forgotten sister, has come home for a bit of vengeance. The second Hela puts a stilettoed heel in Asgard the Odinson is sent packing to Sakarr, where he becomes a Maximus-sized gladiator thanks to Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster. There he’s reunited with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who ultimately joins Thor in his plan to return to Asgard for some righteous ass-kicking. This would all be pretty damned perfunctory if Ragnarok weren’t such a hoot.
And it is a romp, even more so than May’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, which spent a lot of its time working disturbing imagery and dramatic pathos into its goofy framework. While Guardians 2 let sobriety seep in from time to time, Ragnarok largely attempts to avoid it. It’s impetuous that way. But that shouldn’t suggest Ragnarok is without emotional scale — it’s in there, tucked underneath its Zeppelin riffs and good-natured rib-pokes. The dramatics are found in the small moments, peppered in whenever the film feels like it’s about to topple over itself.
Hemsworth shares a sweet moment with Hiddleston that should sate the “shouldn’t they hate each other” presumptions one might make after the events of Thor, The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World. There’s Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, who has secured herself a living as a bounty hunter on the planet Sakaar (where a good majority of the film takes place), drinking and fighting away her memories of the desolation that befell her warrior sisters at the hands of Hela eons ago. (While being far too brief, the Hela/Valkyrie sequence might be the film’s most staggering moment.) Thompson is wonderful in this movie.
Sakaar is also where we find the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), where he has unsurprisingly shot to the top of the fighting pits as the champion of Goldblum’s Grandmaster. Ruffalo’s performance should be considered the centerpiece of Ragnarok; a two year-old brute who’s as sweet as he is ferocious, the Hulk evokes heart-swelling pity when he isn’t ripping the scenery to shreds. Goldblum, on the other hand, tosses in a bunch of sass at curious moments. He’s the primary contributor to the film’s rampant piss-taking, and how much you’ll enjoy it will depend entirely on how much you appreciate Goldblum as a suave, smart aleck sophisticate. (Odds are, it will be a lot.)
Look, I dunno. It’s a real bitch to criticize these damn Marvel movies. If you say it’s too funny, people will dismiss you as a grouse who hates the sound of laughter. If you say it doesn’t take itself seriously enough, people will wonder who it was that hurt you. In a world where fan criticism reads more like the transcripts from an unboxing video and straight criticism can be a buzzkill, Marvel Studios continues to throw its party with impunity. Either join in and have a blast, or sit outside listening in on what sounds like the most fun you’ll ever have.
Directed by Taika Waititi.
Produced by Kevin Feige.
Screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins.
Music by Mark Mothersbaugh.
Rated PG-13 for wanton buffoonery, a bit of nudity, and a couple of cum jokes.
8 out of 10