Sixteen films and nearly a decade into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)—and in the midst of renaissance/deluge of superhero movies in general—it’s not unusual to encounter some grumbling about both the genre and the MCU. With every other film seemingly involving someone your kid will soon be wearing a costume of on Halloween, there’s talk of general viewer fatigue, the proclaiming of the demise of “serious filmmaking,” and even a little hand-wringing over how super-powered box office creates super-powered studios that can crush puny competitors. Sticking to the MCU, you’ll find plenty of folks who bemoan its formulaic approach to plotlines, the overall weakness of its villains and lack of female heroes getting their due. Starting with Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man, there was also the rapidly accepted conventional wisdom that Marvel Studios was not the place for any director wishing to put his or her stamp on a franchise.
Then along comes Thor: Ragnarok. The third film in the arguably least-loved franchise of Kevin Feige and company’s box office-melting enterprise, it’s also the liveliest, funniest and “loosest” film of the bunch (and that includes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2).
Much, if not all of this can be credited to director Taika Waititi, who seems determined to mine every ounce of comedy—be it physical, situational or conversational—from a tale that’s both rollicking buddy movie and retelling of the least uplifting tale in all of Norse mythos. Given the source material and the director’s track record, I’m not surprised there was plenty of ammo for Waititi or how well he used it—I’m just shocked and delighted he was allowed to use it in the first place.
Like the GotG films, which are the closest non-Thor cousins in tone and spirit to this latest offering, Thor: Ragnarok opens with a lively prologue/set piece involving its protagonist Thor-ing like a boss accompanied by a rockin’ tune. It’s a great nod to all the comic book fans jonesin’ to see Thor using Mjolnir, his trusty hammer, to just all-out wreck those who oppose him. From there, Waititi keeps the pace swift, resolving a few plot cliffhangers, throwing down an extended cameo, introducing this film’s big bad in Hela (a dependably enjoyable Cate Blanchett), propelling Thor (and Loki) to their next stop on the “it’s a big universe” express, meeting new faces (Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie foremost among them), reuniting with everyone’s favorite green-thewed god-pummeler before bringing it all back for the big finale in Asgard. The result? One of those two-hour-plus films that you’ll swear was just an hour-forty.
Granted, there are times when Waititi’s signature deadpan conversational levity doesn’t quite work—when the achieved effect is “distracting awkward” instead of “funny awkward”—but that’s an unavoidable by-product of prolonged comic riffs and, more importantly, the audience is not given much time to ponder before the next joke (or gorgeous action shot) is upon them.
By now, it’s not saying anything new to appreciate how well Chris Hemsworth occupies the role of the God of Thunder. Or even, after his turn in the Ghostbusters reboot, to marvel at his comic chops. Nonetheless, Waititi seems to delight in exploring the interplay between Hemsworth’s physical and comic presence. It yields a version of Thor that might annoy some comic book purists (but certainly didn’t this one), but it’s an undeniable asset for the franchise. Some years and a few Avengers films to go before we’ll even know what’s next for Thor (and whether it will involve Hemsworth), but after seeing Thor: Ragnarok, I’m suddenly eager to find out.
Director: Taika Waititi
Writer: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost; Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby (based on the comics by)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taika Waititi
Release Date: November 3, 2017
Michael Burgin is the Movies Editor for Paste.