Thor: Ragnarok is a Workplace Comedy Posing as a Marvel Movie (Review)

Going into the first  Avengers movie back in 2012, I was very hyped on  Captain America thanks to his solo movie, riding high about Iron Man from the first of his two, and regarded Thor as just a member of the team with a pretty cool power. But from The Avengers forward, Thor has steadily grown in my estimation, due in no small part to the charming and magnetic performance from Chris Hemsworth and his godlike arms. Finally, Thor has a movie that suits the actor’s talents with Thor: Ragnarok, another in  Marvel‘s winning combination of comic and cosmic.

The Marvel movies have, from the beginning, had an air of comedy to them—usually stemming from the character interactions or fish-out-of-water scenarios, but in recent years, they’ve veered much further into this, stemming from the two  Guardians of the Galaxy films and Ant-Man. Even  Spider-Man: Homecoming may as well be a comedy. There’s also been a definite shift toward cosmic or mystical avenues of Marvel’s back catalog, thanks to both the Guardians movies and Doctor Strange. This all seems to have been by design; after all, you don’t hire Taika Waititi to direct your movie if you don’t want to make a comedy.

The basic plot is very straightforward indeed. The goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), has arrived to make a play for the throne of Asgard and in the process, Thor (Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) have been sent haphazardly into space, ending up on a planet run by the jovially vindictive Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who forces Thor to fight for his freedom in a gladiatorial arena against the current champion who is—since we’ve all seen the trailers—the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who is less than thrilled at the thought of de-Hulking. Thor has to convince the Hulk to go back to Asgard with him to save his home realm from Hela’s machinations.

This sounds like it could be any Marvel movie, and it’s been said many times by many different people how much the MCU’s films keep repeating themselves when it comes to story elements and villains (most of the time). What they HAVE done to combat it, though, is allow for varied locations and references, and to change up the tone. Thor: Ragnarok takes the inherent humor in the character of Thor and mixes in the comedic sensibilities of Waititi, who uses deadpan, awkward-adjacent situations to produce big laughs.

Waititi encouraged improvisation on the set to get reality from his actors, and in Hemsworth, he’s found his superhero muse. Never before has the God of Thunder been so funny, and he sparks off of Ruffalo–both as Hulk and as Bruce Banner–in ways only hinted at in earlier films. “He’s a friend from work” is a great line, but it also keys you in on the kind of movie you’re watching. The fate of Asgard hangs in the balance, but most of the tension comes between the characters, all behaving hilariously childishly.

The main new addition to the cast is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, a fallen warrior who has taken to finding new challengers for the Grandmaster’s ring to pay for her drinking habit. It’s clear in every scene she’s in that she’s the biggest badass in the room, even standing next to the massive Hemsworth, and the digital behemoth that is Hulk. Hers is probably the most pronounced and satisfying arc in the film, as she’s finally convinced to take up with Thor and not merely scour the garbage dumps for has-beens to lead to the slaughter.

I do have to say that, while the comedy works for the characters of Thor and Hulk and Valkyrie, and certainly the Grandmaster, it doesn’t work quite as well with the more operatic characters like Loki and certainly Hela. Blanchett is phenomenal of course, but Hela exists in a totally different movie, and is indeed separated from the heroes for almost the whole runtime, them being in exile and all. She gets a few funny moments, and Loki gets one of the biggest laughs in the movie, but they seem removed in a lot of ways from the tone of the movie, which could be funny in its own right, but largely isn’t.

Visually, the movie definitely stuns, with more of those Jack Kirby-inspired cityscapes and spaceships, and this is aided greatly by a prog-rock synth score by the great Mark Mothersbaugh. I could definitely spend a lot more time NOT on Earth in these Marvel movies and be completely fine with it, which we’ll certainly get more of in Avengers: Infinity War, if reports are to be believed.

Thor: Ragnarok is funnier than all other Marvel movies to date and has a specific tone that might throw off some fans. That said, it’s not AS funny as it maybe needed to be to truly stand out as something totally different. I laughed a lot, I enjoyed myself greatly, but the plot was much more pedestrian than the rest of the movie might lead you to believe. But this is top to bottom Hemsworth’s movie, and in his fifth time playing Thor, he is at his very peak, and that’s quite the heroic feat.

3.5 awkward pause-filled burritos out of 5:

Images: Marvel

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find  his film and TV reviews hereFollow him on Twitter!

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