Warning: Some Lou Ferrigno-sized spoilers ahead
“What are you, god of hammers?” Odin asks Thor at one point in the movie. Then Thor does his thunderbolt thing and we’re treated to what might be the coolest battle sequence in the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe since Scott Lang turned into Giant-Man, or since Peter Quill made a giant Pac-Man to the tune of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”. It’s so frickin’ awesome and thanks to director Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok is now officially, the wackiest Marvel ensemble comedy to date this side of Joss Whedon.
Thor: Ragnarok opens with Thor captured by the demon Surtur, bound and hanging from a chain in the Asgardian underworld. While Surtur tells about Ragnarok a.k.a. the destruction of Asgard, Thor kind of breaks the fourth wall as he interrupts the background orchestra and the demon’s grand proclamations every time he slowly spins away from Surtur’s view. It’s a sequence that brings to mind GotG and Deadpool, effectively planting the movie’s overall tongue and tone, firmly in its cheek.
Minutes later, it’s family reunion time, as Thor is re-united with Loki, who’s been ruling Asgard as Odin and staging plays about his pseudocide in the last movie; then later with Odin, who’s just waiting for his final moments in Norway; and finally, with his older sister Hela, who was imprisoned by Odin and written out of history for her great evil ambitions and has now returned to take over Asgard, leaving Thor not much time to grieve or be bitter over Loki’s deception. Thor and Loki, suddenly on the same side, finds themselves outmatched, as Hela destroys the Mjolnir without much effort and kicks the brothers out into space while they try to escape thru the BEEF-roast.
The fun ride continues as Thor crash-lands into an alien planet and becomes a gladiator-slave owned by Jeff Goldblum, who, here, goes by the moniker the Grandmaster, ruler of the colorful wasteland called Sakaar (a goofy combination of neon lights, pinball aesthetics and Jack Kirby-inspired sets). Thor is forced to fight a gladiatorial death-match against the current champion, who turns out to be… the green brute Hulk (“He’s a friend from work”)—but we already knew that. While Thor has to nurse a few broken ribs afterwards (not to mention being mentally scarred by the view of a fully naked Hulk emerging from a tub), Loki, who’s already in Sakaar when Thor arrives, seems to have things working in his favor, earning the trust of Mr. Goldblum while trying to hide his past associations with both Hulk and Thor. Meanwhile, Idris Elba’s all-seeing Heimdall does his best to protect the remaining Asgardian people from Hela’s threat. Going back to Sakaar, further hilarity ensues as Thor tries to get Hulk and Valkyrie to his side and plots to escape before Hela totally obliterates Asgard.
Sure, Thor: Ragnarok is an apocalyptic movie but it never let that spoil the fun. From an inspired Doctor Strange cameo (more memorable than anything on the movie bearing his name), to the Mjolnir disguised as an umbrella, to Thor imitating Black Widow trying to calm down the Hulk (“Hey big guy, the sun’s getting real low”), to mocking Tony Stark’s fashion sense (“These pants are too tight”), to Thor trying to get Bruce Banner and Valkyrie to join his team (he’s calling them the Revengers), Thor: Ragnarok is just out-and-out sillier than any of the previous Avengers, Ant-Man, and Guardians movies.
While Waititi didn’t have the kind of luxury James Gunn had in building his main characters from the ground up, he was able to inject them with his own quirkiness, making them a bit more interesting and affable, fully realizing their comedic side that’s at the least hinted at in the earlier movies. The best he could do with Thor is defocus on his past and take his cue from Joss Whedon’s Avengers where Thor provides the occasional comic relief (Thor’s “He’s my brother/He’s adopted” lines in the first movie and the hammer-lifting contest in the second). Thus, this movie’s Thor is just a tad cockier, funnier and more relatable than the previous incarnations and that’s definitely a good thing.
As Hela’s near obligatory bad-assery plays second fiddle to the funny skits in Sakaar, showing Heimdall, Skurge, and remaining Asgardians try to survive the onslaught precludes the movie from totally sidelining the main plot. It saves the movie from being just an enjoyable series of skits. Amidst all the levity, it never forgets that the citizens of Asgard are in grave danger, thus grounding Thor’s motivation to come back and save them.
Thor: Ragnarok may not be as visually impressive or as emotionally resonant as Guardians and Avengers movies, but it gets a few things right. The gladiator match between Hulk and Thor is heart-pounding awesome; it’s highlight-reel material enough to school the DC guys in staging big fights between titans (i.e., Doomsday vs. Superman, Ares vs. Wonder Woman). The final battle in Asgard, while barely coherent at times, is elevated by an encore of Thor’s “Immigrant Song” action sequence, a few well-timed gags (an untransformed Bruce Banner falling hard on the Bifrost bridge), a couple of plot twists, and a minor character stealing the show (Karl Urban’s Skurge brandishing his favorite toys Des and Troy and his eventual sacrifice). Waititi surely knows well enough not to overload your senses with fights every fifteen minutes, giving us the gags instead. He also probably knows that gigantic superhero battles aren’t just about cool superhero moves, overwhelming powers, awesome fights scenes, and massive destruction. It’s also about sacrifice, saving people. As Odin puts it, Asgard’s not a place, it’s the people. And that’s what Thor came back for.