For better or worse, the Marvel Cinematic Universe films always follow a certain template. They have a similar look and feel, and a similar style of humor. I happen to really like this formula, and I think it still leaves plenty of room for variety (i.e. the heist feel of “Ant-Man,” the trippy, psychedelic elements of “Doctor Strange,” etc.). While the latest, “Thor: Ragnarok” (out in theaters now), is still very much an MCU movie, it is the film that perhaps veers the farthest from the Marvel template that we’ve seen before (perhaps even farther than “Guardians”!) With a lot of improv from the actors and wackier humor/characters than we’ve seen in the past Thor films, “Thor: Ragnarok” just might be the “weirdest” Marvel movie yet.
Although Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was notably absent from the quasi-Avengers film “Captain America: Civil War,” he’s had plenty to keep him busy. Namely, trying to prevent “Ragnarok,” the apocalyptic destruction of his home world, Asgard. He’s also got Hela (Cate Blanchett), the vengeful goddess of death, to contend with. He has to put together his own super team (he humorously dubs them “the Revengers”): an exiled Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); his brother and sometimes-ally, sometimes-enemy Loki (Tom Hiddleston); and a lost Valkyrie warrior (Tessa Thompson). He also has to find a new source of strength after Hela smashes his seemingly indestructible hammer.
It’s interesting to see how the MCU has evolved over the past decade. We started with the relatively grounded “Iron Man” and have since gone full cosmic, in preparation for the “Infinity War” extravaganza. While the past Thor movies have had a definite fantasy feel, “Ragnarok” swings more toward space opera. It’s a wildly colorful movie with new creatures and a strange new planet, Sakaar, a dumping ground for objects — and sometimes people — without a home.
I’ve loved seeing the MCU get more colorful and wider in scope, and it’s exciting to see them trying new and riskier things. According to director Taika Waititi, about 80 percent of the dialogue was improvised, which gives the film distinctly different, much looser feel. Waititi fully embraces the film’s potential weirdness — I never thought I’d hear “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” show up in a Thor movie! I got a kick out of seeing Jeff Goldblum be Jeff Goldblum in a Marvel film; he technically plays the Grandmaster, the ruler of Sakaar, but really, he’s playing Jeff Goldblum in space, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It was nice to see Hulk and Thor teaming up, as well as the cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange. Valkyrie makes a great addition to the team, and I hope she gets to join the action in “Infinity War.” And Cate Blanchett is obviously having a blast embracing her dark side as Hela; it’s good to see a strong female villain in the MCU.
While there are lots of other great, colorful characters I still haven’t mentioned, “Ragnarok” still is, at its heart, Thor’s (and to a certain extent, Loki’s) story. Thor has grown (and matured!) a lot since his first solo film, and I enjoyed seeing him fully discover his powers when he can no longer rely on his hammer (spoiler alert! I loved seeing him use his newfound lightning powers in the final face-off against Hela). It’s also good to see a director fully take advantage of Chris Hemsworth’s comedic abilities; note to Hollywood: we want more opportunities for Hemsworth to be funny! And I liked that the movie kept Loki’s dynamic, giving him a chance to be a hero but not fully abandoning his own agenda. Because Loki just isn’t Loki if he’s not trying to be a trickster.
The action scenes are all good — I loved the arena fight between Thor and Hulk (and despite poor Thor’s consternation at getting his hair cut, I’m digging the new gladiator look), and it was super cool seeing the Valkyrie flying in on winged horses, in all their glory.
However, my one complaint about the film is that perhaps the jokes fly a little too fast and furious. It’s good to see a Thor movie that’s so darn fun, but some of the heavier moments were treated a little too lightly, in my opinion. This movie does have some more serious plot twists (skip for spoilers!) — such as the death of Odin and the complete destruction of Asgard — but these moments are almost lost in the fast and crazy storyline. I thought the “Guardians” movies did a better job balancing their humor and serious moments; while there are plenty of laughs from Starlord and Co., those films do have genuine emotional weight (I really laugh AND I really cry). I wish “Thor: Ragnarok” had been just a touch more serious in those important moments, and maybe used less improv overall.
I had a blast watching “Thor: Ragnarok,” although it will probably just barely miss breaking into my top half of MCU films. That’s not really a criticism of “Ragnarok”; some of the other movies are just a little more my personal style. Still, I’m really glad Marvel is willing to try some new things and let directors have more freedom to do something really different. And I’m super pumped to see what they do with “Black Panther” next year!