Guardians of the Galaxy established the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a fun and zany comedic playground, and apparently Marvel wants to keep those good times rolling by bringing its other cosmic-based franchise into the fold. With Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi arguably out-Guardians the Guardians of the Galaxy films, with a zany ensemble comedy that also delivers some of the best Marvel movie action, to date.
The story picks after the events of both Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron, where we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on a cosmic quest to stop the prophecy of Asgard's destruction, which he first glimpsed in Avengers 2. After a successful journey, Thor returns home to Asgard just in time to see a new threat rise, when ancient Asgardian warrior Hela (Cate Blanchett) returns to claim Odin's throne. Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) try to stop Hela but are grossly overpowered, and end up banished to a backwater planet called Sakaar, which is run by the vain and flamboyant Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). After that, it's up to Thor, Loki, fallen Asgard warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Sakaar's gladiatorial champion The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to escape The Grandmaster's games, in time to save what's left of Asgard.
Mainstream viewers probably don't know Taika Waititi from his acclaimed indie films What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but they will definitely know him after Thor: Ragnarok. Waititi has crafted one of the most colorful and visually-captivating MCU movies ever seen, with a colorful aesthetic that looks like a page by Marvel Comics icon Jack Kirby, come to life onscreen. But even though the film takes clear inspiration from the comic books, Thor: Ragnarok is also uniquely the product of Waititi's creative mind. The threequel's offbeat, meta-minded comedy is reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy, while still managing to distinguish Waititi's stylistic signature from that of James Gunn. Thor: Ragnarok expands the Marvel Cosmic playground into something that feels like a shared brand, while still allowing for distinctly different cinematic experiences.
The script by Agent Carter writer Eric Pearson and Marvel Comics writers Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost is the most Thor-like of any installment in the franchise, while still hitting the right comedic beats (a least most of the time), and providing some great fan-service moments. If there is one drawback to the storyline (and film as a whole), it's that Thor: Ragnarok is once again standard Marvel movie fare, complete with a thin and one-dimensional villain (even in the talented hands of Cate Blanchett), and the quest for a MacGuffin that's even more arbitrary than usual.
What keeps the film from being a bologna sheet of Marvel product are the stylistic flourishes from Waititi, and an inspired effort from the cast. Chris Hemsworth proves to be as effective a comedic leading man as he is an action star, and Ragnarok thankfully allows Hemsworth and his franchise cohort Tom Hiddleston to add some refreshing comedic angles to the Thor/Loki relationship. Despite getting fresh performances from the old cast, it's the new additions to the franchise who are the real spotlight-stealers. Mark Ruffalo is able able to chew all the right scenery as both Bruce Banner and The Hulk; Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie easily holds her own opposite established characters like Thor, Loki, and Hulk; Jeff Goldblum is a master at hamming it up as The Grandmaster; and even Waititi gets in some great onscreen moments, playing Sakaarian gladiator, Korg. As stated, Cate Blanchett's considerable talents aren't enough to save Hela from being your basic Marvel arch-villain, and Karl Urban's Skurge is even more wasted, despite an attempt to give him a bigger arc.
What may surprise viewers is the level of cinematic splendor and exciting blockbuster action that Waititi showcases in this film. Thor: Ragnarok is worthy of big screen viewing (even in 3D), as it depicts Thor, his powers, as well as creatures and locales of the Marvel Cosmic Universe in a way that totally captivates the eye. The battle sequences are appropriately epic and visceral, and the film delivers the sort grand third act that fans deserve, but rarely get from MCU movies.
In the end, Thor: Ragnarok is the perfect ending to a particularly fun (and funny) year of Marvel movies (Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming). For fans of Thor, this will be the best that the franchise has ever offered, but even for casual fans and mainstream viewers, this is a fall film that's well worth the investment of time and ticket price.
Thor: Ragnarok is in theaters on November 3rd. It is 2 hours and 10 minutes long, and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.
Other upcoming MCU movies include Black Panther on February 16, 2018, 2017, Avengers: Infinity War on May 4, 2018, Ant-Man and the Wasp on July 6, 2018, Captain Marvel on March 8, 2019, the fourth Avengers movie on May 3, 2019, the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming on July 5, 2019, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in 2020.