Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok ★★★★

Thor has been on two stand-alone adventures and two Avengers films, saving two different worlds twice. Although he was previously shown as an Asgardian with his heart set in Earth, Ragnarok--the apocalypse--comes to his homeworld. To save it, he looks for answers across the stars, fights incredible enemies, forms unlikely alliances, and ultimately emerges as the guardian to save his people.

Previous Thor films had their sparks of action, style, and character beats, but were always hampered by their bland style, stilted drama, and underdeveloped villains. Ragnarok...still has an underdeveloped villain. Which is sad, because Cate Blanchett's performance is a joy to watch as she gleefully throws spears at everyone and uncovers the lies of Odin. I found Hela's appearance and actions imposing in its own right, and her connection to the story has implicit motivations I can jive with. A better villain than Malekith, Ronan, Kaecilius, a hair worse than Ego, Ultron, and Loki (Tom Hiddleston returns in Ragnarok, mischievous and slippery as ever, delivering the right balance of deadpan humor and tragedy). The story also feels like it's shaped from the came cookie-cutter that spat out Iron Man 3: these are both stories in which the hero loses his home and primary powers, is banished to some place with no allies, and is forced to return and reclaim everything with fantastic heroics.

Even if this is just another Marvel cookie, it is one glazed in pure color with sparkles. The plot stalls a little when Thor hangs around Sakaar, but it's very quick to introduce new characters and problems that inevitably have to be solved to bring Thor back to Asgard. What makes this work is the sheer amount of levity. There's about as many laughs here (maybe more) than an Avengers film. Heck, if Drax showed up and started laughing more, it might come off as another Guardians of the Galaxy film. But Thor maintains its identity by maintaining its focus on Thor's heritage (not even extended cameos by Dr. Strange and Bruce Banner can distract from Thor, Odin, Loki, and Hela), and through the eye-popping action sequences. The combination of Norse myth and space fantasy is more sublime than ever--fantastic sequences, such as a line of Valkyries on winged horses bearing down on Hela, or the high-powered fight between Thor and Surfur, brings the fantasy to vivid life.

Juggling princely charm and lunk-headed goofiness, Chris Hemsworth is a joy to watch in this film. Lesser characters aren't too shabby either though--Jeff Goldblum really chews the scenery, as if Mr. Malcolm from Jurassic Park suddenly became power-mad. I enjoyed Tessa Thompson's character and performance. Karl Urban is a nice surprise--his character pulled out a few surprising punches in the beginning and end. Idris Elba returns as Heimdall, and his character plays into the story much more significantly than before (and it's a nice touch). All these characters are united by an okay script that stands out more for the humor. The film is nicely-ordained with awesome-looking sets, props, costumes, and special effects. Mark Mothersbaugh's film score tries to capture a certain 80s fantasy vibe, and it marries well with what's on-screen.

I could see how somebody could walk away from Ragnarok feeling like it's more of the same. The plot goes through some of the same beats we've seen in other superhero flicks (especially third-parters). The villain is still a tad undercooked. But at the very least, it's far from bland. Every time Thor pummeled his enemies (set to the beat of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song"), I was awestruck as the camera followed his hammer slamming into so many fire minions, or as he came slamming down in an explosion of lightning. In between the gorgeous action and fantasy scenes, the humor brings light to flavor to a franchise that could have easily become droll. In the end, it's just the right flavor of movie I crave.

This is the 4,000th movie I've rated on Letterboxd. Woohoo!

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