Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok ★★★½

This is the movie that the Thor franchise desperately needed. After a slightly-underrated (but overlong) first installment, Thor: The Dark World had effectively cemented the Thor films near the bottom of the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon. With Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi breathes fresh life into a tired franchise, and fills it with the right brand of humor that it had been missing. Also, if anyone had told me that 2017's most prescient film commentary on anti-colonialism and the world's refugee crisis would be in a Thor movie, I probably wouldn't have believed it. And yet, here we are.

Borrowing a bit from the irreverence of Guardians of the Galaxy and incorporating much of Waititi's own comedic stylings, Thor: Ragnarok has some genuinely hilarious moments that add a necessary amount of levity to the Asgardian prince's story. Chris Hemsworth may never be a great actor, but with the personality his character is given here, he is a great Thor. Hulk is more tolerable here, too, and giving him the ability to fully communicate was a decision I was wary about that paid off; the back-and-forth between Hulk and Thor is a clear highlight of the film. Tom Hiddleston, as always, shines as Loki, whose multi-layered trickster is still the finest example of a villain the MCU has produced.

The film does some necessary setting up for Avengers: Infinity War. The events with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) early in the film help connect his character--who will surely be a major force in Infinity War--with some of the other key players. And the film's closing scene (and certainly the mid-credits scene) help set the stage for the upcoming film. The strength of Thor: Ragnarok, though, is that is feels different from the rest of the MCU and sits comfortably apart from it. This is no doubt the result of Waititi's direction, which keeps the whole affair fun and funny. It is fitting that Waititi saved one of the best characters in the film for himself; Korg is wonderful.

Thor: Ragnarok is a really fun film, but it is not quite a great film. Not even the talented Cate Blanchett can create a very compelling villain, a recurring issue in the MCU. Hela is powerful and violent, sure; she's just not very deep or interesting. For a universe that got so much right so early on with Loki, it's a shame they haven't been able to replicate that success much since (a notable exception would be Michael Keaton's fantastic villain in Spider-Man: Homecoming). Idris Elba's talents still feel a bit wasted as Heimdall, although he does add a depth to a fringe character that wouldn't otherwise be there. I also did not love the look of Hulk in some of the scenes here, although that is being a bit nitpicky.

Overall, Thor: Ragnarok breathes new life into a franchise that was on life support, and is one of the most fun times I've had at the theater this year. Taika Waititi's first foray into big-budget studio film-making is quite a success. Now that we've seen "The Revengers," I can't wait for what's next... the Asgardians of the Galaxy?

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