Thor: Ragnarok movie review: it’s only the end of the world

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Breezy, jokey, crammed with clever sci-fi ideas; the funniest MCU flick yet. Director Taika Waititi brings a new geeky verve we didn’t realize the series needed.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the cast, love the MCU
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Thor can go to hell.

No, I mean, literally: Thor is capable of going to hell, just for a visit, which is where he is at the opening of Ragnarok. Okay, okay, I know, I know, it’s not really hell, not Hell. I know it’s Muspelheim, the extradimensional realm of fire, please don’t write in to complain. But it’s pretty hellish, and Thor is there to confront the fire demon Surtur, who is fairly satanic: extremely large and scary, aflame, and determined to slay the gods of Asgard and destroy Asgard itself; all the usual apocalyptic stuff. But if Thor can only steal his horned crown, the source of his power, all this talk of armageddon will be reduced to nothing more than talk.

“Really not kidding here, people: Do not talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.”

Thor’s battle with Surtur (the voice of Clancy Brown: Warcraft: The Beginning, Hail, Caesar!) is exciting and intense, especially if you see it in 3D IMAX, as I did. But you’d expect that from a Marvel flick. What makes this opening sequence — which sets up the tone for the entire movie — so extra-special, so geeky, so hilarious, is Thor’s casual humor in dealing with Surtur; Chris Hemsworth (Ghostbusters, The Huntsman: Winter’s War) nails the offhand insouciance a badass divine celestial being like him should have, and finally here is a Thor script (by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost) that lets him exhibit that. That includes a sort of “previously on Thor” meta monologue delivered by the god of thunder that is both a catchup on the previous movie, The Dark World, and a winking acknowledgement of how deliciously ridiculous the Thor movies have been, how impossible they are to explain.

That verve also comes via the nerdy impudence of director Taika Waititi setting the battle to Led Zeppelin’s prog-rock classic “Immigrant Song”; that’s the one with all the Norse-mythic lyrics, “We come from the land of the ice and snow,” etc. (He uses it again, to compounding effect, for another battle later. You will not be able to get Robert Plant’s wail of “Ah-ahhhhhhhh, ah!” out of your head for days after seeing this.) It’s a heavy-metal black-light album cover come to life and yet — miraculously — not in any cheesy way. It’s just genuinely cool and freaky-funny.

Hemsworth nails the insouciance a badass celestial being like him should have, and finally here is a Thor script that lets him exhibit that.

Thor: Ragnarok, basically, is everything Guardians of the Galaxy (both volumes) wanted to be: breezy and jokey, crammed with clever science-fiction ideas, populated by intriguing, entertaining aliens. Except Thor isn’t an insufferable jerk like Peter “Star Lord” Quill, and even though there’s lots of stuff about family — Tom Hiddleston (Kong: Skull Island, Crimson Peak) returns as Thor’s brother Loki, for one — there isn’t the constant harping on about it, as if we were in danger of missing an Important Theme. Best of all, GotG’s vanilla deployment of retro pop culture pales next to, say, the gladiator disco madness of Ragnarok’s middle segment, in which Thor, stranded on a remote planet and stripped of some of his powers, is shanghaied into a trial by combat against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo: Now You See Me 2, Spotlight). (It eventually makes sense that the big green guy is there.) His host is the Grandmaster, a movie-stealing Jeff Goldblum (Independence Day: Resurgence, Mortdecai) who lords over what is essentially the decadence and violence of ancient Rome reconceived as a Studio 54 theme party in 1977. It’s hilarious. (Goldblum overshadows even Hiddleston’s wickedly entertaining embodiment of Loki, that’s how much Ragnarok has taken it all up a notch.)

“Bring me Flash Gordon! Haha, just kidding.”

I keep using that word: hilarious. This is hands-down the funniest movie yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not just because it’s got lots of jokes that actually make you laugh out loud (though only, often, if you’re steeped in the MCU) but because it exudes a unifying cheeky personality that isn’t like anything we’ve seen in the series before. Waititi’s unique style — see also his outrageously funny vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows — is almost shocking to see in a series that has previously maintained a visually even keel, ironing out whatever individual panache its directors might have brought to the films. (Waititi also directed those, well, hilarious Team Thor shorts; you can watch them here and here. The tone of Ragnarok is closer to those than to the previous Thor movies.) There’s a sense here that Marvel cut Waititi loose to do whatever he wanted… and the result is a kind of vision, an imaginative sweep, that could re-enliven a franchise that — it seems suddenly, in retrospect — it needs. I’ve been loving the Marvel movies. I didn’t know I could love them this much more.

I’ve been loving the Marvel movies. I didn’t know I could love them this much more.

Not that there isn’t plenty of the familiar Marvel stuff here too. Benedict Cumberbatch makes a brief appearance as Doctor Strange, which probably wasn’t strictly necessary for this story but may be setting up something to come in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War. (Though, honestly, the bit in which Hemsworth, Hiddleston, and Cumberbatch are all onscreen together is something like fangirl heaven.) There are some hysterically funny cameos, not just the traditional Stan Lee one, though that’s the best one ever. Cate Blanchett (Truth, Carol) as Hela, the Norse goddess of death — who wants to bring her own brand of Ragnarok, or armageddon, to Asgard — and Tessa Thompson (Creed, Selma) as a retired Valkyrie are terrific; Thompson especially is a great example of how to do female sidekicks for male heroes, not as already perfectly formed but as flawed people with their own journeys to take. (Thompson’s Valkyrie is more like the Han Solo of the MCU than Peter Quill could ever hope to be.)

“So you’re suggesting, dear brother, that if we simply stand here, girls will just come talk to us? We don’t have to kidnap them?”

As much as I love the often weighty ideas of the Marvel movies, I also love the lightness of this one. (There plenty room for it all in the MCU!) Ragnarok may be about a threatened apocalypse, but even the end of the world isn’t necessarily the end of the world when you live in a universe teeming with planets, after all. The movie skims a serious concept about Asgard’s bloody history of conquest and imperialism being transformed into a fantasy about benevolence, which could — *ahem* — certainly be seen to have some relevance for plain ol’ planet Earth. But mostly Thor: Ragnarok is about garbage planets, and street festivals celebrating Hulk, and Thor stopping in the middle of a New York street to take a selfie with some Avengers fangirls. It’s a nice escape from heavy reality, which is very welcome right now.

see also:
Thor (review)
Thor: The Dark World review: Viking with a chance of wormholes

Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.

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View Comments (11)

  • I was very "meh" about the first two Thor movies, so I wasn't holding my breath on this one. Now, I simply must see it!!!

  • You will not be able to get Robert Plant’s wail of “Ah-ahhhhhhhh, ah!” out of your head for days after seeing this.


    Alright, but this isn't really selling me on the movie, MaryAnn. ;-)


    Wow. Amazingly and refreshingly different, though not without its problems. I mostly appreciated the hard turn toward comedy, but I felt some things deserved more of a dramatic beat and got glossed over a bit callously.

    Things I liked:

    - The synth-heavy prog-rock score. It's perfect. And I just discovered that the composer was a founder of Devo, which OF COURSE he would be. :-)

    - All the humorous callbacks to previous MCU moments: The reenactment of Loki's "death scene," with the hilarious cameos. Loki's facial expression upon seeing the Hulk for the first time since being bashed by him in Avengers. Loki cheering upon seeing Thor bashed by the Hulk in similar manner. Thor grudgingly muttering Stark's nickname for him, "Point Break," to get the shipboard computer to recognize him. Banner wearing Stark's hipster clothes -- the film manages to wring comedy out of Stark even in Robert Downey Jr's absence.

    - Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, and Jeff Goldblum, all knocking it out of the park. And the flashback to the Valkyries' fight with Hela is on par with the mythical slo-mo treatment of the gods' battles in Wonder Woman.

    - Idris Elba being badass. I'd totally watch a spinoff film of Heimdall-gone-rogue adventures.

    - Thor losing his hammer (while acquiring Storm-like powers), his long locks, and his eye. It's in keeping with the "Part 3" films stripping the characters of some signifiers of their identity, while confirming that their core selves were never about those signifiers anyway (Stark spends much of his third film away from his armor, and has his chest reactor removed at the end, while reiterating "I am Iron Man"; Steve Rogers relinquishes his shield, his costume, and presumably his title at the end of his third film, while remaining true to his friends and his values). And Thor losing an eye and gaining an eye-patch (and the throne) clearly is becoming more like his father -- but in what ways, good and bad? Could be interesting for future stories to explore.


    - The fate of the Warriors Three. I understand this film is supposed to be a tonal reboot and wants to do away with some elements of the previous films, but having Thor's old gang of friends killed off so perfunctorily (especially Fandral and Volstagg), without giving Thor a moment to mourn them, seems especially harsh.

    - So... Is Hela dead? That would be a real shame -- I think that, like Loki and Adrian Toomes, she's one of the few really compelling villains the MCU has had so far, and it would have been great to see her pop up in future installments.

    - The Karl Urban character was a little pointless, I thought. Why would a Death Goddess, who destroyed an entire Asgardian army on her own without breaking a sweat, need an executioner? And instead of him turning and defending the civilians from Hela's soldiers, before meeting his end, why not have the Warriors Three do it? That would have been a more fitting and poignant sendoff for their characters.

    - The destruction of Asgard also seems tonally off. Yes, it's a comedy, and they got all the people out, so no casualties to mourn. Still, the moment doesn't seem as consequential as it could be. And is that all the MCU Ragnarok really is, a demon laying waste to a deserted city for a couple minutes of screentime? Seems like a missed chance to depict some of the really weighty, end-of-all-things Twilight of the Gods stuff in other versions of the tale. And in general it shows what a wasted opportunity Asgard was -- it should have been more of a defined place, something worth mourning the loss of.

    - The characters' sudden use of modern vernacular is a little jarring. Again: yes, it's a comedy. But couldn't the comedy have been accomplished while preserving established speech patterns from earlier films? Would Odin (or even Loki-as-Odin) say "oh shit"? Would Thor ever use the word "creepy" or "ass" or the phrase "so that's, like, still pretty fresh"?

    On balance, I enjoyed it quite a lot. The score and the visuals and (for the most part) the irreverence definitely make this worth re-watching. I just wish some aspects of the story were taken more seriously than they were. But then again, as you say, a "nice escape from heavy reality" is worth it for what it is. On a week when an EPA advisor says that our air quality might be TOO good, maybe a bit of light fluff is exactly what we need.

    • The characters' sudden use of modern vernacular is a little jarring. Again: yes, it's a comedy. But couldn't the comedy have been accomplished while preserving established speech patterns from earlier films? Would Odin (or even Loki-as-Odin) say "oh shit"? Would Thor ever use the word "creepy" or "ass" or the phrase "so that's, like, still pretty fresh"?

      I was puzzled when Thor said, “Oh my god.” Which god did he mean?

  • I agree. Great, funny movie, where the humor feels like a natural part of the film. I liked Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but I thought some of the humor there felt forced, where here it didn't.

    One minor correction: Star-Lord is Peter Quill, not Peter Quinn.

    • Fixed. I probably should start worrying about all these brain farts I've been having lately...

      • Your brain is probably focused on the Righteous Guild, and anything else is a distraction till the end of the month.

        • Oh, but I'm *so* behind par on my NaNoWriMo word count. I've barely written anything. :-(

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