Courtesy of Marvel Studios
For years, the Marvel brand has been able to establish a repertoire among fans. We all fork over a substantial amount of coin to see our favorite heroes duke it out. That being said, the "Thor" films, in all their Chris Hemsworth glory, never seem to reap the benefits of Tony Stark and Co. To be honest, if someone asked you to remember "Thor: The Dark World" and how it connects the Marvel Cinematic Universe, could you really? And that's what these films feel like: a placeholder on a calendar. Sure, they serve a purpose in Marvel's grander scheme, but as standalone films they always came up short.
The good news is: "Thor Ragnarok" is the best entry for the God of thunder, it's funny, lively, and bursting with energy. The bad news is: the story isn't all that captivating, and again, it still feels like it's sole purpose is to set up "Avengers: Infinity War." Which, granted, I knew going into, it just still always lingers over me, that all these films follow the same formula. At least, director Taika Waititi is, somewhat, given the reigns, to stake his claim - who's, up until now, credits included a slew of indie fan favorites.
As I said, Hemsworth is back in full swing as Thor, the Asgardian hunk, who sat on the bench, for the last 'Avenger' team up, "Civil War." Naturally, the title of the film borrows from an ancient being and prophecy, in which, a demonized like creature will destroy Asgard. Of course, Thor arrives in time to save the day, and for a brief interlude, the realms of the galaxy are at peace. He arrives on his home planet to discover that Loki (Tom Hiddleston continuing to be the character that never leaves) has run amok over his home turf, even going as far to throw their father (Anthony Hopkins) into a "Shady Acres" old folks home in New York City. Odin's untimely departure, sets up the throne for the brothers long lost sister, Hela (played with gruel by Cate Blanchett) to take what's rightfully hers.
One thing leads to another, and Thor finds himself on yet another planet unfamiliar to him. A place called Sakaar, and he's without the one thing which used to define him: his hammer. Stuck in captivity, and at the mercy of a wise, and innately weird, character called The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum - channeling his inner mantra in a scene stealing performance) - Thor has to fight his way out, and thus begins a gladiatorial match of the decade: a good ole fashioned beatdown. Thor vs The Incredible Hulk (yes, Mark Ruffalo is back and bigger than ever).
I think Thor says it best about midway through the movie: "We're the revengers!" which is basically what this clad is. The b-list Avengers: Thor and Hulk and a couple of other scraggly characters: one being the unofficial leader of the outcasts named Korg (voiced and performed via motion capture by director Waititi) - is arguably the best thing in the movie. Together, they're supposed to go head to head with Hela, a threat unlike anything Asgard has seen: except, the movie doesn't really let it develop.
Since the film is caught up in Thor and Hulk on planet Sakaar, it just kind of briefly touches on the origins of Ragnarok while also trying to keep us interested in Hela, who, really isn't that interesting. To add even more plot narratives, the movie throws in this subplot about a group of female warriors called Valkyries, whose only living member (Tessa Thompson), is trying to help the squad thwart The Grandmaster's authoritarian dictatorship. I would've been eager to see that set up more, but the movie briskly sweeps it under the rug.
Oddly enough, the film works more as a comedy mashup than a superhero throwdown. We saw Hemsworth's comic ability come full circle in "Ghostbusters" last summer, so folks shouldn't be surprised that he's got the chops to deliver the punchlines. But look for Goldblum to make waves as a buddha like imperialist and be a conversation starter long after the movie's over.
From a character standpoint, I did enjoy the revelations of how Thor must come to terms without his true identity and he even undergoes an extensive makeover. It's a new and improved Thor, and that's what makes "Ragnarok" a solid recommendation. Even though it comes up short in other places, for now, the writers and Marvel have given Hemsworth the tools to build upon his character. Time will tell the impact this film has on the impending "Avengers" ensemble, but for a superhero movie that's trying to be funny, you could do a lot worse. B