It’s been over two years since we’ve seen Thor (Chris Hemsworth), which seems like forever in Marvel Cinematic Universe time. He missed the dissolution of The Avengers in “Captain America: Civil War” and the rise of several new superheroes. We missed a lot with him as well. He broke up with his girlfriend and got himself imprisoned by a fire demon. The demon wants to bring about Ragnarok, or the destruction of Thor’s home planet of Asgard, which essentially means the end of everything Thor holds dear.
Thor kills the demon in about a minute and returns to Asgard expecting a hero’s welcome, only to learn that he’s missed a lot there too. His wise father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has exiled himself to Earth and his troublesome brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is now posing as the king. The brothers travel to Earth to bring Odin back, only to discover that they have a long-lost sister named Hela (Cate Blanchett) who is bent on taking over Asgard and conquering the universe, not to be confused with the flat-out destruction of Asgard that is Ragnarok. To give herself an unfair advantage, she traps the brothers on the waste-disposal planet of Sakaar.
Loki wastes no time selfishly endearing himself to the planet’s Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), while Thor searches for a way to get off the planet. He’s captured by drunken bounty hunter Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson) who sells him to the Grandmaster as a gladiator. He’ll win his freedom if he can defeat the Grandmaster’s Grand Champion… The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Hulk’s been gone from the MCU for as long as Thor, and his story has apparently consisted of getting stuck on Sakaar, becoming Grand Champion, and not being able to turn back into Bruce Banner. Thor wants to recruit Hulk to help him save Asgard, but without Banner’s goodness, Hulk no help, Hulk Smash!
For better or worse, this is a “fun” film. I love the bright color scheme with greens and oranges standing out, especially on Sakaar. This movie would be right at home on 90’s Nickelodeon. The film prides itself on its sense of humor, and the results are mixed. Superhero movies that take themselves too seriously do make for a miserable experience (a few from the rival DC Universe come to mind), but this one may take a few steps too far toward the other extreme. Almost every scene is permeated with something going wrong and making our stoic characters look silly. They’ll mistime crucial moments, they’ll stumble and fall, they’ll be clumsy around newfangled equipment and obstacles, and they’ll otherwise be embarrassed when they’re trying to look cool. These gags happen so frequently that they quickly lose the element of surprise. I found myself hoping that things would go right just so the movie could stop wasting time on characters recovering from minor missteps. Come to think of it, the whole MCU has been taking this approach lately, and it’s getting stale. The film isn’t exactly ruined by its silliness, and indeed there are several gags that work (everything involving Rachel House as the Grandmaster’s scene-stealing assistant is gold), but the franchise would do well to ease up on humiliating its heroes going forward.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is ultimately an average MCU offering from a character who’s never quite reached the heights as his colleagues in The Avengers. For such a lighthearted entry, this film sees Thor lose an awful lot, which leads me to theorize that he’s not going to survive his next go-around. I know the character is worth a ton of money to the MCU, but they’re going to want to shock fans by killing off an Avenger eventually, and by the end of this movie there’s an unmistakable impression that he’s run his course. I could be way off, but I say you should enjoy Thor’s meatheaded antics while you can.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material. Its running time is 130 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.