Thor: Ragnarok review

Following on Marvel's recent trend of lighter, funnier superhero films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok reminds us why Chris Hemsworth is our favorite Norse god.

Hulk butt. If the characters, story, cinematic universe, or fancy marketing of Thor: Ragnarok fail to entice you to go watch the movie, know that there is Hulk butt. It’s brief, only partially visible, and part of a cheap joke where Thor reveals his masculine insecurities, but it’s there, in its green glory. 

 Also, Cate Blanchett’s superpowers are materializing razor-sharp space-phalluses of various sizes, sexily strutting around in a sexy black and green cat suit, and conjuring up a spiky hat. If that wasn’t enough, try this: literally every major character flirts with every other major character. Thor and Valkyrie have clear moments together. Hulk and Valkyrie share affectionate, flirty chatter. The Grandmaster openly leers at Thor. Even Thor and Loki’s chemistry has subtext, if you want to read into their adopted-brother-banter. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife. Presumably one conjured up by Hela. 

I begin my review with these particular observations not because there’s nothing else to the movie, but because I firmly believe that director Taika Waititi would have wanted me to. In fact, it seems that the producers, in hiring the director of vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows, have decided to shift the tone of the franchise to something more akin to what Guardians of the Galaxy does: self-aware goofiness. 

Waititi casts Thor into the narrative role most often relegated to sidekick-types rather than the superhero lead: the goofball whose misfortune and antics we all laugh at. Chris Hemsworth excels at delivering a powerful, well-meaning, but dorky (and incredibly attractive) lug of a superhero who can’t help but endear himself to his audience. In this incarnation, Thor takes things far less seriously, and seems to be there just to enjoy the wild ride. In fact, you can almost tell how much fun the cast seems to be having with their roles, be it through Jeff Goldblum’s self-important nonchalance, Cate Blanchett’s delicious malice, or Mark Ruffalo’s wide-eyed cluelessness.

This sense of campy joy is essential in Thor, because it helps balance the areas where the movie feels emotionally stunted. Many recent superhero movies have suffered from a similar problem: the creators introduce what they hope are dramatic emotional moments, but then fail to carry these emotions to satisfying conclusions, or drop the threads in favour of a shiny, new action scene. Hela, for example, has no relatable motivation (she basically just wants to kill and conquer), and a number of potentially complex and interesting family conflicts and revelations within the Asgardian first family blossom momentarily, only to wither and die as they’re never revisited. Fortunately, the film’s self-aware, humorous moments are so strong that by contrast, any dramatic scene feels heartfelt and emotional, and you only really notice the latter’s lack of true depth after the movie is over.

Thor: Ragnarok's advertising is saturated and tasty compared to most other superhero movies. Thor: Ragnarok's advertising is saturated and tasty compared to most other superhero movies.

What the movie manages to do really well, however, is differentiate itself from most of the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe, and the producers seem keen on doing this at every level. The retro-style, super-saturated, comic-book-esque promotional posters ambush you with clever composition and a blaze of color; a far cry from Marvel posters’ usual penchant for moody but forgettable shadows and brooding silhouettes. Perhaps inspired by Every Frame A Painting’s video essay on forgettable music in Marvel movies, Thor: Ragnarok goes out of its way to surprise you with its score: Magic Sword’s “In The Face of Evil” gives the film an 80’s videogame-arcade feel, and who can forget the awe-inspiring howl of Led Zepellin’s “Immigrant Song” that opens the film’s trailer? (Bonus musical note: look out for a song from Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka and theChocolate Factory during one of the most hilarious scenes in the movie.)

 Finally, the plot itself is somewhat unusual, and doesn’t feel like a typical superhero film arc. It spends the majority of its time on a random garbage-dump prison-planet where our protagonist’s identity and agency are erased to force him to fight gladiatorial battles. The typical heroics and “save-the world” antics are eschewed in favour of Thor really just trying to get out of a shitty situation and head back home. Also, the Hulk (and not just Bruce Banner) actually has character development; who’da thunk?

So go watch Thor: Ragnarok. It is fun. There are pretty people. The story is cool. And of course, Hulk Butt. One never forgets one’s first Hulk Butt.

Special thanks to the large group of friends I watched the movie with, and who were willing to dissect it with me at length.

Verdict: Yes