Valkyrie, at least, feels like a worthy addition. The booze-swigging, hard-hitting Tessa Thompson steals most scenes shes in, especially early in the movie, when she has power over the downtrodden Thor. The characters backstory is fleshed out just enough to make sense of her motivations, and she provides a good foil for Tom Hiddlestons Loki, whose constant trickery is starting to wear thin after so many movies of the same. (Loki is still impersonating Odin when the movie starts, a plot point fromThor 2that this movie ruthlessly discards and moves on from within the opening minutes.)
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Instead, Benedict Cumberbatch (whos unfortunately only in this movie for about three minutes total) summons a hefty mug of ale from thin air, and Chris Hemsworth quaffs it appreciatively.Thor: Ragnarokmay be the funniest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie yet, thanks to comedic-minded director Taika Waititi. But its also in large part a departure. As much as it still feels like a main stage MCU entry, in other waysThor: Ragnarokis eager to leave the past behind.
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Waititis sensibilities are everywhere inThor: Ragnarok, moreso than most past directors have been allowed to imprint themselves on a larger MCU film (the main exception being James Gunn withGuardians of the Galaxy). The New Zealander director comes from theFlight of the Conchords-style school of comedy, and his own movies, like the both-excellentWhat We Do in the ShadowsandHunt for the Wilderpeople, have a distinctly dry, earnest Kiwi humor at their hearts. Whether in Thors frequent one-liners, Jeff Goldblums loopy Grandmaster, or absurd side characters like the soft-spoken warrior Korg (whos voiced by the director himself), that same humor is central toThor: Ragnaroks identity.
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Thor: Ragnarokshines when its allowed to stray from the formula set by a decade of predecessors in the MCU, and it seems Waititi is to thank for most of what feels fresh and new here. By the movies end, Thor and co. have left much of their past behind, ensuring the future is exciting in its potential, especially as we approach the Infinity War storyline. But in other ways,Ragnarokis still beholden to the same tropes by which these movies are often anchored. If Marvel takes anything away from this, fans should hope its that these films are best when talented directors are allowed to leave their personal marks on them.
During that same sequence, Mark Ruffalo–whos transformed back into Bruce Banner after an extended stint as the Hulk–laments that he doesnt know how to fly a spaceship. Thor quips that he should use one of his many PhDs, before leaping heroically from the ship. Its a decent joke, but one without any weight, because Ruffalo is obviously going to steer the ship just fine, which he does. Having stakes is important for audiences to get invested in prolonged scenes of shallow spectacle, somethingRagnarokforgets. (Also, it ruined the best reveal–Hulks entrance into the fighting pit–in literally every trailer, which is a shame, considering the movie spends its entire first third building up to the entrance of the champion like its some big surprise.)
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Thats for better or worse, depending largely on how you feel about this type of humor. These awkward silences and absurd jokes arent for everyone. The actors and filmmakers have stated during press conferences and interviews that there was a lot of improvisation on set, and it shows, especially in scenes with Goldblums Grandmaster. The veteran oddball comedian/heartthrob is clearly riffing in most of his scenes, and that loosey-goosey feeling also pervades much of the film.
Hela is an incredibly boring villain
At the same time,Ragnarokis about the Asgardians literal apocalypse. Thats a big MCU event, and when its not being funnyRagnarokfeels like most other big Marvel movies, which isnt necessarily a good thing. The action is huge, but the stakes are low. Extended CG-heavy set pieces like a high-speed spaceship chase, during which Thor and Valkyrie jump from pursuing ship to ship stabbing them with big swords, feel gratuitous, and dont look particularly good. Anyone who sawBlade Runner 2049recently understands how big a difference having practical sets can make, and certain green screen-fueled environments inThor, including the coliseum scene, look unreal enough to be a distraction.
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Speaking of tropes, for all its strengths and departuresThor: Ragnarokstill stumbles headlong into that most entrenched of Marvel movie problems: the boring villain. Cate Blanchett does her best as the Wicked Witch of Asgard, but theres nothing even remotely interesting about Hela (or her sidekick, the criminally misused Karl Urban, who spends most of the movie scowling off to the side while having no impact whatsoever). As Thor and Lokis banished sister and Odins one-time right hand commander, Hela feels utterly shoehorned into a world in which its completely unbelievable that shed never been mentioned before. Her motivations amount to nothing more than total, boring domination, and her title as the Goddess of Death has no bearing on her actual abilities or personality.
Mike Rougeau is GameSpots Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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Ragnarokalso has more Hulk than any recent MCU movie. The big green guy is changed from the last time we saw him, in part because when we catch up with him here, hes been stuck that way for a while. But allowing the Hulk to have relatively normal, calm conversations also feels like a rule change for this iteration of the character that isnt necessarily earned or explained.
Tessa Thompson steals scenes as Valkyrie
Theres one scene early inThor: Ragnarokthat I felt sure was going to be a call-back to the first Thor movie. Doctor Strange offers Thor a cup of tea, and Thor replies that he doesnt touch the stuff. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring up the God of Thunders love of coffee, established in the first movies diner scene: Shortly after finding himself on Earth for the first time, Thor showed his appreciation for the new beverage by violently smashing his mug on the ground and demanding another. It was the first time Thor was really funny.
The final thing that bears mentioning isThor: Ragnaroks aural and visual aesthetic, which simultaneously summons 60s psychedelia, 70s disco, 80s metal, Guardians-like sci-fi, and bloody Roman gladiator bouts.Ragnarokis the most colorful MCU movie yet, rivaling Gunns Guardians entries for sheer visual joy. Mark Mothersbaughs synth-heavy score underscores most of it with perfect synchronicity, although Led Zeppelins Immigrant Song–used in the movie to lend oomph to not one, but two separate action scenes–is way past feeling overused.