Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, 2017)

Two years have passed since the defeat of Ultron in the battle of Sokovia. Thor has been imprisoned by the fire demon Surtur. While in captivity, the demon reveals that Odin is no longer on Asgard and the realm will soon be destroyed following an event known as the Twilight of the Gods – Ragnarök. Just when Surtur unites his crown with the Eternal Flame burning in Odin’s vault, Thor frees himself. He then battles Surtur’s forces and seizes the demon’s crown. Though he believes he prevented Ragnarök, the battle has only just begun.

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the series thus far.

Thor realizes upon returning to Asgard that Heimdall is missing. Loki has been posing as Odin, and when Thor exposes him, he forces his exceedingly untrustworthy adopted brother to help him find their father. To this end, they enlist the help of one Stephen Strange, the man who succeeded the Ancient One as the keeper of the Time Stone. With Strange’s help, they find Odin, who has taken refuge in Norway. The King of Asgard is on the verge of death, which is especially unfortunate because his firstborn child, Hela, will escape from a prison once his life has been extinguished.

Naturally, the first question viewers would be asking is why such an important character wouldn’t be mentioned until this installment. Hela, who is based on the mythological figure Hel, had been established in the comics, but in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she effectively didn’t exist until now. It’s not unreasonable for villains to make their debut in their relevant film because knowledgeable characters would have little reason to mention them until they make their move. However, Hela seemingly doesn’t have that excuse, as Thor lived his entire life being unaware he had an older sister. Fortunately, the explanation is a serviceable one. In the distant past, Odin had gone on a campaign to conquer the Nine Realms with Hela by his side. However, he sensed his daughter’s malice, and her ambitions became increasingly extreme. Therefore, he imprisoned Hela and had her erased from history. The bad news is that once Thor and Loki hear the truth from Odin, the king dies, and Hela soon appears on the scene.

Even if her introduction was decidedly abrupt, the Goddess of Death does an amazingly good job establishing herself as a credible threat. Throughout his adventures on Earth and the Nine Realms, Thor had his trusty hammer Mjölnir by his side. Whether he was fending of Loki, the Chitauri, the Dark Elves, or Ultron’s forces, he could count on it to rend any foe foolish enough to oppose him. His encounter with Hela thus marks the end of an era when she effortlessly overpowers Thor, punctuating her triumph by destroying the Mjölnir. The two of them try to make their escape via the Bifröst, but she follows them, pushing them out into space. When she arrives in Asgard, she kills the Warriors Three and revives the ancient dead who once fought with her, including a giant wolf named Fenris. She is now ready to finish what she started eons ago.

When Ragnarok was released, critics considered it to be by far the best film bearing Thor’s name. Although one could argue this perception was bolstered by the original’s missteps and the follow-up’s lack of memorable moments, I can say it is indeed a marked improvement over both. These characters were obviously inspired by Norse mythology, and the fantastic realm of Asgard had a plethora of interesting stories just waiting to be told. The narratives of the first two films then told audiences to disregard all of that in favor of placing Thor on Earth, often focusing on normal humans. To be fair, the Marvel version of Earth is just as otherworldly as Asgard, but the familiar elements make this aspect less obvious. As such, placing Thor on Earth turned out to be a good idea for one film with him as the central focus, but even after reversing the roles between him and Dr. Foster, The Dark World still felt as though it was going through the exact same motions.

Ragnarok, on the other hand, is the film made for those who wanted a Thor story as grand and fantastical as the God of Thunder himself. Once Thor leaves Earth, the rest of his adventures take place in the far reaches of space. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the first film of Thor’s to premiere after Guardians of the Galaxy. James Gunn’s inaugural effort in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a space opera starring a talking raccoon and a mobile tree as two of its lead characters. Nobody expected that film to be as successful as it was – especially given how previous works featuring fairly realistic CGI characters intermixed with live-action ones tended to bomb both critically and commercially. Once it did prove a hit, suddenly, removing Thor from Earth and having him go on an adventure with the Norse mythology facets in the forefront wasn’t too much of a step up from what they previously accomplished. In fact, one could argue it was a step down in terms of wackiness.

This film also answers a question fans following the series had been asking themselves since Age of Ultron. After Ultron took control of the Hulk and made him go on a rampage, the latter opted to leave Earth to parts unknown. Upon being ejected from the Bifröst, Thor crash-lands on the garbage planet Sakaar. He is quickly captured by a slave trader designated Scrapper 142, who sells him to the Grandmaster – the ruler of Sakaar. Loki, true to form, has integrated himself in the Grandmaster’s society, and does nothing to help Thor. The God of Thunder quickly finds himself in gladiatorial combat, with his opponent being none other than Hulk. Loki’s reaction to seeing the Hulk is the single funniest moment in the film, for his previous encounter with the green rage giant left him deeply traumatized – quite jarring for a typically smug character.

The Grandmaster sabotages the fight once Thor gets the upper hand, though both eventually escape. Scrapper 142 is actually one of the Valkrior – the legendary female warriors who died fighting Hela. Although she initially refuses to help, she changes her mind once Loki forces her to relive the deaths of her comrades.

One of my favorite aspects of this film is seeing Thor deal with Loki. The God of Mischief had proven himself a master trickster time and again, effortlessly fooling his adopted brother. That he would ultimately side with the Grandmaster is unsurprising. He would appear to have yet another instance of genuinely repenting when he provides Thor and Valkyrie with information on how to steal one of the Grandmaster’s ships. However, it’s clear he is using their familial relationship to his own ends. In fact, Loki is so predictably disloyal at this point that Thor effortlessly anticipates his inevitable betrayal, and leaves him behind when departing for Asgard.

Although I do think Ragnarok is a significant improvement over its predecessors, it does have one glaring weakness. That is to say, it feels as though the writers tried to cram too many jokes into the film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had no shortage of snappy dialogue, but Ragnarok goes a little too far at times, often ruining otherwise perfectly fine moments. The most obvious example is that the biggest wormhole in Sakaar’s atmosphere is dubbed the Devil’s Anus. While it does admittedly sound like the kind of nomenclature that would exist in certain ancient mythologies, there’s no getting around how infantile it sounds now.

Many of the other jokes fall flat because they are recycled from earlier films. Worse, said recycled jokes were often far more effective in their original contexts. The Hulk thrashing Loki around was a hilarious way of interrupting the latter’s grandiose villain speech. It’s not nearly as amusing seeing Thor on the receiving end of the attack – especially because the punchline was extremely predictable. There’s also a moment in which Bruce Banner attempts to transform into the Hulk by leaping out of the spaceship. Again, I was unsurprised when he crashed into the ground – still Bruce Banner. This moment worked far better in The Incredible Hulk because it was unexpected and even a little dramatic; it made you fear for the character’s life. Here, you’re just counting down the seconds until the Hulk emerges from the Banner-shaped crater.

Nonetheless, in spite of its mistakes, I do believe Ragnarok has an excellent final act. In fact, it was probably the single greatest action sequence the series had since the Battle of New York in The Avengers. It’s definitely a treat for those versed in Norse mythology, as you’ll see many familiar figures battling it out in this incredible sequence. Perhaps the most shocking twist is that not only does Thor fail to prevent Ragnarök, he causes it to happen. Realizing that he and his citizens are Asgard, Thor opts to destroy his homeworld, thus ruining Hela’s plans for conquest. With a little help from Loki, surprisingly enough, they are able to place Surtur’s crown in the Eternal Flame. This causes the fire demon to be reborn, and Asgard is destroyed along with Hela.

With all of the Asgardians aboard the Grandmaster’s spaceship, Thor decides to take his people to Earth whereupon they will establish a new land for themselves. Loki is rightly skeptical of the idea of himself making a return appearance to the planet he tried to subjugate, but goes along with the idea for now. However, just as Thor expresses that everything will work out, a large spacecraft appears before them. It seems as though fate has other plans for the new king of Asgard – especially when he realizes Loki still possesses the Tesseract and, more importantly, the Space Stone contained within it.

If the Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was defined by writers setting up plot points for future films, Phase Three was when the audience’s patience began paying off in the best way possible. This is especially evident in how while The Dark World was often considered the series’ nadir, Ragnarok became a hit with critics. Regardless of the medium, the best works out there tend to be the ones that have no qualms about what they are. Thor was notable for having been one of the few decent fish-out-of-water stories involving a fantasy-themed character in present-day Earth. However, with The Dark World, a disproportionate amount of time was spent focused on characters who didn’t do the fantastical premise justice.

As soon as I saw Thor fighting a horde of demons with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” playing in the background, I knew this subseries finally clicked. Despite its own flaws, Ragnarok was easily the best Thor film issued by Marvel Studios at the time simply by virtue of taking all the fascinating elements of Norse mythology and the Marvel Cinematic Universe and embracing them wholeheartedly. Even if you didn’t care for the first two Thor films, I can easily recommend the third. It has a good mix of humor, action, and drama. Even if some of the jokes are predictable, there are plenty of moments that will catch you off-guard, and the writers’ willingness to make such drastic changes to the status quo is nothing short of admirable.

Final Score: 7/10

17 thoughts on “Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, 2017)

  1. I have never watched any of the Thor movies, but from the trailer alone I figured this one to be far more interesting than the others. I guess my impression was not wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

      • When I watched that trailer I was sitting beside a friend and I excitedly told him “That’s a Led Zeppelin tune”. Unfortunately, he does not care much about music, so my thrill landed on uninterested ears. I was quite happy, though!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmmm, concise review. Have to say did have some major issues for me, the script was atrocious, from what I had picked up it was a lot of ad-libbed comedy moments and really came across that way. Really jarring watching this then straight into Infinity War, characters tonally were a world apart.

    Also the soundtrack came across as a millennial discovering the 80s and synth chips existed. Immigrant Song was a nice touch, just felt way to forced and comedic and the score, terrible.

    Hulk rant over 🤢


  3. I think Ragnarok was a step in the right direction after The Dark World because that last movie was too heavily focused on the damsel in distress aspect. It’s funny because what happens in movies like these is they add a forced sideline romance between two characters and by the time there’s a third or second movie, the characters break up which is a good riddance in my opinion. I think Chris said in an interview the changes Thor goes through from losing his hammer, hair, and an eye was he wanted to experiment with the character a little. Having Hela as a villain was also different because there aren’t many Marvel films with an evil woman. But other than that, it was a decent film but I’m not in love with it. I’m too attached to the original Thor!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would argue The Dark World failed more because it wasn’t really interested in telling its own story. Nonetheless, you definitely have a good point, and the “damsel in distress” trope played as straight as it is really doesn’t fit in with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tethering Thor to Earth only really worked when he was part of a team; for his own films, it feels as though they had to jump through hoops in order to get him there. And Hela was definitely one of the more memorable villains the series has had. I’m glad they were willing to experiment with the character because it is interesting seeing his arc in action.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review, I found Ragnarok leaned a bit too much towards the goofy/comical side of things and could tell a lot of the humour was improvised (and not in a good way). Still the visuals are fantastic and I actually like how Banner/Hulk are depicted as it actually provides growth for what could easily be quite a limited character.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I maintain it’s the best Thor film, but the humor is really hit-or-miss, which is a shame because the actual story beats are good. Considering that Banner has only had one film to himself, it’s great that this allow him and the Hulk to continue their arc.


  5. I have enjoyed all the Thor movies, which is a surprise as I have never gotten into his comics. Have to agree that they went overboard with the jokes in this one. Marvel movies are good fun to watch, but at times they don’t get the balance right when it comes to comedy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I found this one really tonally inconsistent. I didn’t feel the stuff imported from the Planet Hulk storyline in the comics really meshed with the atmosphere they were trying to build with the more Asgardian stuff. And yeah, the humor was trying too hard, didn’t feel natural, and because of it, really took me out of the movie. Good overall, yes, but I wish things were blended a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, so that’s where the Hulk subplot drew inspiration from; it makes a lot of sense. And you’re right; with the humor and the Planet Hulk elements, it did feel as though the writers tried to mix oil and water at times. I still like it the most of the Thor films because it had the best story beats – even if the tone was all over the place.

      Liked by 1 person

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