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Review | 'Thor: Ragnarok' is fun but hollow
NOTE: Dear loyal readers, we at Nerd It Here First are going to start using a new style for our movie reviews. We hope you like it. And no, the irony of debuting this new template-based review format on a Marvel movie is not lost on us.
Thor: Ragnarok picks up roughly two years after Avengers: Age of Ultron, with our titular hero (Chris Hemsworth) trapped in a cage by Surtur, a nefarious demigod of sorts bent on fulfilling the prophecy of Ragnarok, or the end of Asgard. Thor quickly dispenses of Surtur and makes his way back to Asgard, finding that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has assumed the throne (and likeness) of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), forcing Thor and Loki to seek help from a new friend to find Odin. However, Odin has bad news: he's dying, and with his death will come Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death and his first-born child. That's right -- Thor and Loki have an older sister, and as soon as Odin dies, she makes her presence known, destroying Mjolnir and banishing both brothers to the distant planet of Sakkar. There, Thor must find a way to prevent his scheming brother from foiling his plans to escape the planet and save Asgard, requiring the help of fellow exiled Asgardian Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and, to Thor's surprise, Sakkar's most popular resident: Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Taika Waititi may have seemed like a strange hire for a Marvel movie, but it turns out his sensibilities fit the comic book powerhouse like a glove. Thor: Ragnarok is essentially what you'd imagine a Thor movie would be if James Gunn were directing it. It's colorful, lively, fun, and not particularly deep in any way. Oh sure, the movie pays lip service to thematic elements like fulfilling your potential, and almost adds a nice new layer to the increasingly complicated dynamic between Thor and Loki -- a brief scene in an elevator could've been so much more if the movie wasn't so eager to move onto the next action sequence -- but these are mere blips on the radar. Marvel has made a habit out of taking its most outlandish superhero properties and turning them into comedies; if Marvel embraces the absurdity of these heroes, then audiences will, too. So far it's worked, and Thor: Ragnarok is an entertaining ride. But it's more cinematic junk food from the studio: fun in the moment, but it mostly evaporates as soon as it's over.
The big draw here is two-time Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett, essaying Marvel's first (and long overdue) main female villain. Blanchett does the best she can with thin material. Hela is basically another Loki, the less-loved child of a well-meaning but neglectful parent who comes back to take her rightful place on the throne. It's not a role that requires Blanchett to dig deep, and despite her best efforts, the character and performance aren't especially memorable. Tessa Thompson (Creed, "Westworld") steals the show, bringing just the right mix of toughness, emotion and chemistry with Hemsworth to make her a character I hope to see again very soon. Hemsworth continues to prove that he was born to play this role, and his time spent in comedies (Vacation, Ghostbusters) serves him well here; his timing is perfect. Ruffalo spends most of his time as the big green guy, but when we do actually see him as Banner, he's fine; no more, no less. Urban gets to try out a Cockney accent, but that and his hairdo are the most memorable things about the character. Elba looks like he got lost on the way to the Pirates of the Caribbean set; he's way better than this, and we all know it. Goldblum, as the Grand Master of Sakkar, is clearly having the time of his life, and the movie perks up considerably any time he's on screen. Hiddleston is as reliable as ever as Loki, and Hopkins' screentime essentially amounts to a cameo.
The score by Mark Mothersbaugh (21 Jump Street) leans heavily on 80s synth, and it sounds great, but nothing else about the movie really screams 80s other than the marketing, so I'm not sure why that decision was made. Visual effects are of high quality, which is the standard for Marvel. Production design seems heavily inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy and "Game of Thrones," the former specifically on Sakkar and the latter on Asgard. Cinematography is bright and colorful, with well-shot action that's easy to follow. Editing is reasonably tight, with very little fat; in fact, the movie could've been allowed to breathe a bit and add in some more character beats.
Thor: Ragnarok is a good, solid, fine, entertaining comic book movie, which is basically the norm for Marvel these days. It'll scratch your itch for superhero action, but it won't deliver anything more meaningful than that. In a year that's given us three Marvel movies -- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and now this -- plus the far superior Logan and the strong Wonder Woman, the third solo outing for the God of Thunder will have a hard time sticking in people's minds once 2017 is over.