If Thor: Ragnarok was your very first Marvel film, and after seeing it, you immediately decided to watch previous entries in this sprawling cinematic universe, you’d be disappointed. And that’s because this movie has perfected the cocktail Marvel Studios has been working on since 2008’s Iron Man. You won’t love Thor: Ragnarok because it subverts or pushes the fantasy and superhero genres in new directions. You’ll love it because it’s a master-class in how to do those genres perfectly.
Totally spoiler-free review of Thor: Ragnarok follows.
Calling Thor: Ragnarok a mash-up of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars wouldn’t be inaccurate, but it would also leave out the fact that it’s also a mash-up of Norse Myth and Guardians of the Galaxy. How can a superhero flick with a subtitle this pretentious also be the best superhero movie in years? Easy: the movie operates on the simple assumption that everything you’re going to see you’re going to love, and it doesn’t include anything you won’t.
The director of Ragnarok — Taika Waititi — boasted about the short runtime of the film ahead of its release. And, at just over two hours, this movie moves faster than Thor can spin his hammer. Whereas Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 deployed an array of ‘70s and ‘80s rock hits to get you fired-up, Ragnarok only needs that one Led Zeppelin cut — “Immigrant Song” — to provide its thesis. Do you like this song? (Remember it goes AH-AH-AH-AHHHHHH!) Do you like watching Chris Hemsworth crack-wise and kick-ass while it plays? Good. Because the entire movie is like that.
For those who have enjoyed the synth-disco vibe of the marketing of this movie, you won’t be disappointed. Mark Mothersbaugh’s score seems to arrive somewhere between Daft Punk and his funky music for The Life Aquatic. The sounds of Ragnarok make you feel like you’re in a legitimate epic adventure, just not one you have to take too seriously. For once, the one-liners and moments of genuine warmth don’t just come from Robert Downey Jr. In this particular performance Thor, Chris Hemsworth proves he can do comedy and family drama at the same time.
Although you’ll feel like you’re on a non-stop joke rollercoaster, Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston find time to do a little character work, too. A grand family story is hardly anything new when it comes to huge sci-fi/fantasy epics, but it’s done here with such an effortless touch, that even the biggest cynic will find themselves smiling.
To be clear, for the Marvel faithful, who have watched every film, and will dissect the various scenes for clues that inform both the past and the future, this installment is endlessly satisfying. It’s not as cluttered and self-aware as Captain America: Civil War, nor is it as wide-eyed as Spider-Man: Homecoming. Instead, Ragnarok feels the way a good superhero movie should. Adults and children could watch this movie side-by-side and get a myriad of different things from it. This isn’t mindless fun, of course, because anything this witty requires a huge chunk of intelligence. Thor’s powers and Hulk’s smashes will garner the easiest thrills, it’s in the smaller, funnier moments where Ragnarok flies beyond its contemporaries.
The first trailer for the film won over fans from the start at the moment when Thor, relieved to see the Hulk in a barren, desolate alien arena, declares “He’s a friend from work!” as though being in a superhero squad is exactly like clocking in at the office. And it’s in this dynamic where Ragnarok demonstrates just how smart it really is. Traditionally, Thor and the Hulk are the brutes of Marvel’s comic book heroes; the mindless muscle forced to do the dirty work. But in this film, all those cliches are gone. Yes, the Hulk and Thor debate about who “the strongest Avenger” might be, but despite all the destruction and action, it turns out the strength of this film lies in its mastery of subtlety.
As one character asks Thor pithily: “Are you the God of Hammers?” No. He’s not. He’s the God of Thunder. And thunder is what you hear before something is about to happen. That’s’ what makes thunder — and this film — so compelling. After hearing it, you anticipate each lightning strike, and you’re dazzled by the light when it comes.
Thor: Ragnarok is out in wide-release on November 3, 2017.