Thor’s third film, subtitled “Ragnarok,” concludes the original trilogy of trilogies that laid the foundation for the MCU.
Iron Man was the first to wrap up, fittingly since it was the one which started it all. The debut film in the MCU still holds up today thanks to Robert Downey Jr’s strong lead performance, a story that didn’t try to do too much, and a tight, witty screenplay filled with the perfect balance of serious and humorous. Iron Man’s follow up film disappointed a bit, mostly due to it feeling rushed and at times seemed more concerned with up future movies than doing its own thing. Fortunately that hasn’t been a persistent problem in the MCU since then, which is pretty remarkable considering how sprawling this universe of films has gotten. Iron Man’s third movie is his most divisive, with some saying it was a worthy sequel and others dismissing it outright. It does take some liberties with Tony’s character and ties the Iron Man character in a bit of a knot, skirting the line of continuity error within the greater MCU, but for my money it was a solid, but not spectacular film. It ended a good but not great trilogy that peaked with its first entry.
Not to be outdone is Captain America. He’s an icon now, but in 2011 there was a lot of presumption that the character was just not strong enough to make it in his own movie. The debut film was a refreshing, if slight, movie that surpassed everyone’s low expectations. It still holds up as a really solid movie in fact, but it pales in comparison to what followed. The second Cap movie remains one of the very best of the MCU, if not the best. Tight, tense, captivating; it’s not just a great “comic book” movie, but a really well-made film, period. The final Cap movie, Civil War, is pure comic book mania, however, and while it might be a hair below Winter Solider, it was clear that MCU godfather Kevin Feige made the right choice putting the post-Favreau Avenger’s franchise in the hands of the Russo brothers. Captain America’s trilogy is concluded and is now looked back on as one of the very best in the comic book genre.
And then there’s Thor. His first film is probably the most underrated of the MCU’s “phase one” series of films. It’s not a perfect movie, suffering from tonal shifts that are too jarring at times; the fish-out-of-water parts work beautifully, taking advantage of Chris Hemsworth’s wonderful comedic timing. But when things had to get serious, director Kenneth Branagh—as he is wont to do—went a little too far into melodrama and hammy over-performing. It’s a solid 7/10 movie, but no more. The follow-up really dropped the ball, however. The Dark World was a flat, boring, lifeless movie saved only by a great performance by Tom Hiddleston. Hemsworth is wasted in the hands of director Alan Taylor, forced to play straight man to Loki and forced to be too much of a bland action star to lift the already-drab movie off the ground. After two movies, it looked like Thor was the nut that the MCU couldn’t crack.
Enter Taika Waititi.
Barely identifiable by casual film-goers, he’s best known as the New Zealand indie director of the sublime What We Do in the Shadows, a vampire mockumentary in the vein of This is Spinal Tap. When he was announced as the director of the third Thor film, everyone said he was Kevin Feige’s most oddball and out of left field move ever. Those people forgot that he gave Captain America over to guys best known for directing Arrested Development and Community. Feige saw in Waititi the ability to extract life out of the struggling franchise. Thor needed a reason to justify his third solo film and people needed a good reason to give another Thor movie a chance. Waititi, who co-wrote and directed the movie, has put his idiosyncratic humor on full display; at times it’s wry and mocking and other times it’s innocent and sweet. At all times it’s side-splitting. There are visual gags, one-liners, slow-burners, you name it. Almost every single character gets at least one line that will bring the house down.
The movie wraps up a three-film year for Marvel, where each one wore its emotions—joyous and melancholy—on its sleeve. Next year brings Infinity War, and all the melodrama that should come with it, but this year was all about tempering the dark with a healthy dose of fun. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 of course had all the great one liners you’d expect from James Gunn, but the film was balanced by a real gut-wrenching character arc for Peter. Spider-Man: Homecoming was a joy to watch, but it seamlessly switched the high school humor in the first two acts to tense and dramatic third act. Thor: Ragnarok is, when it wants to be, utterly hilarious. And also, when it wants to be, it is awesomely epic. This is easily the biggest movie and the biggest budget Waititi has ever worked with but he was made for big, epic cinema. Some shots are breathtaking; like paintings come to life.
But despite all the drama and epic-ness on display, Ragnarok never forgets to have fun. It’s okay to have FUN in a COMIC BOOK movie. Batman & Robin really turned us off to the idea (with a movie that was more stupid than actually fun), and in response everyone making these movies went too far in the other direction. In the hands of a skilled filmmaker that’s okay; that’s how you get The Dark Knight and The Winter Soldier. But in lesser hands it becomes drab. A good movie is a good movie, whether its a drama or a comedy. Thor: Ragnarok is a good movie; in fact its a great one.
I’ll leave you with no plot summary, no spoiling any of the delightful cameos—both in-universe and otherwise—and I won’t touch on the whens and hows and whys of the movie’s great dramatic moments, soundtrack choices, and great humorous scenes. A movie like this deserves you going in as blindly as possible; you’ll appreciate it all the more.
Just take my word for it: Thor’s trilogy wraps up with a film so well-made you’ll wish we could go back and redo the previous two with Waititi at the helm.
10/10 – Delightful, hilarious and epic, Ragnarok finally does Thor and his actor justice.
A must see.