Thor: Ragnarok could’ve stopped after the cold open and audiences would’ve gone home feeling like they’d watched the greatest fantasy movie since Return of the King.
Directed by Taika Waititi, Ragnarok totally revamps the God of Thunder, giving him an actual personality and a much-appreciated sense of humor. At the same time, Waititi mixes the comedy with sword-and-sorcery action, a healthy dollop of darkness, and a truly memorable score.
Marvel has shown ingenuity by hiring directors with distinct points of view, and reaped rewards from it, be it Joe and Anthony Russo deftly handling the Captain America films, or Jon Watts giving us a surprisingly endearing Spider-Man relaunch, or James Gunn leaving horror-comedy behind to give witty life to Guardians of the Galaxy.
The cult-favorite New Zealand director Taika Waititi, Ragnarok is silly and fun and zippy, a great showcase for star Chris Hemsworth’s increasingly reliable humor, and a solid introduction for Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and some other spirited supporting characters. It is flexing its self-awareness as the movie and its star laugh both at themselves and with their audience.
The stage is set in the opening scene of Thor Ragnarok, with its brilliant blend of comedy, action, and fantasy. It all comes together perfectly in the first few minutes of the movie. Thor finds himself trapped in the underworld. Wrapped in chains and monologuing to himself, the blond Avenger is granted an unwelcome audience with Surtur, the fire demon who plans on bringing about the end of Asgard. Thor calls for his mighty hammer, bashes a bunch of demi-devils, and then goes toe-to-toe with Surtur, all while accompanied by the epic strains of “The Immigrant Song.”
But after dispatching Surtur, Thor still has a massive dragon to deal with; unfortunately, nobody back home will open the Bifrost. Heimdall (Idris Elba) has gone on the run, and Skurge (Karl Urban) is entertaining lady friends with his toys from “Tex-As.” So Thor is forced to fly with Mjolnir in the lead and a fiery reptile on his tail. With Mark Mothersbaugh’s score building to a perfect ’80s pitch, Skurge finally drops his machine guns and shake weights and opens up the Bifrost, kicking off a wild adventure involving ghouls, gladiators, and the goddess of death.