– by Nick Doll

Let’s be real,  both 2011’s Thor and its sequel, Thor: The Dark World, are real drags. Both Thor films are overly serious Shakespearean dramas with less laughs than the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, it was amusing watching Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as a fish out of water in the first film, and Loki (Tom Hiddleson) is always a highlight in any film he appears in, but the only MCU film worse than Thor: The Dark World is The Incredible Hulk. Sure, these two title characters are used to greater effect in both Avengers films, but even then, looking at Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor has the least screentime of any Avenger, by quite a large margin. It’s almost as if Marvel doesn’t know what to do with Thor and Hulk, outside of their smaller roles in Avengers films. So, what happens when you take the main characters from Marvel Studios’ worst franchises and smash them together?

Throwing Hulk into a Thor movie is the best thing that has yet to happen for both characters, even more memorable than their appearances in The Avengers films.

Thor: Ragnarok is among the most hilarious films in the MCU, without sacrificing plot or continuity for laughs. That being said, I was expecting more of a laugh out loud affair than Thor: Ragnarok delivers, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the humor can often be more understated and dry than say, a Guardians of the Galaxy film where Drax is discussing the size of his turds.

Thor: Ragnarok finds Thor in a very precarious situation, without his mighty hammer Mjolnir and imprisoned on Sakaar, after his first run in with Hela (Cate Blanchett). As Ragnarok, the foretold destruction of Thor’s homeworld of Asgard, threatens to become a reality, Thor must find a way to escape Sakaar, a literal dump planet ruled over by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who holds gladiatorial contests for his own amusement. Little does Thor know that his first obstacle in finding his way home will be a fight to the death against his old pal and fellow Avenger, The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Thor: Ragnarok is not the best film in the MCU, but it is a huge improvement over the character’s first two films. The old, dramatic formula has been completely thrown out the window, replaced with something more akin to Guardians of the Galaxy in both tone, visuals, and laughs. Chris Hemsworth’s comedic chops are finally put to good use, so even though Thor may not hold the title of strongest Avenger, he has quickly become the funniest Avenger. Taking Thor far away from Earth and Asgard for a majority of the film and leaving him without his hammer is a brilliant move, not unlike taking away Tony Stark’s toys in Iron Man 3, forcing the character to evolve and become more vulnerable, and therefore more relatable than ever before.

Not that the film relies on Thor to bring all the laughs. Jeff Goldblum is perfectly odd, as is his trademark, as Grandmaster, a villain who is more clueless and indulgent than nefarious. Hulk too is at his best in this film, now with the intelligence and vocabulary of a young child, a result of not turning back into Bruce Banner for two years. As always, Tom Hiddleson is fantastic as Loki, though he is unable to steal the show away from Thor, this go around. Even Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who we saw chilling with Thor during the post credits sequence of his solo film and in some of the marketing, is far more amusing than last time we saw him a year ago. Giving Hemsworth his biggest run for his money is director Taika Waititi as Korg, a large, but blunt rock creature with a soft-spoken New Zealand accent and a timid manner.

Other newcomers, such as Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Karl Urban as Skurge shine bright as well, and I would be remiss not to mention how great they are. Valkyrie is easily the most badass female character in superhero films since Black Widow. Meanwhile, Blanchett may not be the best villain the MCU has seen, but she’d make my list of the the top five strongest villains in this universe, mostly because Blanchett seems to be relishing the role just at much as Tom Hiddleson owns the role of Loki.

That leaves Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Idris Elba as Heimdall covering the more serious aspects of the film. While Odin isn’t given as much to do as previous Thor entries, Heimdall finally has something to do, besides watch the Bifrost to Asgard. That being said, Elba still feels wasted in this film. Someone give this man the lead in a DC or Star Wars movie, please!

As with the best entries in the MCU, the director’s fingerprints are all over this film; it’s just as much a Waititi film as a Marvel one, whereas many Marvel films can feel cookie-cutter in a way that swapping a different director in wouldn’t impact the film nearly as much as removing Waititi from Ragnarok. His aforementioned dry and understated style of humor seen previously in What We Do In The Shadows really carries the film, brought to life with perfect timing by Hemsworth and the rest of this amazing cast. Ragnarok is also by far the most ’80s feeling of any Marvel film, right down to the score by Mark Mothersbaugh. Sorry, Guardians of the Galaxy, you’ve been out outgunned in the department of ’80s nostalgia.

Ragnarok is full of  fantastic references and Easter Eggs to other MCU titles, making it perhaps the film most tied to what has come before, aside from Captain America: Civil War. In addition to the first two Thor films, there are major references to both The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, some of the smaller details from all these films are required to get some of the film’s biggest laughs. Ragnarok is very immersed in all areas of the MCU in a way that some recent Marvel films like Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 have not been, even going as far as making a few corrections to errors of continuity that have arisen in the MCU as it has grown to a barely manageable size.

Now, the film’s action sequences can feel a bit tedious at times, and there are far too many of them. The only truly memorable action scene being the gladiatorial match between Thor and Hulk. Though CGI is a necessity for this type of film, it does feel like there is far too much propping up the fight scenes, and not enough good old fashioned stunt work. The plot isn’t the cleanest and can drag a bit at times, and even with its humor, Thor: Ragnarok does feel more like a traditional superhero flick that takes less narrative risks than some of the MCU’s more successful films, as it plays less with mixing genres than Captain America: The Winter Solider or Ant-Man, for example. But, even with these qualms, Ragnarok is entertaining as hell!

Thor: Ragnarok is a triumph, and easily the best film in the Thor franchise, a film that finally seems to understand what makes Hulk and Thor interesting characters. I hope that what was learned is carried over into Avengers: Infinity War, where we will be seeing the funniest and mightiest Avengers next.

Grade: A-

Do you plan on seeing Thor: Ragnarok next weekend? What aspect has you most excited? Let us know in the comment section below!

Thor: Ragnarok lands in theaters on November 3, 2017.

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