“Thor: Ragnarok” is the best Marvel movie. Better than “Iron Man.” Better than “The Avengers.” Better than “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Better than “Guardians of the Galaxy.” After four or five years of being completely ambivalent about Marvel Studios and their ridiculously similar, formulaic content, I found myself blasted out of the back of the theater at the awesomeness of the third Thor movie.
One of my biggest gripes about Marvel over the past few years is their attempt at bringing larger-than-life characters into a more realistic realm of existence. Where comic books are collections of over-the-top antics and heroics, only limited by the imagination of the writer and artist, the movies tried to capture that magic in the grey-brown filter of reality. Occasionally, we get more out-of-the-box adaptations, like James Gunn’s excellent, intergalactic “Guardians of the Galaxy” and Scott Derrickson’s mind-bending “Doctor Strange.” However, most Marvel movies are mired by the reality, physics and limitations of real life, both with the action and lucidity. “Thor: Ragnarok” manages to buck the trend with the power and thrust of a rodeo bull on angel dust.
We find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in unfamiliar territory. After learning the truth about his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), he learns he has a sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who turns out to be the Goddess of Death. It is a family fracas that ends up seeing Thor exiled into the outer reaches of the universe without his magical hammer or mojo that makes him the God of Thunder. Fortunately, for the viewer, the standard hero/villain plot is put on hold while Thor and his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), end up on Sakaar. The trash planet has all sorts of crazy lifeforms and is run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Thor is forced into gladitorial combat and meets another familiar face, Hulk (Marc Ruffalo).
“Thor: Ragnarok” is an absolutely mental movie experience that embraces the lunacy of the comics and unleashes it into an exceptional piece of action entertainment. Director Taika Waititi has crafted something epic, with great production and visual design. It is the first Marvel film, for me, to capture the creative limitlessness of comic books. From inspired visual design and cinematography, to massive reality-spanning story, Waititi has created a lush, rich world to be explored. Many Marvel movies achieve quality setup, but, eventually, devolve into clichéd trash. “Thor: Ragnarok” avoids perilous third-act botched landing.
We all know most third acts in Marvel’s cinematic universe consist of dense, mind-numbing action sequences that assault the eyes and ears. Pointless fights like the ends of “Iron Man 2,” “Iron Man 3,” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Marvel likes the big, crowd-pleasing action sequences. The difference with “Thor: Ragnarok” is in the construction and consequences. Yes, actual consequences. The final act of Ragnarok gives us some awesome, well-constructed set-pieces that feel appropriately epic. Waititi also takes a nice, sharp left turn on the corner of Expectations Boulevard by letting our heroes prevail at a great cost. I’ll avoid spoilers, but let me say: This is the first Marvel movie in ages that feels like it has actual character-changing consequences rather than the status-quo button being reset before the next movie is released.
There’s a lot of debate about what makes a good comic-book adaptation. Some say it’s taking source material and adapting it to feel realistic—hence people who cite Raimi’s “Spider-Man” or Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” as the best of this particular genre. But I want movies that capture the absolute mental nature of the comics. Don’t give me watered-down versions of crazy characters. This is Thor. Make it big! Give me a world where anything can and will happen. That’s the genius of “Thor: Ragnarok.” Instead of a more grounded God of Thunder, we’re given an epic intergalactic space opera—like the 21st-century equivalent of “Flash Gordon.”
Sure. The movie isn’t perfect. Some of the comedy feels forced and too frequent. There are times when Chris Hemsworth seems like he just graduated from Sunnydale High after completing Joss Whedon’s School of Sarcastic Zingers and Comedic Timing. Even with minor gripes, it is by far the most epic, fun, over-the-top, ridiculously entertaining movie Marvel Studios has ever produced.