Chris Hemsworth is hilarious. Anyone who has halfway been paying attention to Chris Hemsworth knows this, but yet so many movies haven’t taken advantage of this fact, often casting him only as the buff and noble hero that will lead his followers to victory. A great warrior! But, in reality, Hemsworth just has excellent comedic timing. Yes, people are starting to catch on, most notably in last summer’s Ghostbusters reboot. But don’t sleep on Hemsworth in the Vacation reboot, either. It’s true, not many people like this movie, but do yourself a favor and just watch the 20 minutes or so that Hemsworth is in it. He’s a riot. And there’s a recurring joke about faucets I couldn’t even begin to describe. (In the meantime, you can watch Hemsworth ironically doing a skateboard trick.)
Look, there are funny moments in the previous two Thor movies, but not as many as you might remember. Yes, it’s amusing when Thor demands a horse at a pet store in the first film, but for the most part the first two films in the Thor series play it fairly straight, with a few moments of humor peppered in because it’s impossible for Chris Hemsworth not to be funny. What you’re probably remembering more are the Avengers movies, where Hemsworth’s pompous Thor comes off as pretty funny when teamed with the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson. It’s in these interactions that we started to realize, hey, Thor is pretty funny. And this is especially true in Avengers: Age of Ultron (which has strangely gotten a bad rap over the last two years) when Thor watches Steve Rogers actually, sort of nudge his hammer a bit.
It’s kind of crazy Marvel made a Thor movie so early in its Cinematic Universe in the first place. Think of the other films in Phase One: Two movies about a guy who builds an armored suit, a movie about a person exposed to radiation that turns him into a monster, and a story about a soldier given a “super serum” that makes him strong. All of these premises are a bit ridiculous, but they all have a way of being at least on the “possible” spectrum of our built-in “nonsense” meters. They are all on the outermost edges of possible, but there’s something that feels at least feels somewhat grounded about it all, even though it’s not. Thor is not grounded. Thor is a space alien god. Thor makes little to no sense being around those other characters.
Which is why the first two Thor movies now seem both a chore to rewatch and at the same time minor miracles that they are watchable at all. Trying to fit a solo Thor movie into the greater Marvel universe should be an impossible task.
Enter: Taika Waititi.
I really can’t get a read on how familiar the average person is with his films. Most people seem to be familiar with What We Do in the Shadows, but I’m not convinced that many people have seen it. (Though you should.) The same goes of last year’s indie darling Hunt for the Wilderpeople. (You should see that, too.) But Waititi’s humor is so dry and subtle and weird, it’s perfect for Chris Hemsworth. And it’s the perfect type of humor for a Thor movie. If the problem before was how do these Thor films fit in with the greater MCU, Waititi’s solution seems to be, “I don’t care.” And by just doing his own thing, Thor: Ragnarok somehow fits in better to the greater scheme of things than the prior two installments. It’s like a magic trick. I have no idea how Waititi did it and I kind of don’t want to know, I’d rather sit here and just be dazzled.
We haven’t seen Thor in a while. He wasn’t part of Civil War and the last time we saw him (other than a quick post-credit Doctor Strange appearance) was way back in Age of Ultron. Turns out, Thor has been scouring the galaxy for stray Infinity Stones but got himself captured by Surtur, a fiery demon beast who boasts about the upcoming end of Thor’s home world, Asgard, in the upcoming event knows as Ragnarok.
Eventually escaping, Thor returns to Asgard to find that Loki (Tom Hiddleston), disguised as Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is running the show. And it’s not that bad, as Loki-as-Odin just likes lying around and being worshiped by his followers. At least, not that bad in comparison to what’s coming: Thor and Loki’s sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett) is returning from banishment to take her place as ruler of Asgard. Also, she is not in any way “nice.” During a battle with Hela, both Thor and Loki are thrown into space, randomly landing on the planet Sakaar, a sort of junkyard of the galaxy.
It’s here we meet Jeff Goldblum’s The Grandmaster. What a delight. Waititi just lets Goldblum go full Goldblum and it’s everything you expect it to be and more. The Grandmaster enjoys “to the death” gladiator matches, and soon pits the newly captured Thor (Loki having weaseled his way into a friendship with The Grandmaster because of course he did) against Hulk, who also somehow wound up on this planet after Age of Ultron and hasn’t been Bruce Banner since the events of that movie.
We get a lot of Hulk in this movie. Maybe even more Hulk than in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk movie. And this is now a Hulk who can kind of, sort of complete sentences and interact with other characters. He’s fun! And even though Marvel isn’t allowed to make a true Hulk movie (Universal owns the solo movie rights), I could totally watch a full movie of this Hulk and be satisfied, even though I don’t particularly enjoy the previous Hulk movie or the Ang Lee version. (And, don’t worry, we get a lot of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. But I’m open to the fact that less is more. Maybe we’ve gotten so little Hulk lately, it makes us really cherish what we do get.)
Eventually, Thor and Banner and Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson, a former Asgardian who now hunts for contestants for The Grandmaster in exchange for bounty) eventually all team up, leading us on a crazy journey in the hopes of getting back to Asgard to fight Hela.
There is a lot going on here. And if this were played completely straight, it’s quite possible that this movie would be a jumbled mess. But Hemsworth’s Thor just moves through it with a wink and a smile and a lot of awkward moments that almost make Thor: Ragnarok a full-on comedy. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed this hard during another Marvel movie and there are a lot of funny moments in other Marvel movies. Here’s a small example: there’s a scene in which Thor appears behind Valkyire as kind of a “hey hey, surprise!” moment and starts to deliver a cocky monologue about his plan. Thor thinks the shelves next to him have a place to rest his elbow so that he can do a cool “lean” as he speaks. But there is no ledge, so Thor’s elbow just kind of keeps awkwardly falling to his side as he leans until Thor just finally gives up on looking cool. The tone of the whole movie is like this and it’s wonderful.
Thor: Ragnarok is by far the most unusual of the Marvel movies – a crazy, colorful, ambitious, hilarious ride through the cosmos – even surpassing the Guardians of the Galaxy movies as the former holder of that title. And it’s by far the funniest. It’s not even a question that Thor: Ragnarok is the best of the Thor movies and it’s certainly up there as far as the best in the MCU. Who knew a Thor movie could be this wonderful? I guess Taika Waititi did. And please let Taika Waititi make whatever other movies he wants from now on.
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