What if Thor and Hulk were roommates? That is just one of many interesting ideas that director Taika Waititi tackles in this latest chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and boy does he have fun exploring them, but of course the biggest question answered is what exactly were Thor and Hulk doing when everyone else was fighting it up in Captain America: Civil War?
Thor: Ragnarok begins with a cold open where we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) locked in a cage and at the supposed mercy of the fire demon Surtur who plans to see the Asgardian realm destroyed in the prophesied Ragnarök. Needless to say Thor is able to kick his and his entire army of minion’s butts, and then everyone’s favorite god of thunder returns to Asgard to confront his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who has been impersonating Odin since the end of Thor: Dark World. Unfortunately the mischievous Loki is the least of Thor’s problems as the two brothers learn that Odin had kept from them the knowledge that they had an older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who Odin (Anthony Hopkins) had imprisoned after her ambitions got out of control.
Hela easily destroys Mjolnir and then in a battle across the Bifröst Bridge both Thor and Loki are torn loose and sent tumbling through space where they soon find themselves on Sakaar, a junk planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who quickly puts Thor to work in a gladiatorial arena. Comic book readers will of course recognize elements of this from the “Planet Hulk” story but due to Universal still owning the rights for standalone Hulk movies this is the best we are going to get, and though this is only a taste of that epic tale it still manages to capture some of the grandeur found in the book and even though it is now more Thor-Centric story we do finally get to see a more intelligent Hulk. These two heroes work beautifully together in what could best be described as a buddy comedy fantasy adventure tale that will keep you in stitches.
Hated on Earth the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) has now found a place where his monstrous power has earned him adulation and respect and has even gained a friend in the form of the beautiful Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who is living on Sakaar as a somewhat drunken obtainer of fighters for the Grandmaster, but then his old Avenger pal shows up to rain on his parade. When Thor wants the Hulk’s help in escaping Sakaar and to join him on his mission to defeat Hela the big green giant is less than enthusiastic, in fact he’s acts very much like a petulant child who doesn’t want to go to school.
It’s the dynamic between Thor and Hulk, and then later Thor and Banner, which is at the center of much of the film’s comedy making this the funniest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the film is much more than a laugh fest as we also get a somewhat resolved Thor/Loki conflict as we get hints as to what these once inseparable brothers were like growing up and whether a person’s nature can change to find redemption. The chemistry between Hemsworth and Hiddleston is pitch perfect and is a nice counterpoint to the relationship between Hulk and Thor where in the Loki/Thor relationship Loki would be the brains to Thor’s brawn but then nicely reversed when Thor finds himself needing the incredible Hulk who is no long limited to “Hulk Smash!” comments as his vocabulary is expanded to a degree closer to what we got in the Peter David run of the comics.
This is not to say there isn’t a helluva lot of Hulk smashing going on in Thor: Ragnarok because when fists go flying they really go flying and the arena fight between Thor and the Hulk is as spectacular as one could hope to imagine when seeing a contest between an all-powerful monster and a warrior god. These two have always been the heavy hitters among the Avengers but have mostly been relegated to second banana status but here the two are allowed to shine in both action and in comedy.
The cast across the board all bring their best to the project with Cate Blanchet relishing every moment of screen time as the first female villain in the franchise (Scarlett Witch not withstanding) who completely dominates her scenes with Hemsworth and Hiddleston and is clearly having a blast with the role of “Goddess of Death” not to mention easily winning the best dressed villain award hands down. Then there is Karl Urban as Skurge the reluctant executioner who sides with Hela because he’s not all that keen on being brutally murdered and works mostly as a comic relief expository device. We get another unforgettable performance by Jeff Goldblum, who is at his Goldblumiest to date, as this crazed despotic ruler who steals every scene he’s in, and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie manages to pull off being funny as a drunken broken Asgardian but also as a credible threat to the villainous Hela.
If anything negative can be said about this film is that there is almost too much going on for one movie as you could have easily filled a two hour plus movie on the “Planet Hulk” storyline alone yet director Taika Waititi not only has to create and show us a whole new world and society but he has to cut away from it from time to time to show us how Hela and her overthrowing of Asgard is doing, not to mention more screen time with her hunting down Heimdall (Idris Elba) and the sword that activates the Bifröst Bridge which would open all the realms to her goal of conquest. It just goes to show you how engaging and fun Cate Blanchett is in this role that whenever the film cuts away from the cool stuff with Thor, Hulk and Valkyrie we aren’t immediately annoyed, but damn does she deserves her own movie.
Thor: Ragnarok may be the 17th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but I’d honestly say this one feels most like a comic book brought to life than any of the previous ones; the action is larger than life, the fantasy elements are everything you could expect and more, and then you get random characters from other comic books making appearances as they would in any crossover, what more could a Marvel fanboy want?
Of course what makes this film open to more than comic book nerds is that the humor is not forced or cheesy but organic comes out of the situation, and this was all brought about by Taika Waititi allowing about 80% of the dialog to be improvised which shows his faith in his actors and the characters they helped create over the span this franchise, it also shows Marvel Entertainment’s faith in the directors they choose and in letting them fulfill their vision and not become a cookie cutter hired gun. In conclusion if you are in the mood for comic book mayhem and laugh out loud antics this is the film for you as it is an hilarious madcap adventure film that will entertain the whole family.
• Doctor Strange is not someone you’d like be on the bad side of.
• We get to experience just what an evil Galadriel would be like.
• Now that we’ve seen how well an evil female villain can be handled how about we get The Enchantress next?
• The Hulk may be physically stronger than Thor but the thunder god is easily the better fighter.
• Director Taika Waititi also plays a rocklike gladiator and has some of the best lines in the movie.
• Naked Hulk…yikes!
• We get a throwaway line about how once Loki turned Thor into a frog, a nice reference to the Walter Simonson story where the god of thunder was trapped in the body of a frog.