Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Director Taika Waititi has lit a fire in the belly of the THOR franchise with our third trip to Asgard, THOR RAGNAROK. He’s taken a much-maligned series and made it the absurdly hilarious, wildly inventive, thematically engaging actioner we’ve deserved to see all along. This eye-popping spectacle is remarkably dazzling, uproarious and unadulterated fun that exceeds all expectations. In simpler terms, this is the best THOR yet!
Don’t worry about remembering where we left off with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Heimdahl (Idris Elba). The filmmakers will remind you through the expected speech dumps, but in a wonderfully clever, funny manner I’ll refrain from spoiling – except to say it involves some great cameos. Anyways, Asgard and its beloved hero are caught in somewhat of a transitional phase. Thor is still at odds with his mischievous brother and their home is about to be put into jeopardy with a prophesy stating that “Ragnarok” is about commence. This apocalypse is brought to their front door courtesy of the emo, goth Hela (Cate Blanchett), who’s hella bad news for Asgard. However, just as she arrives, Thor and Loki become stranded on a strange planet. They must battle and use their wits to escape and save their home, but not before picking up some reinforcements – like Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
This film lives and breathes in Waititi’s specialized knack for irreverent comedy. It’s so very on-brand with his filmmaking voice. I’m just happy Marvel let him do it. With the exception of one emotional moment in the third act being undercut by a stale joke, scenes aren’t derailed by the humor, but rather take form to build up the characters. Valkyrie’s introduction is one of the best in Marvel’s history, as it mixes the outlandish with the badassery. She’s a subversive Han Solo for the next generation. It’s a genuine delight to see Hopkins, albeit briefly, play into the irreverence. This goes for Blanchett too, who unabashedly channels a heady mix of both a dominating, fearless drag queen and SUPERMAN 2’s Ursa. She’s a dynamic, intimidating villainess with a matching dark wit coursing through her veins. She also brings some slightly campy “Breck Girl” realness to her signature move. Plus, the Grandmaster threatens to walk away with the entire movie as they let Jeff Goldblum play a hilariously heightened version of himself. Here’s where I put in my request for an entire Grandmaster prequel.
Screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost make sure there’s a good balance of laughter and engaging action during the big set pieces, even if (unlike how action is handled so brilliantly in CIVIL WAR) it doesn’t always advance the characters’ inner drives. Unlike most of the movies in the MCU, it’s a notable blessing that the opening scene isn’t a throwaway, loud action sequence primarily guided by acquiring a MacGuffin. It’s earned screen time that’s pivotal to the plot. Character stakes are evident throughout, and fairly efficiently tied together. While it could’ve used a little more gravitas, digging deeper into the relationships, the ways in which they connect are solid. Themes of redemption are prevalent, but interpersonal conflicts fuel the narrative. That said, satisfactory payoffs to a few of these conquests are a bit slight, building to a softer conclusion than warranted.
Javier Aguirresarobe’s cinematography, particularly in the climax, induces goosebumps. Every frame looks like a totally badass painting. Action is photographed coherently, minus visual garbage and distraction. Mayes C. Rubeo’s costume design is aesthetically pleasing and tactile. Her color palette reinforces characteristics of the wearer and also ties a few of the characters together. Mark Mothersbaugh’s warm synths evoke a subtle 80’s nostalgia that’s disarmingly complementary to the visuals. Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” is used twice to great effect, but would have delivered the most impact if saved solely for the climax.
Listen, any slights are easily ignored when you’re having as much fun as you will watching this. It’s a raucous, riotous good time.
THOR: RAGNAROK opens on November 3.