Thor: Ragnarok is the third stand-alone Thor movie. In this film, Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) journey extends far further into the galaxy than ever before, when he is stranded on Sakaar and forced into a gladiatorial battle with Avengers comrade The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Joined by fan favorites, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Heimdall (Idris Elba), and impressive newbie, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Thor must save his home, and the universe, from the all-powerful Hela (Cate Blanchett).
Thor is finally the star of his own show: The previous installments of the Thor franchise have massively let down their titular character. Despite the best efforts of Chris Hemsworth, who has always been effortlessly charming and likable in the role, Thor has never really shone in the way Marvel's other superheroes do. While generally likable as a character, Thor has always been rather forgettable. I attribute this largely to the over-the-top Shakespearean dialogue of the previous films, and the attempts to portray the untouchable mystique of this God-like superhero. In Ragnarok, we say goodbye to Shakespeare, and hello to quirky comedy, the wonders of improvisational dialogue, and a Thor who refuses to fade into the background of his own movie. Without the Shakespearean dialogue distancing us from the characters in this movie, Thor becomes less God-like and more human; with jokes about his hair, his disguises, and his breakup with Jane that add up to a far goofier, far more lovable, and far more interesting hero. Chris Hemsworth gets to show off his impressive comedic chops, with some excellent improvisation, particularly in dialogue with Taika Waititi's Korg. And Thor finally becoming a superhero worthy of his own movies doesn't at all mitigate the importance of and interest in every other character in this film. Much fan excitement greeted the news that Mark Ruffalo would be joining Hemsworth in for Ragnarok, and he does not disappoint. While Ruffalo has always been popular in The Avengers installments, it's refreshing to see him in this much looser, lighter film. Without taking anything away from his character's development, this movie has given him the freedom to play around and have a bit of fun with Bruce Banner and The Hulk. Loki finally gets released from the role of purely evil villain and begins to resemble the Loki of Norse legend, chaotic, mischievous, but neutral. Tessa Thompson is brilliant, and I can't wait to see more of her, while Jeff Goldblum essentially plays an exaggerated version of himself to hilarious effect. While this film is missing most of the characters from the first two, it's really hard to feel the loss.
The Marvel comedy we needed: While Marvel is generally known for its quippy one-liners, and its ability to add light touches to darker narratives, they've really let loose with Thor: Ragnarok. The stand-alone Thor franchise has arguably always been the more playful of The Avengers stand-alone films, but the addition of Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) as director has given Marvel the opportunity to embrace this light-heartedness wholeheartedly. Ragnarok shifts tonally into something more like Guardians of the Galaxy, which fits it into the wider Marvel universe more than the Thor franchise has ever fit before, but also lends it an edgier, quirkier quality. In all honesty, on paper Thor: Ragnarok would probably feel like a convoluted mess. It's a series of fights, brawls, jokes, escapes, space travel, and introductions to new characters that shouldn't work, but somehow does. Maybe because all of the characters serve a purpose in the film, maybe because it's been packaged as a rowdy comedy with added superhero theatrics and delivers exactly what it says it will, maybe it's because fans just can't get enough of the unlikely show-stealer, Korg. Ragnarok takes the wittiness we've come to expect of every Marvel movie and multiplied it by 1000, and it's really, really funny. Literally a laugh-a-minute. I'd also recommend that readers in the Southern hemisphere look out for hidden nuggets of Australian and New Zealand references, it'll make your day when you find them.
A decent villain?: Has Marvel broken its curse of boring villains with Thor: Ragnarok? Well, no, unfortunately, not really. While there's no question that Cate Blanchett is an actual goddess, Hela is still an inescapably boring villain. Thor: Ragnarok certainly gives Hela a more credible background than most of Marvel's other villains: Odin (Winner of Asgard's Best Dad three years in a row) did banish her from a throne that was rightfully hers, and she's just taking it back. She's also all-powerful and able to give both Thor and Loki a run for their money, which should be all we need to make her an interesting, engaging villain. But, she needed to be more complicated and more sympathetic; maybe, her connection to both Thor and Loki could have been explored more. Although she's better, and a more credible villain than Thor: The Dark World's dark elf, she's still just kind of 'meh'.