*** ½ out of five stars
Marvel's god of thunder returns for his third solo adventure on the silver screen. And for good measure, that green goliath Hulk is along for the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). With an added emphasis on humor, and primarily cosmic instead of earthbound settings, can Thor go the distance?
Sometime after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) returns home to Asgard to find that brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken control. Thor then takes a reluctant Loki to find their father and Asgard's rightful ruler, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Unfortunately, Odin is at the end of his life, and his passing causes Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, to be freed from a long imprisonment. Hela destroys Thor's signature weapon, the mystical hammer Mjolnir, and proceeds to take over Asgard.
When Thor arrives on Sakaar, he is forced to participate in the Contest of Champions, a gladiator game orchestrated by the planet's defacto ruler, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Much to his surprise, Thor is pitted against his old friend and fellow Avenger, the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Making things even more interesting is the presence of Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson playing a character better known to Marvel fans as Valkyrie), a former Asgardian warrior turned surly, alcoholic bounty hunter employed by the Grandmaster.
While trapped on Sakaar, Thor tries to coerce Hulk and Valkyrie into helping him escape to Asgard and defeat Hela. But Hulk harbors jealously and resentment towards Thor (and the Avengers and humanity in general), while Valkyrie reveals her reasons for abandoning Asgard. Can Thor find a way to prevent the prophesized Ragnarok that threatens to destroy his beloved homeworld?
While not as laugh-out-loud funny or emotionally satisfying as the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Ragnarok uses its motley cast of characters to good effect. Thor and Loki's arcs feel organically extended from previous films, while the inclusion of Hulk allows us to see the two former Avengers play off each other in new ways. Valkyrie also makes an impression as a once-great solider fallen from grace and given a chance for redemption. Skurge (Karl Urban), Hela's reluctant sidekick, provides a good amount of comic relief, as does the Grandmaster and good guy gladiator Korg (director Taika Waititi) in their own ways. The villainess Hela thankfully provides enough menace to give the film drama along with its comedy.
Ragnarok's visuals, however, are perhaps its greatest strength. The special effects and cinematography make the film truly feel like a comic book come to life. We are given visual homages to the works of Jack Kirby (the original artist and co-creator of both Thor and Hulk), Walt Simonson (whose run on Thor is perhaps the most beloved) and others. The Sakaar-based portion of the film also takes heavy inspiration from the fan-favorite “Planet Hulk” storyline.
Thor: Ragnarok is a very fun film that delivers spectacular imagery while still finding some time for character development. It furthers the MCU and the stories of Thor and Hulk and leaves you wanting more. So face front, True Believers, and swing your hammer towards the local theater to see it.