Even if they don’t fully utilize them, Marvel is fantastic at bringing talented directors into the spotlight. This time, the spotlight is on Taika Waititi, the New Zealander who blessed us with What We Do in the Shadows and Boy. Regardless of the quality of any given Marvel movie, I always walk away wishing they had given the director more power to fulfill their unique vision. With a few exceptions, Marvel movies firmly land in the “good” category because they don’t take enough risks to go above or below that. For better or for worse, Thor: Ragnarok is the best example of this.
The story is of one Thor Odison (Chris Hemsworth), the mighty Asgardian god of thunder, as he returns home after searching the cosmos for infinite stones (aka the magical items often featured in Marvel movies). Some stuff happens — I will say no more to avoid spoilers — and Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, escapes from imprisonment. She immediately defeats Thor, and he ends up on an alien world, forced to fight as a gladiator.
Thor: Ragnarok exceeds exactly where you’d expect it to: It is exciting, funny and all around enjoyable. Save for some repetitious running jokes, the humor mixes in well with the dialogue and action; the Hulk being the perfect embodiment of this. Every character gets an excellent performance, especially Blanchett. The movie does not give her a lot of time with which to work, but she was captivating and authoritative every time she appeared on screen. Waititi clearly willed all of this into existence. He obviously had a blast playing with the Marvel world and characters because everything is pulled straight from a comic book page, and I couldn’t get enough of his vision.
Then, the movie just stops there; it isn’t much deeper than a comic book page. Only one character goes through any sort of substantial character arch, and you can easily predict it from the moment she is introduced. Nuggets of cool thematic ideas crop up here and there, but way too much time is spent on having fun in the alien-gladiator world. That is absolutely fine when you just want a fun action-comedy, but I expect much more out of Waititi who almost made me cry multiple times with Boy. I’m not looking for anything mind blowing or completely original — I just want some emotional satisfaction as a side dish with my grand, exhilarating adventure.
Bring all of this together and Thor: Ragnarok knows how to entertain and excite but doesn’t manage much heart or authentic emotion. This leaves us with an absolutely excellent Marvel adventure but not a particularly good film. If you, at the very least, see superhero movies as mostly one-watch, disposable blockbusters, then you will absolutely enjoy seeing this in theaters. If you already feel that superhero movies need to go away, this probably won’t change your mind.
*Note: For the love of Odin, do not watch any preview besides the teaser trailer. They give away almost the entire movie.
Vox Rating: VVV