With Marvel Studios, it seems like the third time is the charm.
The third Captain America movie, “Captain America: Civil War,” pitted beloved superheroes against each other in an epic clash of morals and personal feuds, and the third Iron Man movie, “Iron Man 3” was Marvel’s most personal, emotionally charged film to date.
Now, the third Thor film, “Thor: Ragnarok,” has proven that the Marvel superheroes are not just epic and burdened by the weight of the world, but they are funny as well.
At the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Thor leaves Earth for Asgard in search of the powerful supernatural Infinity Stones, and the Hulk goes into hiding. Both characters were notably missing from “Captain America: Civil War,” but they make dramatic returns to the Marvel cinematic universe to fight off Asgard’s greatest threat in the latest Thor film.
The opening scene features Thor dangling from a chain and talking to himself, marking a turn from the conventional seriousness and Asgardian grandeur that often begins films in the Thor franchise. Moments later, Thor fights off a gigantic flaming monster and helicopters with Mjolnir, his hammer, in typical action film fashion. The rest of the movie is hilarious, yet maintains its status as a noteworthy Marvel blockbuster.
Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Thor for the fifth time. The first and second franchise movies failed to find worthy opponents to confront him; instead, in the first film, Thor battled his hubris and in the second, he was blinded by love. While traditionally he has been one of the blandest Avengers, under Taika Waititi’s direction, he breaks free from the shackles that confine his character and is reinvented.
Instead of forcing Thor, a Nordic god, into the human world and belittling his powers, Waititi acknowledges those powers and plays with them.
Thor’s fight scenes are set to classical rock, not dignified orchestral pieces. His hair is shorter and he sports crimson face paint instead of his dramatic crimson cape. This is not the majestic Thor we have seen before — he is new and better.
Marvel took a leap of faith in giving the reins to Waititi, a New Zealand actor-turned-writer-and-director known for small indie films with a $2 million budget, not Hollywood blockbusters with a budget nearly a hundred times larger than that.
But that risk pays off: Waititi brings personality and comedy to a franchise that has grown to epic proportions. Superhero movies usually serve humor as a side dish, but Waititi makes it a centerpiece, and he does so successfully.
That being said, Waititi cannot be given all the credit — the film has a stellar cast.
Hela, played by Cate Blanchett, exiles Thor and Loki to Sakaar, a junk planet on the other side of the universe.
Blanchett is at once sultry and sinister. Though she is the film’s main villain, she plays a small role. Yet, that is exactly what this film needed. Hela is not another all-powerful villain that can only be defeated by Thor and Loki, but rather a villain that will let the movie breathe a little.
Mark Ruffalo delivers a solid performance as Bruce Banner, who is also the Hulk. Thor and Banner are a surprising pair — Thor likes to hammer his way out of situations, while Banner is decidedly gentler, at least when he is not in Hulk form. The classic “odd couple” pairing works and the physical juxtaposition between Hemsworth and Ruffalo is a source of comedy.
No Thor movie would be complete without fan-favorite antihero Loki, played splendidly by Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston and Hemsworth consistently have chemistry in the Thor franchise, and this film is no different. They mix humor with rivalry, which fits in well with their established dynamic.
Waititi’s direction is at its best on the distant planet Sakaar,which is the setting from the film’s most memorable sections, from the tastefully hilarious dialogue between characters to the exhilarating fight sequences atop moving UFOs. On Sakaar, viewers meet Tessa Thompson’s Scrapper 142, a drunken and hilarious collector for the Grandmaster, the eccentric ruler of Sakaar played by Jeff Goldbum.
At its heart, the film is equally hilarious and heroic. Waititi finds the perfect balance: For every epic battle, there is an equally epic joke. The film is exactly what Thor and the Marvel cinematic universe needed, delivering a refreshing reinterpretation of difficult characters who sometimes border on archetypal. To produce more successful films, Marvel should consider bringing back Waititi.