Cate Blanchett: winner of two Academy Awards and nominee for four others. Anthony Hopkins: winner of an Academy Award and nominee for three others. Mark Ruffalo: three-time Oscar nominee. Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba: Golden Globe winners. One would expect to see all these talented actors in a new production of Hamlet, or maybe a Jane Austen screen adaptation, or a rousing episode of Masterpiece Theater. Or perhaps Thor: Ragnorak. What?
While comic book film adaptations will never be timeless works of art, Thor: Ragnorak proves that they can be clever and entertaining.
Yes, a who’s who of British thespians and the current best American actor named Mark convened in, of all places, the Marvel Comics universe. All the actors mentioned above have starred in high-profile projects, but all made their names in non-blockbuster roles and carved a niche in the art house scene. While their appearance in Thor may seem like a waste of talent to some, it does speak to the Marvel writers’ abilities to craft smart dialogue that outshines all action scenes. While comic book film adaptations will never be timeless works of art, Thor: Ragnorak proves that they can be clever and entertaining.
In this third installment of the Thor franchise, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) seeks to save his home planet of Asgard after the death of his father Odin (Hopkins) yields the return of Thor’s older sister, Hela (Blanchett), the goddess of death. Proclaiming herself the heir to the throne, Hela returns from banishment to control her home planet.
She quickly dispatches Thor and adopted brother Loki (Hiddleston), sending them to Sakaar. Thor finds himself forced into a gladiator tournament and fight against a foe who turns out to be his Avenger buddy Hulk, though Hulk can’t remember who Thor is. Thor slowly tries to assemble allies, including Hulk and Thor’s captor, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a former Asgardian with a history with Hela. All the while, Thor continues to navigate his prickly relationship with Loki, who toggles between devious and helpful.
The first two Thor installments dragged a bit, partly because they took themselves too seriously. Thor, the god of thunder, was a brute with a large hammer but little wit. Chris Hemsworth, who returns as the title character, is truly enjoying himself this go-around. Whether he is trying to reason with the Hulk (Ruffalo), figure out the mannerisms of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, another Oscar nominee), or charm his way out of death, Thor comes across much more human than deity, and that plays in the movie’s favor.
This is by far the best Thor movie (in fact, feel free to skip the other two and jump straight to the third), and it continues a strong 18-month run of Marvel films that included the third—and best—Captain America film, a more cerebral superhero in Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and now Thor (as well as one letdown, Guardians of the Galaxy 2).
Thor also shares its missteps with other Marvel movies. The opening action sequence—much like the one in Guardians 2 and Captain America—is gratuitously and unnecessarily vicious. Action may be the calling card of comic book adaptations, but it has become the least interesting aspect. Marvel excels because it showcases characters who show flaws and struggle with choices that straddle good and evil. Captain America, Guardians, and Thor all feature ongoing story lines with friends or relatives who are presented as bad seeds that the heroes find worth saving. That is far more interesting than watching people, buildings, and cities explode over and over (and over).
Thor won’t convert any Marvel naysayers. It is, while witty, still a blockbuster comic book adaptation. Those who like the genre, however, will find it entertaining. The script is strong enough to keep an audience’s attention—and attract some of the top actors today.
3 out of 4 stars. Rated PG-13 for action, violence, and intensity.
All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.