Comics on Film: Marvel Favors Much More Fun in 'Thor: Ragnarok'

Comics on Film: Marvel Favors Much More Fun in 'Thor: Ragnarok'

Nov 03, 2017

If any primary member of the Avengers has had something of a winding road in their cinematic adaptations – well, outside of the Hulk, at least – it's likely Thor, the God of Thunder. While his original 2011 film directed by Kenneth Branagh was the exact kind of scope expansion the Marvel Cinematic Universe needed in order to be the first major "extension" beyond the original two Iron Man films, it was the original outing that showed us Thor's journey of self-discovery in regaining Mjolnir and his position in Asgard.

In 2013, though, director Alan Taylor's Thor: The Dark World arguably proved to be the most unimpressive sequel in the entirety of the MCU by that point. A self-conflicting tone, a forgettable villain, and an over-reliance on visual effects all culminated in a film that didn't manage to impress nearly as much as Thor's original outing, or his team-building exercise in the first Avengers film.
 
Now, after the balloon of the MCU has been blown up even further by the likes of films like both Guardians of the Galaxy efforts and Doctor Strange, Thor returns to the big screen this weekend in a landscape that has been fundamentally altered for the shared universe he occupies. So, does a new director, a promised team-up with a major Avenger, and the promise of a unique and engaging villain make up for The Dark World's relative misstep?
 
Absolutely. It's not even a question, really.
 
 
While some moviegoers and Marvel fans may be somewhat put off in the early going by the relative casual tone that the movie pushes forward, it becomes very easy to surrender to the experience that director Taika Waititi champions in his first big budget comic book blockbuster. Fans of his previous work will certainly notice a continuity of craftsmanship compared with previous efforts of his like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (while also bringing along some cast members from the latter).
 
As a comic book fan, it's easy to gravitate towards the tone of regality that often comes with stories featuring Thor and Asgard, and while that is an overall concession in this film, Waititi and his cast do an excellent job of giving significant scale to many of the events and locales, particularly as the film winds down to its thrilling conclusion. Chris Hemsworth's return as the God of Thunder is a very welcome one, and it seems that he's feeling perhaps more at home in his role than he has in previous solo entries.
 
Other returning cast members from previous Thor and MCU films include a reasonably substantial role for Tom Hiddleston as Loki, an awesome heroic showcase for Idris Elba as Heimdall, and a brief but consequential return from Anthony Hopkins as Odin, the Allfather. Benedict Cumberbatch returns briefly as Doctor Strange, his first substantive MCU appearance since his own film from a year ago. The biggest MCU return, though, is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/the Hulk, with a central location and the Hulk's inclusion serving as something of a distillation of the Planet Hulk story from the comics being melded with the primary events depicted in Ragnarok.
 
 
The true show-stealers here, though, are arguably the newest cast members, led by Cate Blanchett as the primary antagonist, Hela. With a rich comic book history as a formidable adversary in the Marvel Comics Universe, Hela's transition to film makes for, arguably, one of the best villains utilized in the MCU up to this point, largely because her goal is so clear and her performance is so magnetic. Actress Tessa Thompson also impresses significantly as Valkyrie as a true and capable (eventual) fellow hero for Thor, while Karl Urban's turn as Skurge doesn't disappoint either. Waititi also turns in a vocal performance that's often riotous, while Jeff Goldblum is...well, he's Jeff Goldblum. So he's pretty great by default.
 
As one of the final stops before we hit Avengers: Infinity War next year, Thor: Ragnarok is just as action-packed as it is immensely fun. While the Thor sub-series within the MCU can definitely be categorized as tonally disjointed, the third solo outing for the God of Thunder will definitely be a contender for the most memorable Thor film produced, and certainly continues a trend of overall positivity fans have enjoyed throughout the entirety of Phase Three. It's a great way to kick off the end-of-year blockbuster season, and has also introduced a fair amount of concepts and characters into the universe's fabric as we prepare to meet up with the Avengers — and everyone else — next summer.
 
Chances are, Thor: Ragnarok will be a movie to beat when it comes to a discussion about best films featuring a core Avenger, and with Taika Waititi definitively putting his own very positive stamp on comic book cinema, it's absolutely a movie that needs to be seen to be believed. The best part is that you'll have a blast at the same time.

Chris Clow is a comic book expert and former retailer, and a writer with work having appeared in the Huffington Post, Fandango and others. He also hosts the podcasts Discovery Debrief: A Star Trek Podcast and Comics on Consoles. You can find his weekly Comics on Film column every week here at Movies.com, and you can follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Features, Geek, Reviews, Editorials
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