If you spend a good part of your time watching movies, you know as well as I do that trilogies, for the most part, often suck. That's not to say that there aren't fire sequels to amazing films (Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight immediately spring to mind), but for every immaculate second film in a three-film series, we're often made to suffer through a lesser-quality follow-up to the origin story like Thor: Dark World. Aside from Avengers: Age of Ultron and the third Iron Man film, the Thor movies have been a sore spots in Marvel's Cinematic Universe, but because the MCU has no clear end in sight, you knew that the Norse God-turnt-Avenger was getting a third solo outing. And I'd be fine with you ho-humming when Thor: Ragnarok was initially announced... that is until that first teaser trailer was released.
It was like Thor got remixed by the Guardians of the Galaxy, but that tone felt right for this epic which marries the Ragnarok prophecy (which essentially spells the end of the Asgardians) from the comics with the same self-aware humor that ran through the Taiki Watiti-directed mockmentary about Thor's time during Captain America: Civil War. It's a formula that Marvel's been owning since Tony Stark first stepped on screen in 2008 with all of the quick-witted punchlines and needle drops of the Iron Man series. It's worked wonders for both Guardians films and even this summer's box office smash Spider-Man: Homecoming. Marvel must have seen Watiti's track record, wisely mixed it with the quirk of the Guardians series, and churned out a bright, intergalactic tale that single-handedly elevated Thor's franchise from being the weakest link in the MCU's chain to its shiniest.
Ragnarok picks up where Dark World left off: Loki's plot to masquerade as Odin has Asgard fooled...that is until Thor, who has been traveling the cosmos, finally returns home. After unmasking his brother, Thor follows Loki back to Earth to track down the real Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins). Along the way they come across Doctor Strange who offers to help just as a way to get Loki off the planet. During their brief family reunion with dear old dad, the Asgardian brothers become aware of the Ragnarok prophecy and get introduced to Hela the Goddess of Death, who wants nothing more than to see Asgard burn. After a brief scuffle with the new villainess—played masterfully by Cate Blanchett—Thor and Loki wind up stranded on a far away planet, encountering a battleworld straight out of Planet Hulk that, yes, features the Hulk as the big bad brute in the comics. The God of Thunder and the Big Green Guy trade blows for a few frames before squashing the beef and refocus on figuring out a way to squad up as the "Revengers" and take out the threat to Asgard before it's too late. It's one of those relatively simple plots, but in Watiti's hands it becomes a dizzying array of BIG action sequences, intergalactic mayhem, and jokes on jokes on jokes. It's the Thor film that, in a perfect world, would have been better off starting the series rather than ending it.
Watiti's work behind the camera (and as the voice of one of the more impressive characters, Korg) is what makes Ragnarok shine bright; but the talented cast does a lot to make this film sing as well. Chris Hemsworth has the Norse god's beats down pat, as he turn the franchise on its ear from the opening scene, breathing much more humor into his performance without losing the protective side of the Odinson. Tom Hiddleston's Loki is on point as usual as the MCU's top-tier villain. Cate Blanchett is already a star, but it would appear that she added the perfect blend of winking wit to her sinister take on Hela, who, sadly, feels like an afterthought at certain points in this story. That triumvirate of Norse titans satisfies the need to ground the film with the source material, but the addition of Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk/Bruce Banner), and Jeff Goldblum (The Grandmaster) elevates the story to new heights.
Thompson, who is a joy to watch in anything she's in, owns the role of Asgardian warrior woman Valkyrie. She brings the same sexy, badass vibe as Michelle Rodriguez in the Fast & Furious films, while still being vulnerable as Valkyrie battles her own past demons. Ruffalo's Hulk gets loads of screen time, further developing the pseudo Hulk movie that Marvel has to weave into these existing franchises, because Paramount. Sure, they had to course correct bits of Age of Ultron to make Hulk's inclusion in this film make sense, but being able to hear Hulk form whole sentences AND get Dr. Banner on-screen was a win-win. The real treat, though, is Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster, who runs the planet that Hulk, Thor, and company are stuck on. To the surprise of no one who's heard him speak, Goldblum's performance contains loads of improv, which makes an already funny movie even more hilarious.
Should Ragnarok be brought upon Hollywood for their incessant use of sequels? It's possible, but when you get extremely-awesome movies like Thor: Ragnarok out of a too tired Thor series, I'd chill on that talk, at least for the time being. With Marvel purposefully riding the wave of heroic films that have their own identities and aren't afraid to crack jokes, you get the sense that they are nailing the stride of, say, Jason Aaron's run on the Thor/Loki/Asgard comic book series Journey Into Mystery. Essentially, as long as you keep the mythology intact, you can add in whatever dashes of humor insanity to the mix. No shade to the darker tones in Fox's superhero material or the early DC films, but Marvel's positioned itself as being the studio that will bring the raucously great times to the box office.
Before Thor: Ragnarok, I wasn't checking for another Thor film. Post-Ragnarok, you can give me as many Thor sequels as you want...just make sure Taika Watiti is at the helm, and Tessa Thompson is (drunkenly) lurking somewhere on-screen.