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Thor: Ragnarok Breathes New Life Into Old Superheroes

Thor Ragnarok

When we first encounter Thor: Ragnarok’s title character (Chris Hemsworth), he’s trapped in a cage, bored, and unable to do much of anything with his special powers. Fortunately, this situation is quickly resolved and is not at all representative of the film to come, as this proves to be one of Marvel’s most colourful, freewheeling, irreverent, and surprising efforts to date.

Once Thor is out of his cage, his first priority is to head back to Asgard, where his mentally unstable sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), is on the brink of bringing about the long prophesized apocalypse known as Ragnarok. For obvious reasons, this crisis is priority number one, but before Thor can make any meaningful impact, he finds himself stranded on the garbage planet Sakaar.

Quickly captured by a mercenary known as Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson), the God (not Lord) of Thunder is forced to participate in the Contest of Champions, a life-threatening gladiatorial competition overseen by the planet’s corrupt leader, the Grandmaster (hilariously portrayed by Jeff Goldblum). To his surprise, Thor finds himself in battle with his old pal, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), but he quickly realizes that he has a real battle on his hands. If he manages to survive, Thor will have to join forces with his fellow Avenger, break free from the Grandmaster, dodge the constant deceptions of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and deal with the threat posed by the dreaded Hela.

Thor Ragnarok

Not since Neil Marshall’s 2008 futuristic thriller Doomsday (remember that movie?) has a Hollywood movie offered such a diverse grab bag of genre material. Part sword-and-sandal fantasy epic, part superhero-scaled gladiator movie, Thor: Ragnarok filters absurdist comedy through psychedelic sci-fi, emerging as a Marvel movie likely to impress cynics and die-hards alike.

Creating something closer in spirit to the hugely entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 than any other MCU entry, director Taika Waititi bombards the viewer with impressive action, imagery, and humour throughout, while also effortlessly sneaking in the intricate mythology you’ve come to expect from Marvel. Juggling a large cast, Waititi never strands us in one place long enough to lose our interest. In fact, there are so many lively threads in play that the film always pulsates with a rich sense of potential.

Thor Ragnarok

A comedy veteran known for Flight of the Conchords and What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi is no slouch in other areas, but his greatest skill is for vibrant, lighthearted characterization. Breathing new life into Hemsworth’s Thor and Ruffalo’s Hulk (who’s never been more endearing), Waititi also manages to introduce several welcome additions to the MCU, including Goldblum’s Grandmaster, Blanchett’s Hela—arguably the most memorable female character yet seen in this male-heavy universe—and Waititi’s own Korg, an unforgettably quirky rock creature voiced by Waititi.

The director also wisely utilizes the talents of composer Mark Mothersbaugh (the Devo veteran best known for his collaborations with Wes Anderson), who keeps the film refreshingly offbeat and mercifully light on generic heroism. If anything, obsessive fans may take issue with the ways Waititi breaks from convention—he clearly takes the MCU a little less seriously than his predecessors—but for most, this is likely to register as a breath of fresh air.

In the end, Thor: Ragnarok may feel somewhat slight in comparison to Marvel’s more bloated, self-important epics, but its playfully carefree approach is exactly what the MCU needs to thrive in the face of familiarity.

Thor: Ragnarok arrives in theatres tonight. Check out the trailer below.