The Thor movies have been the odd franchise out in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They always nailed the relationship between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), but everything surrounding them—the story, the supporting characters, the tone—was always uneven. It was a franchise that seemed to have all the potential in the world, but lacked the direction a character with a clear moral compass like Captain America provides. Rather than try to find a way to make the movie fit neatly in with the rest of the MCU or flesh out what previous Thor films attempted, Marvel has decided to mainline the personality of director Taika Waititi for Thor: Ragnarok. Using the lack of heat on the first two Thor films as a reason to swing for the fences, Ragnarok is out to get laughs at any cost, and it usually succeeds even if it comes at the expense of the past films or Marvel’s usual missteps. But when a movie is as much fun as Ragnarok, it’s hard to complain.
After defeating the fire demon Surtur (Clancy Brown), Thor returns home to Asgard to discover that Loki has been impersonating Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and sent their father to live on Earth. When they go to retrieve Odin, they learn that Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, has been freed from her imprisonment and she plans to bring Ragnarok—the end of all things—to Asgard and eventually the universe. Before they can stop her, the brothers eventually end up on the battle planet of Sakaar. Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who finds fighters for the planet’s charismatic ruler, The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), forces Thor into the arena where he discovers that the reigning champion is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Meanwhile, Hela wreaks havoc back on Asgard with the help of local ruffian Skurge (Karl Urban).
Waititi’s priority for Ragnarok is to put the joke first to the point where we’re left to wonder if Thor was always this funny or if Marvel finally realized that Chris Hemsworth was always this funny. The character has always had room for a joke or two, especially in Joss Whedon’s Avengers movies, but it was primarily about putting his nobility and strength first and then letting Hemsworth’s comic timing come about as an added bonus. Here, Thor is one of the funniest people in the movie, always leaning into the strangeness of his surroundings, and Waititi mostly gets away with putting his voice into Thor’s mouth because A) Hemsworth is this character, so we can buy anything he does; and B) No previous film had defined Thor enough. If Captain America tried to be this silly, it wouldn’t work. He can be flustered, he can be out of touch, but if you try to undermine his strength, you undermine his character.
Thor, who has always been a muscles-first kind of character in the MCU, can easily be mocked because he’s already a larger-than-life figure. Waititi, seeing that he has the lone Avenger who isn’t earthbound, decides to just run with it. For Waititi, it’s more important that Thor be free to be weird and funny than try to figure out a way to give him a compelling arc about learning to be a hero or finding his place in the world. Ragnarok is all about Thor trying to stop Hela and having a wacky time on the way.
It’s a movie that will likely piss off anyone who had affection for the first two Thor movies, and I assure you these people exist. This is a movie where Loki, a sorcerer who’s been alive for over thousands of years, gets outmatched by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). It’s a movie where Jane’s absence is quickly noted and then discarded. It’s a movie where Waititi is more than happy to dismiss or ignore anything that gets in the way of the big, bold colorful picture he’s envisioned, and even he has trouble keeping track of what’s important and what’s not.