REVIEW: Taika Waititi Tries To Breathe New Life Into A Tired Formula With 'Thor: Ragnarock'

       Let’s just collectively face it, shall we? Thor has never been anyone’s favorite character in the MCU. I feel confident enough to bet money on that and I believe the folks at Disney have heard the grumblings and complaints following Thor’s first two outings. This is where Taika Waititi comes in. The director from New Zealand who has previously done much smaller scale comedies was tasked with creating a pseudo-reboot for the mighty Norse god that felt significantly different from anything he’s thrown a hammer at previously and he delivered ‘Thor: Ragnarock’. 

       ’T:R’ follows Thor as he attempts to track down his father Odin, gets trapped on a gladiatorial garbage planet and must escape to stop the villainous Hela from destroying Asgard. Along the way he assembles a rag-tag group of allies including Hulk, his treacherous brother Loki and MCU newcomer Valkyrie. The overall plot here in ’T:R’ is only as necessary as any movie’s plot has to be. The real point of this flick is to show off the completely unfair (I mean, come on, look at the guy) comedic timing of Chris Hemsworth while injecting some overdue fun and color into the Thor franchise. 

       The marketing materials immediately showed audiences that this would be a radically different Thor flick, and radical it is. Waititi has assembled an 80s glam metal fueled, acid-trip inducing colorful romp with ‘Ragnarock’, whose closest kin would be the ‘Guardians’ movies from James Gunn. From altering Thor’s haircut with a somewhat decent in-universe reason to leaning into the already colorful Rainbow Bridge of Asgard, Waititi and crew look to course correct from Alan Taylor’s ‘Thor: The Dark World’ that certainly lived up to its name. 

       All of the work done visually would be for not if the cast didn't show up to play, and play they do. From the franchise regulars of Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston to the newcomers of Tessa Thompson and Jeff Goldblum, everyone delivers charm, humor and visceral fun in equal measures. Thompson’s portrayal of Valkyrie as a heavy-drinking warrior woman running from her past somehow betrays that description as a worthy counterpart to Thor in both laughs and ass-kickery. Goldblum does his best to steal his show basically portraying The Grandmaster exactly as I hope Jeff Goldblum is in real life. Someone who can be spinning records on a floating DJ station one minute to threatening to kill someone with a melting stick the next. All of these actors are perhaps bested by Cate Blanchett who does her best to steal the show with another lacking Marvel villain in Hela. From the way that Hela slicks her hair back to magically put on her crown to the way she moves through a room as though she were strutting down a NY Fashion Week runway, Blanchett chews up every bit of scenery and spits it out with a delicious goth ferocity that is only betrayed by the script she is given. 

       Everything positive I’ve said thus far is absolutely true and earned but Waititi doesn’t completely break the mold of the MCU flick. While Hiddleston is great here as Loki, he yet again plays the same role. The tricky sonofabitch brother who at one point is on Thor's side only to betray him again and then end up being a kinda sorta good guy in the end? I couldn’t really tell you. And then there’s Hela. Oh, how close this was to being so so good. Blanchett absolutely kills it with what she's given but she is just another tally on the wall of villains with vague motivations and convenient powers and allegiances. To make matters worse, Hela tries to bring Skurge (Karl Urban) down with her as another fun villain who is ultimately underused and undefined. 

       ‘Thor: Ragnarock’ ultimately plays out as another episode in the long-running MCU television show which is exactly what Marvel and Disney want. Thankfully for audiences, this one plays out like more of a quirky bottle episode that was crafted together by an off-the-wall director who had something interesting to say. Waititi successfully breathes some new life and personality into a somewhat tired formula and more importantly, shows that the MCU may have some wiggle room for future installments. Here’s to hoping that's true.