Not a simple feat, but kudos to director Taika Waititi for bringing us not only the best film of the Thor franchise but also one of the best entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thor: Ragnorak was a superhero space/fantasy that effectively weaved the current wave of 80s nostalgia, from the homage to the old school Star Wars trilogy to the retro electronica and cyberpunk synthesiser beats, into the current fabric of technology-enabled, explosion of colours, sounds and CGI effects. It was not only a rollickingly exciting and fun ride, but it was also downright funny with many laugh out loud moments and excellent comedic beats by everybody in the cast. Perhaps, the weakest part of the film was the plot, and not surprisingly, the villain. The basic storyline was thin, basic and stretched out to fill the spectacle, but at least in this case, the fillers more than made it up to distract from the A-plot.
Finally, since Joss Whedon and the first two Avengers, Marvel has got writers – Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost – who understand banter; not only good, naturalistic banter but also funny ones. And although there were a number of clunky lines, most of which were to underscore dramatic moments, they did not induce too much eye-rolling only because the delivery (mostly) by Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddlestone, Jeff Goldblum and the treasure that is Cate Blanchett, was deliciously campy and they sold it for all its hammy over-the-topness.
From the get go, Waititi established the tone of the film and we know this was not going to be like the dreary, bleak and gloomy Thor: The Dark World, but will be more like James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. And the result was even better. Waititi brilliantly balanced the comic with the drama, the funny with the action and he managed to get such good reaction shots from all the cast members. A supercut needs to be done! The blooper reel for this will be one hell of a laugh riot!
On the other hand, Waititi’s pacing of the film could have been be a bit tighter especially in the slightly bloated second act. Beyond the spectacle of the gladiator fight between Thor and <spoiler alert> Hulk </end spoiler>, the time spent in Sakaar did not justify how much we ended up knowing about it. In other words, if the audience were to spend almost half to two-thirds of the running time in a new world, more could have been to establish the world. Not even Goldblum could ham it up sufficiently enough to obfuscate the fact that Thor would eventually, somehow, get the upper hand. And there was only that much petulant Hulk one can tolerate before he gets annoying like every other petulant child on screen ever.
Similarly, we all know that Blanchett's Hela will eventually get defeated, but it is the how that we are interested in. And although getting to the final showdown was exciting, the actual climatic fight was just way too brief.
In the same vein, although Hela had a proper backstory with a clearer sense of purpose and villainy, her scenes were also one of the weakest mainly because Blanchett did not have much of a worthy opponent to work against. Instead, she was saddled with exposition, but hey, at least she looked great - that hair! that makeup! and she has got lipstick! - and gamely camped it up although her accent was distractingly inconsistent.
Hemsworth has really grown into his role as Thor. And by "Hemsworth" I mean Chris, not Luke, who has a cameo as an Asgardian actor playing "Thor" (with Matt Damon as "Loki" - priceless!). Anyways, Hemsworth definitely has the comic chops - also evident in his scene-stealing role in Ghostbusters - and Waititi used it here to great effect. The writers and Waititi have found Thor's voice from Whedon in The Avengers and brought it out to the fore. Not only that, Hemsworth also has a gift for physical comedy and that coupled with his comedic timing, really brought the funs, laughs and levity to the film - and the MCU franchise.
Hiddlestone, on the other hand, needs a new schtick. His version of Loki is finally getting stale. However, he gives damn good reaction shots. As an actor, Hiddlestone has not been getting much of a showcase.
Blanchett, as mentioned above, is a treasure and she elevates the simply-sketched Hela just by being her. A pity she was not given more scenaries to chew. Instead, we have Goldblum who gleefully chewed his way through every moment. Even in the end-credits scene.
Tessa Thompson was a valuable addition to the MCU and she exuded verve and sass as she banter and battle.
Mark Ruffalo was also similarly lots of fun, although his Banner/Hulk was shortchanged narrative-wise. Not unexpected since this was a Thor film and not The Incredible Hulk. But it would be very interesting to find out more what happened to them since the end of Ultron.
Benedict Cumberbatch has an extended cameo and served to mainly tie up the various Marvel universes together. A pity his cloak did not get a role. Fellow brit, Idris Elba also had less of a role here other than to act as deus ex machina-like plot device.
The score was by Mark Mothersbaugh and Marvel may have finally got a score that was memorable (not a soundtrack a la GOTG) and also a possible ear worm for the franchise.
The 3D effects were quite well done, but not entirely needed. Similarly, watching on IMAX was just for the pure fun of a BIG screen and BIG sound. As per usual, we have a mid-credits scene which undoubtedly is setting up for Avengers: Infinity War and a end-credits scene (as hinted above).
Thor: Ragnarok has set a new benchmark for the MCU (and superhero films) and will be a tough act to follow. It managed to reintroduce - and rehabilitate - an established character and even improve on it, but yet still retaining the essence of what made the character a hit. Hopefully. Black Panther will establish itself as a totally, and tonally, different genre and breakthrough as another hit for Marvel.