REVIEW: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ adds cool new colors to the Marvel movie canvas

The Art of Nerding Out

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If there is one overriding criticism one can lodge against the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s that they aren’t the most visually exciting or colorful movies out there. Though that seems to be a deliberate choice by Marvel’s filmmakers, made so that the movies all feel like they take place in the same continuity, it does put a chink in Marvel’s cinematic armor.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” began to stretch the Marvel visual palette with its wild characters and cosmic vistas. Now comes “Thor: Ragnarok”, which is, by far, the most far-out and crazy Marvel movie yet visually. It’s also a fantastically fun time.

“Ragnarok” finds our hero, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), chained up and at the mercy of the fiery giant, Surtur. This leads Thor on an epic journey that sees him imprisoned by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), fighting gladiator-style with the Hulk and bickering with Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Teaming with allies old and new, Thor battles to get home to Asgard in time to stop Hela (Cate Blanchett) from burning the whole place to the ground.

The vast majority of Marvel movies are Earth-bound and grounded in reality. At least as realistic as you can get when it comes to a universe full of superheroes. So part of the thrill of “Ragnarok” is seeing how cosmic and crazy these movies can get. This is easily the most comic bookish MCU flick, visually speaking. The filmmakers borrow liberally from the artwork of Jack Kirby. That retro-futuristic Kirby flavor makes this movie a joy to behold.

Other scenes are pure fantasy fodder. A scene where an army of Valkyries bum rush Hela looks like something straight off the side of a stoner’s van back in the 1970’s. Surtur is giant fiery demon straight out of Tolkien’s nightmares. From the spaceships to the wide-screen panoramas of the planet Sakaar, a planet that’s basically an overgrown junkyard, this movie is a visual treat. “Guardians of the Galaxy” opened the door to more colorful, comic booky visuals. “Ragnarok” blows that door right of its hinges.

But a good movie needs more than just pretty eye candy, and “Ragnarok” offers a lot more fantastic stuff. First off, the cast is first-rate. Not just for a comic book movie, but for any movie. Hemsworth is sturdy and rugged, but he leavens that with wry wit. Hiddleston is a blast to watch, as always. Loki is still the best villain in the MCU oeuvre.

Goldblum kills it as The Grandmaster. His twitchy awkwardness brings the laughs, and makes him seem mentally off balance. That’s perfect for this character. Mark Ruffalo is equally twitchy as Bruce Banner, and Banner’s back-and-forth with Thor is another highlight of the movie. And Blanchett’s icy animosity make Hela the best Marvel movie villain since Loki in “The Avengers”.

It doesn’t end there. Tessa Thompson is hilarious, tough and butt-kicking as Valkyrie. Idris Elba and Karl Urban are always fun to watch. And the movie features rock-solid voice acting from Clancy Brown as Surtur and director Taika Waititi as Korg.

Waititi gives us several very cool action sequences, especially the battle between Thor and Hulk. Waititi also lets the actors improvise and that leads to many of the film’s best moments. For the most part, Waititi captures a visually arresting movie with a great blend of action and humor.

Oh, and Mark Mothersbaugh‘s musical score is fantastically cheesy excellence. 80’s style!

But no movie is perfect, and “Ragnarok” is no exception. The biggest flaw is that some of the humor undercuts the gravity of several more dramatic scenes. Some of the jokes don’t land and some of the scenes go on a little longer than they need to. And they could probably cut about ten minutes out of the movie and you wouldn’t miss it.

Even with those flaws, “Thor: Ragnarok” is fun, funny and really expands the visual palette of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It leaves you hungry to see what will happen to Thor and Loki next and sets the stage for “Infinity War”, which is shaping up to be the ultimate comic book movie throwdown. If you have any interest in seeing “Ragnarok” you should treat yourself. ASAP!

Rating: 4 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13