Thor: Ragnarok begins with an imprisoned Thor dangling from a chain in the bowels of some reeking hellscape, taunting a world-destroying demon. Then “Immigrant Song” shudders and shakes the theater’s speakers, and Thor—wielding his trusty hammer Mjolnir, and really feeling the music—lays righteous waste to a skittering army of the undead. Then there’s some hyperspace travel. And a lot of dragon blood? And a Shake Weight!
Ragnarok gets weirder, funnier, and better from there. I watched the whole thing with a big stupid grin on my big stupid face.
Granted, I’ve always liked Thor—but even I can admit his previous movies might not be Marvel’s best. Thor, inexplicably directed by Kenneth Branagh, dug into the family drama between Thor (Chris Hemsworth), his no-good brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and his scowly dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor: The Dark World, clunkily assembled by Game of Thrones’ Alan Taylor, introduced space elves (space elves!) and... okay, I was one of the three people who liked The Dark World, and even I can’t remember what it was about, aside from space elves (space elves!).
But Thor: Ragnarok is, finally, a legitimately great Thor movie—one that proves goofy comedy, goofier mythology, 1980s-tinged sci-fi and fantasy, and Led Zeppelin aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, all that stuff goes together like... whatever Norse gods eat instead of delicious sundaes! And the cherry on top is the Incredible Hulk! And a giant wolf! And Jeff Goldblum! Jeff Goldblum in space! Wow. This sundae analogy fell apart fast.
I’m not great at sundae analogies, and to be fair, Ragnarok isn’t great at... ah... narrative cohesion. It lurches from scene to scene—jumping from garbage planet Sakaar, where Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) fight like space Spartacuses, to Asgard, where Thor’s evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett, as perfect and creepy as ever) is being all evil. There are gladiator fights and spaceship chases and dizzying, candy-colored visuals inspired by the art of comics greats Jack Kirby and Walter Simonson; Mark Mothersbaugh’s proggy score blurps and woobles; Loki (still no good!) and drunk warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, WONDERFUL) show up whenever the plot needs them to. Some might quibble that Ragnarok is disjointed; I’d counter that its tone—exciting and quippy and sweet—is always dead on.
For that, and for Ragnarok’s constant hilarity, we can thank Taika Waititi, the New Zealand director who, until now, has made slightly more low-key fare: Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Like those projects, Ragnarok is as good-hearted as it is clever; as much as its characters might smash each other across garbage planets, and as godlike and monstrous as they might be, Waititi treats them like real people. Besides imbuing an earnest, handmade charm into a film that could have been just another ration of Marvel Product™, Waititi also appears as Korg, a towering rock monster with a chipper Kiwi accent. Like Thompson’s Valkyrie, he steals every scene he’s in.
Which is saying a lot, because everyone in this thing is good: The slyly deadpan Hemsworth nails Thor’s charming, inept arrogance; Ruffalo has a contagious, delighted-to-be-here enthusiasm; Blanchett, glaring through smoky eye shadow and rocking headgear I can only describe as “scary space antlers,” slinks through Asgard, making intergalactic warmongering look like something I would immediately sign up to assist her with. Even Benedict Cumberbatch magicks himself into the chaos, and has more fun in five minutes of Ragnarok than in the entirety of Doctor Strange.
If it sounds messy, it is—Ragnarok can feel like a few movies smooshed together, their scenes jostling against each other. But here’s the thing: All those scenes are great. When it comes to giddy laughs and gleeful adventure, Ragnarok is the best Marvel has to offer. I guess it’s technically possible you’ll see another movie this year that’ll be this much fun, but I doubt it. And even if you do, it won’t have Space Goldblum.