Feature Article

Thor: Ragnarok Review

Thor is funny now.

There's one scene early in Thor: Ragnarok that I felt sure was going to be a call-back to the first Thor movie. Doctor Strange offers Thor a cup of tea, and Thor replies that he doesn't touch the stuff. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring up the God of Thunder's love of coffee, established in the first movie's diner scene: Shortly after finding himself on Earth for the first time, Thor showed his appreciation for the new beverage by violently smashing his mug on the ground and demanding another. It was the first time Thor was really funny.

Instead, Benedict Cumberbatch (who's unfortunately only in this movie for about three minutes total) summons a hefty mug of ale from thin air, and Chris Hemsworth quaffs it appreciatively. Thor: Ragnarok may be the funniest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie yet, thanks to comedic-minded director Taika Waititi. But it's also in large part a departure. As much as it still feels like a main stage MCU entry, in other ways Thor: Ragnarok is eager to leave the past behind.

Waititi's sensibilities are everywhere in Thor: Ragnarok, moreso than most past directors have been allowed to imprint themselves on a larger MCU film (the main exception being James Gunn with Guardians of the Galaxy). The New Zealander director comes from the Flight of the Conchords-style school of comedy, and his own movies, like the both-excellent What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, have a distinctly dry, earnest Kiwi humor at their hearts. Whether in Thor's frequent one-liners, Jeff Goldblum's loopy Grandmaster, or absurd side characters like the soft-spoken warrior Korg (who's voiced by the director himself), that same humor is central to Thor: Ragnarok's identity.

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That's for better or worse, depending largely on how you feel about this type of humor. These awkward silences and absurd jokes aren't for everyone. The actors and filmmakers have stated during press conferences and interviews that there was a lot of improvisation on set, and it shows, especially in scenes with Goldblum's Grandmaster. The veteran oddball comedian/heartthrob is clearly riffing in most of his scenes, and that loosey-goosey feeling also pervades much of the film.

At the same time, Ragnarok is about the Asgardians' literal apocalypse. That's a big MCU event, and when it's not being funny Ragnarok feels like most other big Marvel movies, which isn't necessarily a good thing. The action is huge, but the stakes are low. Extended CG-heavy set pieces like a high-speed spaceship chase, during which Thor and Valkyrie jump from pursuing ship to ship stabbing them with big swords, feel gratuitous, and don't look particularly good. Anyone who saw Blade Runner 2049 recently understands how big a difference having practical sets can make, and certain green screen-fueled environments in Thor, including the coliseum scene, look unreal enough to be a distraction.

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During that same sequence, Mark Ruffalo--who's transformed back into Bruce Banner after an extended stint as the Hulk--laments that he doesn't know how to fly a spaceship. Thor quips that he should use one of his many PhDs, before leaping heroically from the ship. It's a decent joke, but one without any weight, because Ruffalo is obviously going to steer the ship just fine, which he does. Having stakes is important for audiences to get invested in prolonged scenes of shallow spectacle, something Ragnarok forgets. (Also, it ruined the best reveal--Hulk's entrance into the fighting pit--in literally every trailer, which is a shame, considering the movie spends its entire first third building up to the entrance of the "champion" like it's some big surprise.)

Speaking of tropes, for all its strengths and departures Thor: Ragnarok still stumbles headlong into that most entrenched of Marvel movie problems: the boring villain. Cate Blanchett does her best as the Wicked Witch of Asgard, but there's nothing even remotely interesting about Hela (or her sidekick, the criminally misused Karl Urban, who spends most of the movie scowling off to the side while having no impact whatsoever). As Thor and Loki's banished sister and Odin's one-time right hand commander, Hela feels utterly shoehorned into a world in which it's completely unbelievable that she'd never been mentioned before. Her motivations amount to nothing more than total, boring domination, and her title as "the Goddess of Death" has no bearing on her actual abilities or personality.

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Valkyrie, at least, feels like a worthy addition. The booze-swigging, hard-hitting Tessa Thompson steals most scenes she's in, especially early in the movie, when she has power over the downtrodden Thor. The character's backstory is fleshed out just enough to make sense of her motivations, and she provides a good foil for Tom Hiddleston's Loki, whose constant trickery is starting to wear thin after so many movies of the same. (Loki is still impersonating Odin when the movie starts, a plot point from Thor 2 that this movie ruthlessly discards and moves on from within the opening minutes.)

Ragnarok also has more Hulk than any recent MCU movie. The big green guy is changed from the last time we saw him, in part because when we catch up with him here, he's been stuck that way for a while. But allowing the Hulk to have relatively normal, calm conversations also feels like a rule change for this iteration of the character that isn't necessarily earned or explained.

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The final thing that bears mentioning is Thor: Ragnarok's aural and visual aesthetic, which simultaneously summons '60s psychedelia, '70s disco, '80s metal, Guardians-like sci-fi, and bloody Roman gladiator bouts. Ragnarok is the most colorful MCU movie yet, rivaling Gunn's Guardians entries for sheer visual joy. Mark Mothersbaugh's synth-heavy score underscores most of it with perfect synchronicity, although Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song--used in the movie to lend oomph to not one, but two separate action scenes--is way past feeling overused.

Thor: Ragnarok shines when it's allowed to stray from the formula set by a decade of predecessors in the MCU, and it seems Waititi is to thank for most of what feels fresh and new here. By the movie's end, Thor and co. have left much of their past behind, ensuring the future is exciting in its potential, especially as we approach the Infinity War storyline. But in other ways, Ragnarok is still beholden to the same tropes by which these movies are often anchored. If Marvel takes anything away from this, fans should hope it's that these films are best when talented directors are allowed to leave their personal marks on them.

The GoodThe Bad
Funniest MCU movie yetNo to low stakes throughout
Tessa Thompson steals scenes as ValkyrieHela is an incredibly boring villain
Colorful and well-scoredBig CGI action scenes are pointless spectacle
Waititi leaves his much-appreciated markBest reveal ruined in marketing
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Michael Rougeau

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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Avatar image for matman01

Anyone else notice the number of 80s and 90s game references in the film? I saw call-outs to Street Fighter, Elite, and Another World, and Karl Urban's last scene was a nearly perfect translation of the cover art of first Doom game. The end credits were also distinctly side-scrolling platformer.

Avatar image for mrougeau

@matman01: What was the Another World call-out? I missed it but I love that game.

Avatar image for matman01

@mrougeau: Well, to be honest, that one may be a little tenuous. The end credit sequence has similarities with Another World in both palette and art style, but in particular the image of Hela riding the wolf on a rise in the credits was very reminiscent (to me) of the first puzzle in AW where the beast attacks. As a say, that one may be a little tenuous!

Avatar image for mrougeau

@matman01: Ahh yeah, I can see the connection

Avatar image for gilberto3001

@mrougeau I find it hilarious that you mention several times how they spoiled Hulk's appearance in the trailers, yet you go and spoil the relationship between Hela and Thor in your article with no warnings what so ever. Double standards much?

Avatar image for matman01

@gilberto3001: To be fair, you could work out that Hela was related to Thor just by googling Norse mythology, although she actually seems to be Loki's daughter rather than Odin's. It's also not that pivotal to the plot, where as the hulk reveal could have been a real wtf moment had it been kept secret.

That said, it would have been almost impossible to keep the hulk's involvement secret in the run up to release, so it's all academic.

Avatar image for Byshop

Not surprised to hear that this is the funniest MCU film with Waititi directing.

Avatar image for kagatoac

Interesting that they say Hela is Loki's and Thor's sister. I think its common knowledge by now that Loki is adopted. and I recently read a thing on the mythos that actually says Hela is Loki's child..

Avatar image for gilberto3001

@kagatoac: Yeah, both Hela and Fenris Wolf are Loki's children in the comics. The one big departure in terms of Hela that the movie makes obviously (considering that fact is spoiled in this article, lol)

Avatar image for taurusbull99

I love how reviewers can say something is a fun movie, then rip it for....what? Being likable for the masses? Sounds like a Rick and Morty fan.

Avatar image for stevo302

No stakes and a poor villain means you movie simply isn't a workable piece of fiction outside of big booms and crap cheesy jokes.

Avatar image for buddymanson

"Funniest MCU movie yet"

You have seen Deadpool, right?

Yeah, I know this comment is super old - but what's with everyone not understanding my comments on this site.

All I meant by my comment was whether or not Thor Ragnarok is really funnier than Deadpool? While not snapping to the fact that Deadpool, while being Marvel, is not part of the MCU.

Avatar image for bat725

@buddymanson: Difference is Deadpool is supposed to be funny, unlike Thor who’s supposed to be stone-cold serious.

Been a fan of Thor for over thirty years—he’s not supposed to be funny, any more than Batman is. Same way not every super-hero movie shouldn’t be dark like Batman, every MCU movie shouldn’t be funny and light-hearted like Guardians. Don’t let it be said that MCU isn’t run by a committee, like everything else.

Avatar image for m4a5

@buddymanson: Deadpool isn't technically inside this MCU, so they are still right.

Marvel, yes. But a part of the franchise's movie universe? No.

Avatar image for LVT_PTA_PB

@buddymanson: you haven't seen Thor Ragnarok, right?

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum

@buddymanson: You aren't living under a rock, right?

Avatar image for chillingnaire

Same old shit. Could barely get through Guardians 2. SO MANY QUIPS ITS NOT FUNNY!

Avatar image for deactivated-5afeea4d8be41

Wasn't the first Thor film very comedic as well?

Anyway I'm a bit tired of MCU films, they never feel like they have any stakes whatsoever, I'm struggling to get invested in the films.

Then the DCEU is doing even worse (though Wonder Woman was a glimmer of hope for the universe), I'm concerned fir Justice League. Maybe I need to get off the comic book movie bus.

Avatar image for slypher9

For me Civil War has been the best marvel movie.. at least the villain there WON in breaking the union that the avengers... and it was on a serious tone

Avatar image for spectrexr1

@slypher9: lol u joking no way any of that crap he so called set up would really work . Even in a comic movie . Love how it's a video camera on a abandon Rd in the middle of nowhere to tape tony Stark parents murder lol . Good fight scenes

..that's about it

Avatar image for bat725

@spectrexr1: The whole time, I asked myself “But, where did these f*^#ing cameras come from?!?” The footage is even edited, for crying out loud!

Avatar image for spectrexr1

@bat725: lmao exactly. And I'm like in iron Man one his suit took a tank she'll and he walked it off but cap fist hurt him in the suit lol come on .

Avatar image for chillingnaire

@slypher9: Tried to like it but was lackluster compared to winter soldier imo

Avatar image for spectrexr1

@chillingnaire: winter soldier and first Ironman I think are the best mcu movies

Avatar image for lowkey254

@chillingnaire: I must agree, Winter Soldier was/is the best MCU movie.

Avatar image for Prats1993

98% on RT. Stick to reviewing games Gamespot.

Avatar image for realguitarhero5

@Prats1993: Rotten Tomatoes isn't the best metric. If a movie gets C ratings across the board it will have a 100% on RT. Doesn't mean it's an A+ movie, just that there was universal consensus on its mediocre rating, which RT counts as "positive."

Avatar image for spike1980

@realguitarhero5: as always on gaming sites, the public comments have a little truth in an overall lie. Yes, for example, a film can be a 7 and be classified as good, but the reviewer when posting his/her review to rottentomatoes can also judge a film as a 7 and give it a rotten on rottentomatoes.

For instance, a critic might think the film is technically great, but also believe they don’t personally like the movie and has reservations on whether people would enjoy it. I remember when a particular reviewer gave a movie a 3 out of 5, by the critic gave the film a rotten tomato. It happens both ways.

I actually prefer rottentomatoes over metacritic. People are far too judgemental on movies and games that receive a score less than 8, considering games/films of 8 and below not worth their while. Which is absolute nonsense. I’m glad I go to rottentomtoes for movie reviews, otherwise I’d have lost out on watching some great movies!

Avatar image for timthegem

It took CGI artists over 600 hours to make Hulk's teeth look better than any TV news anchor.

Avatar image for dudebropartyyo

@timthegem: What about the rest of the movie, i hope its as good as them teeth lol

Avatar image for dmblum1799

In the next one Thor should start an 80s heavy metal band. And don't tell me that's not thoroughly consistent with Norse mythological ethos!

Avatar image for bat725

Wow, early reviews are usually gushing.

This sounds mediocre. Not surprised. I had doubts about Thor the Hilarious.

Avatar image for Baconstrip78

GotG 1 and 2 IMHO is the best of Marvel, and hopefully this one follows suit.

Avatar image for bat725

@Baconstrip78: 1 is great, 2 not so much.

That said, I’ve got Winter Soldier and IM1 as Marvel’s best.

To each their own, though.

Avatar image for merwanor

@bat725: To each their own but I like GotG 2 more than the first one.

Avatar image for chillingnaire

@bat725: Same! Winter soldier, guardians 1 and iron man 1 were great. Guardians 2 and pretty much everything else was poo. Guardians 2 was so fucking campy it felt like the movie was stuck in a chair for over 2 hours like me in the cinema

Avatar image for samrvdman

@chillingnaire: For me Winter Soldier, Guardians 1, deadpool, and antman are the best. I know deadpool isn't technically in the mcu

Avatar image for bat725

@chillingnaire: I had to rent Gotg2 just to see if it was as bad as I remembered it. It took three(!) attempts to sit through until the end, only to confirm what I already knew. It was one of those sequels that just takes everything that was good from the first one, and dials it up to 11. Drax laughs more, Gamora yells more, Rocket’s more of a douche, more late 70’s pop hits, etc etc.

Avatar image for Phazevariance

@bat725: I enjoyed GotG 2 as much as the first personally, but Winter Soldier is probably the best overall Marvel film to date IMO.

Avatar image for Pierce_Sparrow

This is good enough for me. Sounds better than Thor 2, so worth watching in theaters, I'd say.

Avatar image for Daian

"pointless spectacle" is a downside? Wth qualifies as that? It's a superhero movie, you go watch it for pure entertainment value, the spectacle IS the point.


Avatar image for shotmeinback

Between this and the IGN review, I think I'm gonna pass on seeing this in the theaters.

Avatar image for DefunktJunk

I'm not a huge Thor fan, but this does sound kinda fun. Think I'll be seeing it soon.

Avatar image for Jag-T1000

Hulk looks fake as hell. They even got the apartment renter guy in this movie. I'll pass.

Avatar image for Benaresu

@Jag-T1000: If the apartment commercials is all you've seen Jeff Goldbum in, then you're either only 12 years old or you just don't watch movies.

Avatar image for Jag-T1000

@Benaresu: does he try to sell Thor an apartment in the movie?

Avatar image for bookfan8780

Hmmm, I'm reconsidering whether I want to see this movie now.

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