'Thor: Ragnarok' Review: Cate Blanchett's Campy Villainess Steals the Thunder – TheWrap

Excitement and silliness abound in this breathlessly action-packed and comic superhero tale
Marvel Studios
One of the joys of the old 1960s “Batman” TV series came from watching the reruns twice: eight-year-old me was enthralled with the excitement, suspense and heroics, but as a teenager, I understood that the show was arch, absurd and calculatedly ridiculous. It’s not hard to imagine a young audience completely losing their minds over the thrills and action of “Thor: Ragnarok,” and then loving it all over again when they realize how funny it is.
Directed by Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “What We Do in the Shadows”) with tongue firmly in cheek, this latest outing for the thunder god plays more to the giddy “Guardians of the Galaxy” crowd than to those who prefer their superheroes to be grim and gritty. But Waititi and screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher L. Yost know how to balance stakes and silliness, which is exactly what this movie needs. Audiences committed to the ongoing expansion of the Marvel screen universe will come away feeling respected for their devotion, while those who aren’t interested in the set-up for the next ten movies in the franchise can have fun and get on with their lives.
(Viewers who are here for the Norse mythology should have bailed on this series well before now. For a story about gods, there sure are a lot of aliens and spaceships here.)

Watch Video: Doctor Strange Finally Shows Up in New 'Thor: Ragnarok' Trailer
We open on Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returning home to Asgard, where statues have been built and plays performed to praise the heroism of his trickster half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It doesn’t take long for him to figure out that not only is Loki alive, he’s also been assuming the form of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
After a quick sojourn to Earth to find where Loki has hidden the real Odin — a trip that involves a visit to a certain Master of the Mystic Arts’ Greenwich Village digs — Thor and Loki find themselves face-to-face with another of Odin’s children: Hela, Goddess of Death.
Hela (Cate Blanchett) belongs to Odin’s warrior past, and she’s bound and determined to overrule Asgard’s kinder, gentler ruler in favor of some good old murdering and pillaging of everyone else in the universe. And she’s got the power to do it: one squeeze of her fist turns Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir into so many cookie crumbs.
As Hela takes off to make Asgard her deadly base of operations, Thor and Loki find themselves on a planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), where Thor must become a gladiator who faces off in the arena with the Grandmaster’s champion – none other than the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Watch Video: Chris Hemsworth Was 'Bored' of Playing Thor Before 'Ragnarok'
“Thor: Ragnarok” brings back the characters we know and love, including Heimdall (Idris Elba), while bringing plenty of new ones to the table; in addition to Hela and Grandmaster, we meet rock-encrusted alien Korg (voiced by a drily witty Waititi) and the Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, “Creed”), an Asgardian exile who is every much the fighter as Thor, not to mention his superior when it comes to snappy banter.
Both the banter and the fighting, it should be noted, are excellent, so whether you go to superhero movies for the glossy escapism or the pulse-pounding action, you’ll get your large soda’s worth. Editors Zene Baker (“Snatched”) and Joel Negron (“The Shallows”) keep the pace lively, with a delightfully self-aware score by Mark Mothersbaugh bolstering and exaggerating the grandeur at every corner. (Between this and “Brad’s Status,” Mothersbaugh has delivered two of the fall movie season’s most striking soundtracks.)
Hemsworth continues his streak (both in the Marvel movies and in the “Ghostbusters” remake) as a daft performer who knows how to use his almost exaggeratedly perfect physical features as part of the joke. (Balancing, and intertwining, sex and humor make him the 21st century version of Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield.) His comic rapport with Hiddleston, Ruffalo and especially Thompson goes a long way toward making the film such a screwball delight.

Also Read: Marvel's Kevin Feige: Hulk Almost Wasn't in 'Thor: Ragnarok'
And if the old “Batman” gave us campy turns by Milton Berle as Louie the Lilac or Ethel Merman as Lola Lasagna, both Blanchett and Goldblum take full advantage of their Special Guest Villain status to go gloriously over the top. Goldblum’s trademark brand of stammering deadpan fits perfectly into this scenario, while Blanchett walks away with the movie; verbally, she plays like Dame Diana Rigg channeling both Joan Crawford and Eve Arden, and her physical slink (in one of Marvel Comics’ most wonderfully baroque costumes) calls to mind the sexy evil robot from “Metropolis.”
You don’t have to have seen the lead-ups to “Thor: Ragnarok” to enjoy yourself, nor will your delight depend upon another five future movies to be announced later. There’s little pomp and even less circumstance, but its goofy pleasures are more than enough.

Nobody on the internet wants to talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s a topic we just can’t go on ignoring. But seriously: even though this seemingly unstoppable franchise has rabid fans across the globe, no one can agree on which ones they like best (or least, for that matter). TheWrap’s Film Reviews Editor Alonso Duralde takes his own stab at the subject — and no, he’s not getting paid by anyone at Disney to like (or dislike, for that matter) any of these films.
30. “The Incredible Hulk” (2008)   Released just five years after Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” this second attempt to make a leading man out of the big green Gamma-radiated creature proved to be similarly disappointing. If we’ve learned anything from the Avengers movies, it’s that Bruce Banner works best when he’s a supporting character (and when he’s played by Mark Ruffalo).
29. “Ant-Man” (2015) While this movie deserves credit for not putting the fate of mankind on the line — the stakes are more child’s-toy-train-sized — the film’s stabs at humor seem overplayed, and little of Paul Rudd’s natural charm comes to the forefront of what should be a breezy caper. We can only wonder what Edgar Wright’s original version might have been like.
28. “Thor” (2011)   Director Kenneth Branagh nails the thee-and-thou of the Asgard segments, but the small town where the climax plays out is one of the screen’s cheesiest fake cities since the terrible 1980s “Supergirl” movie. On the upside, actor Chris Hemsworth demonstrates a twinkly wit in this thunder god adventure, matched with impressive brawn.
27. “Iron Man 2″ (2010)  The best MCU movies do a good job of distracting you from all the setting-up of future franchise entries; this one offers so much empire-building that it might as well have a “Pardon Our Dust” sign on it. Still, the first appearance of Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, dispatching a hallway’s worth of opponents, made an unforgettable impression.
26. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)  Much as he did in “The Rocketeer,” director Joe Johnston excels at portraying the gloss of the 1940s, although the characters aren’t nearly as vivid as the USO bunting. But fear not, true believers — Cap’s onscreen adventures got way better in his subsequent solo and team movies.
25. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013)  Firmly average, yes, but an improvement on its predecessor and a straight-up good time, skillfully balancing superheroics, second bananas, entertaining villains and the occasional killer one-liner. By no means a cornerstone of the MCU, but this one, mostly, works.
24. “Iron Man 3” (2013) Director and co-writer Shane Black doesn’t always have the tightest grasp on the story — what does the nefarious Extremis do again, and why? — but he shows off his skill at witty banter (which Robert Downey, Jr. can perform within an inch of its life) and breathtaking action (a mid-air rescue of a dozen passengers who have just tumbled out of Air Force One).
23. “Thor: Love and Thunder” (2022) Taika Waititi brings back the quippiness that made his “Thor: Ragnarok” such a treat, but with themes and plot elements – including terminal cancer and man grappling with God’s silence – better suited to an Ingmar Bergman drama, this fourth solo outing for the Thunder God winds up a tonal mess. Still, some of the jokes land, and Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman remain one of the MCU’s most engaging couples.
22. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) It’s always fun when the band gets back together, but it’s also difficult to recapture the magic of that first time. This sequel offers plenty of excitement and Joss Whedon-scripted badinage, but it’s also a little overstuffed with supporting characters and set-ups for the next round of MCU movies. Lovers and haters of superhero movies can both find bolsters for their arguments here.
21. “Eternals” (2021)  This ambitious effort absolutely stands apart from what anyone might consider the MCU formula, but with such a huge team of new characters — all of whom have lived for millennia, molding human history along the way — this super-team might have been better served with a Disney+ limited series rather than crammed into a single feature film.
20. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017)  The band is back together, and they’re as bristly hilarious as in their first outing, but overall this sequel feels like it’s just vamping (entertainingly) until the next major plot shift in the MCU. Kurt Russell pops up as Ego the Living Planet, who claims to be the long-lost father of Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and while the movie is more concerned with character and emotion than plot, not all of the moving moments ring true.
19. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (2022)  Even with Sam Raimi at the helm, adding as much visual pop and funny-scary jolts as he can manage, this second solo outing for the Master of the Mystic Arts is too crammed with incident and new characters and parallel storylines and magical doodads to breathe and to let us enjoy our returning heroes, let alone the newly-introduced America Chavel (Xochitl Gomez).
18. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (2022)

Making a Black Panther movie following the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman was no easy feat, and director and co-writer Ryan Coogler includes many intriguing elements, from the grief and mourning of Wakanda’s royal family to the appearance of undersea king Namor (Tenoch Huerta) and MIT whiz-kid Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). Unfortunately, these elements don’t coalesce as successfully as they might, making this less of a triumph than its predecessor.
17. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) This sequel has a better sense of its own silliness than its predecessor, as Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) run from the feds, battle the dimension-phasing Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and thwart the plans of a mobster (Walton Goggins), all while planning a rescue of The Wasp’s mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) from another dimension. Feels more Disney — in the Kurt-Russell-as-Dexter-Riley sense — than Marvel, but still fun.
16. Captain Marvel (2019)   The self-fulfillment and the 1990s retro are both played with a fairly heavy hand, but there’s lots of fun to be had here, from Brie Larson’s heroine, both ebullient and haunted — nothing like amnesia to spice up yet another origin story — to one of the greatest feline second bananas in cinema history.
15. Black Widow (2021) Even if Scarlett Johansson, finally getting to headline a superhero saga of her own, winds up doing a lot of baton-passing to new characters, this stab at 007-style globe-trotting and espionage introduces Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour to the MCU with style and swagger.
14.-13. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)/”Avengers: Endgame” (2019)  These two get a tie because, essentially, there’s two halves of one mega-movie. And that mega-movie manages to keep a sense of humor in the face of genocide while eventually providing some rare catharsis and finality to a serialized story. The grand finale of this two-film cycle left lumps in many viewers’ throats.
12. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019)  This second outing from director Jon Watts and leading man Tom Holland maintains the larkish tone and emphasis on characters that makes these films feel like such a unique corner of the MCU. This time, the post-snap (or “blip,” as the film calls it) Peter Parker and his pals head to Europe in a movie that feels like a road comedy which occasionally busts out some superheroics.
11. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021)  New faces (Simu Liu) and screen legends (Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh) come together for an exhilarating mix of magic and martial arts that feels both of a piece with the Marvel universe and something entirely different and unique.
10. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021)  Peter Parker faces the music in a movie that brings Tom Holland’s iteration of the character to the “With great power…” stage of suffering and sacrifice while also providing the sheer lark of Holland, Andrew Garfield, and Tobey Maguire (as Spideys of alternate universes) sharing the screen.
9. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) Director Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) strikes a delicate balance between breathless action and fate-of-the-universe stakes on one hand and tongue-in-cheek silliness and snappy banter on the other. Luckily, he’s got Chris Hemsworth, who excels at both, surrounded by the witty likes of Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo and franchise newbies Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum and a gloriously over-the-top Cate Blanchett.
8. “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)   The plotting and pacing aren’t as tight as in “Winter Soldier,” but if you’re looking for dark human conflict and rousing superhero-on-superhero action, this movie does a whole lot right that “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” did wrong.
7. “Iron Man” (2008)  It all starts here — a superhero origin story for literalists who can’t get behind exploding planets or radioactive spiders. Jon Favreau, then most famous for directing “Elf” and writing and co-starring in “Swingers,” seemed an odd choice for the material, but he knows how to give us both the characters (played by Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow with panache) and the ka-blam.
6. “Black Panther” (2018)  While Chadwick Boseman’s titular African king-superhero takes something of a back seat to a troika of fascinating female characters — played by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright — the movie nonetheless overflows with excitement and rich backstory. (And Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger ranks among the franchise’s greatest villains.)
5. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017) Less guilt-driven and haunted than previous iterations of the character (on the page or screen), Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has enough on his plate dealing with his superhero growing pains. Hungry to join The Avengers but still grappling with all he has to learn — he’s only 15, after all — our hero faces off against blue-collar bad guy The Vulture (Michael Keaton, Birdman at last) in an adventure that’s breezy and funny while also featuring genuine stakes, terrific characterizations and wonderfully detailed casting. (You gotta love a teen movie that works in Zendaya, Tony Revolori, Abraham Attah and Josie Totah, plus scene-stealing newcomer Jacob Batalon.)
4. “Doctor Strange” (2016) It would be all too easy to make the spell-casting Master of the Mystic Arts look ridiculous on the big screen, but somehow director Scott Derrickson and his crew gave us a version of surgeon-turned-magician Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who seems at home in the real world, rubbing shoulders with the Avengers, and traversing trippy, eye-popping dimensions where none other could go.
3. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)   Breezy, flippant and soaking in the super hits of the ’70s, this comedy adventure is something of an outlier — both tonally and geographically — in the Marvel Universe. Still, whether or not Rocket Raccoon and Black Widow ever cross paths, this star-spanning saga was a reminder that there’s more than one way to tell a superhero story.
2. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)  Aggressive patriotism meets anti-government paranoia in this exciting tale that pits the Captain against labyrinthine conspiracies. It also turns out that Steve Rogers is way more interesting displaced in time in the 2000s than firmly at home in the 1940s. And you will believe The Falcon can fly.
1. “The Avengers” (2012)   Still the gold standard of the MCU, this movie reveals that Joss Whedon gets comic books down to their DNA, in the same way that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were fluent in the language of serials in the “Indiana Jones” movies. Putting all these heroes in one room (or helicarrier, anyway) yielded terrific results, even if the film’s success led to the all-superheroes-all-the-time ethos of contemporary Hollywood.
TheWrap film reviews editor Alonso Duralde orders the MCU, including ”Black Panther: Wakanda Forever“
Nobody on the internet wants to talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s a topic we just can’t go on ignoring. But seriously: even though this seemingly unstoppable franchise has rabid fans across the globe, no one can agree on which ones they like best (or least, for that matter). TheWrap’s Film Reviews Editor Alonso Duralde takes his own stab at the subject — and no, he’s not getting paid by anyone at Disney to like (or dislike, for that matter) any of these films.

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