For years, Thor was a hammer-clutching albatross hanging off the neck of the MCU. The Norse god was from his comic book conception a deliberate anachronism punching faces alongside the neurotically humanized Marvel superheroes. No one ever seemed to know how to fit the sincere and noble Thor into the snarky tone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, he was good for group gags in The Avengers, but the solo Thor movies (even the campy Kenneth Branagh flick) struggled with what to do with the most powerful hero on the team. Thankfully, Thor Ragnarok was handed over to a director who recognized that problem and was pretty openly not a fanboy of the pop icon. Taika Waititi’s background in eccentric indies like the beloved vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows, Boy and Hunt For The Wilderpeople seemed like an odd lead up to a superhero blockbuster and that’s exactly why it works. Thor Ragnarok is a Thor movie for people who don’t like Thor movies and the fact that it’s arguably the funniest entry in the seemingly endless Marvel franchise doesn’t hurt either.
The only real flaw with Thor Ragnarok is the fact that it feels like two different Thor sequels fighting for attention. The first is a hasty wrap up to the extended fantasy narrative weaved over the last two disappointing Thor pictures. Soapy family drama continues between Thor (Chris Hemsworth…or one of the other Chrises in these movies. Who can tell the difference?), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and poppa Odin (Anthony Hopkins). We meet Odin’s long lost daughter Hela, the goddess of death (Cate Blanchett). That opens up a secret history of Asgard, revealing that the supposedly noble kingdom was actually a land of intergalactic imperialism built on space genocide. It’s an amusing deconstruction of a fairly tedious mythology that allows Waititi to sneak some anti-colonialist commentary into a blockbuster cartoon with prominent Hulk dick jokes. The director doesn’t lean too heavily into this potent theme, but the image of a fake Asgard history plastered on top of a tragic truth is pretty damn potent for anyone who bothers too look.
The other Thor sequel crammed into Ragnarok is a goofy Guardians Of The Galaxy sci-fi romp where Thor finds himself shoved into a mini Planet Hulk spin off that’s almost completely stolen by Jeff Goldblum’s marvellous mugging as Grandmaster. It’s a much more self-conscious and gloriously goofy affair that made Ragnarok a crowd pleaser. Mountains of humour flavours the gorgeously geeky Jack Kirby inspired pop acid trip production design. Thor 3: The Good One was a massive hit thanks to all the quippy quotability and giddy set pieces found here. There’s still some resonant material in there too like Tessa Thompson’s potently powerful Valkyrie, but really the Sakaar segment is all about cramming as much of Taika Waititi’s irreverent humour in between sequences of eye-candy comic book fantasy and action.
The somewhat awkward combination of tones, storylines, and ideas in Thor Ragnarok lead to the movie dragging a bit as the screenwriters struggle to dovetail everything together. Yet, it’s also what makes the flick stand out on the MCU’s superhero blockbuster conveyer belt. This movie is wild and unpredictable, leaping freely between heavy fantasy and bouncy sci-fi action. That the movie can contain a villain as symbolically charged as Blanchett’s Hela and one as playfully cartoonish Goldblum Grandmaster is a minor miracle of tonal storytelling. That all springs from Waititi’s intoxicatingly eccentric storytelling style and the long leash the studio clearly gave him. Ragnarok is a damn delight, offering every nerdy element that fans have come to adore in this cinematic universe along with just enough new ideas and fresh takes to keep them surprised. It’s enough to make this lifelong Thor skeptic get excited about another sequel starring this old timey fantasy beefcake and that was one of the great cinematic miracles for Phil Brown in 2017.
At this point Disney knows that mountains of money are to be made by giving obsessive superhero collectors if Marvel Blu-rays worth buying. So it comes as no surprise that the Thor Ragnarok disc is beautifully presented and stacked with extras. The threequel gets one of the most stunning HD transfers of any Marvel movie. The deliberately garish, neon, blindingly bright, and 80s inspired visuals explode off the screen. It looks like pop art brought to life or more specifically the garishly coloured old Marvel comics fantasy epics. The transfer glows and the frames are filled with delightfully surreal details with pausing to explore. Toss in a lossless soundtrack that’ll rattle your walls and irritate your neighbours, and you get a superhero Blu-ray worth savouring.
Good news, the disc has plenty of fun special features for nerds who don’t want their time with Thor Ragnarok to end after the credits and stingers. First up is a 34-minute 6-part documentary about the production. All the Thor legacy actors speak about how the franchise has grown, the powerful new female characters are highlighted, the uniquely psychedelic designs are studied (with plenty of love tossed Jack Kirby’s way and deservedly so), and absolutely everyone gushes over how much they love Taika Waititi. It’s a little rushed, but there’s a flurry of behind-the-scenes footage crammed in that fans will love (watching Taika direct while wearing an embarrassing motion capture leotard is a treat) along with plenty of nerdy factoids for those who care about such things. For anyone who isn’t already enamoured with the walking charm and joke factory that is Taika Waititi, his audio commentary track should take care of that. Filled with irreverent asides (he opens by apologizing for blocking out all memory of directing the movie), self-depreciating humour, thoughtful comments, hidden secrets, and several adorable cameos from Taika’s tiny daughter, the commentary will make you fall in love with the fantastic filmmaker. You’ll probably miss him when it’s over too. Lord knows I did. I’m weird.
Next up comes a short mockumentary entitled “Team Darryl” from Taika. You might think it’s the Comic-Con short about Thor’s roommate. But nope. That’s already readily available on the internet. Nope, this is a sequel where the unfortunate nerd who once lived with Thor has a new roommate and it’s Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster. If possible, the short even funnier than it sounds. Waititi also tossed in some adorable 8-bit overhead tests of two major action scenes done in a Galaga style for the effects artists to plot out the logistics. Marvel also included a brief five minute retrospective doc about the history of the MCU leading into Infinity War. Great idea, but five minutes isn’t even enough to scratch the surface. After that comes the usual deleted scenes and gag reel. The “deleted” scenes are mostly extensions worth watching only to see how the sets looked before the CGI, while the outtakes are pretty damn funny (especially when Cate Blanchett has stop herself from making childish “zap” noises during her magic attacks).
Does this deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
Overall, it’s a damn fine Blu-ray of a damn fun and eccentric Marvel blockbuster. Thor Ragnarok was an infinitely better movie than it had any right to be and proves that despite concerns after the Edgar Wright/Ant-Man debacle, Marvel studios is indeed a filmmaker-friendly place where outside voices can come in and shake shit up. What Taika Waititi did with the least appealing Avenger should give Marvel zombies and film snobs plenty of hope for the future. If Thor 3 can turn out this well, then expect Marvel’s unparalleled cinematic streak to stretch on for at least another decade. Fine by me.