Thor: Ragnarok is the funniest Marvel movie to date. In fact, it may be the funniest superhero movie ever. From the first scene until the very last, it’s a non-stop cavalcade of jokes wrapped around an epic, sweeping space adventure. The whole thing will make you absolutely giddy.
There’s only one problem with the film being so funny and such a spectacle, though: The laughter and grandeur overshadows almost everything else. Ragnarok is missing the emotional core that has elevated many other Marvel films. The jokes and set pieces come at you so often that there’s barely a moment for you to feel anything else. Luckily—and unlike so many other films that try the same thing—Thor: Ragnarok is so good it manages to work anyway.
When last we saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth), he left the Avengers and headed back into space to try and find some Infinity Stones. Ragnarok picks up some time later, with the God of Thunder still on this personal journey. That journey takes him back to Asgard, where we last left Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in charge pretending to be their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and then finally to Sakaar, a new planet where a weird being named the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) holds a very popular gladiatorial game.
Looming over all of that is Hela, the Goddess of Death, played with a wild vibrancy by Cate Blanchett. Ragnarok gives her a very compelling backstory and connection to Thor’s journey, so as he’s going about his adventure, she’s doing the same, until their trajectories eventually bring them back together for the final battle.
Honestly, there’s a lot of story to unpack in Thor: Ragnarok, including some deep Marvel mythology and connections to the outside universe. Thankfully it doesn’t weigh the film down—the pace is always upbeat, nothing is too confusing, and the filmmaking shines throughout. Director Taika Waititi and his cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe give the film a completely unique, almost dream-like look; the film is both just a tad brighter and more washed-out than the other Marvel movies, so it really does feel like you’re watching otherworldly beings, and the cinematography is enhanced by a groovy Mark Mothersbaugh score.
All of this is thanks to Waititi, who is best known for small, quirky comedies like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. He uses that indie sensibility here and unfurls it on a massive scale, using every resource at his disposal to make the film pop. And nothing pops more than the new character Valkyrie.
Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, fucking rules. And yes, the profanity is warranted. Even in a movie filled with superheroes, she shines with an over-the-top ‘80s action hero swagger in each and every scene. Plus, her backstory and role in the film are both intrinsically linked to Thor’s journey, so she’s not just window dressing. As awesome as Thor is, as devious as Loki is, as badass as Hulk is, Ragnarok is at its best when Valkyrie is on the screen.
Oh right, the Hulk is back too. Ragnarok works him into the story in a way that’s both original and exciting, and his relationship with Thor also helps keep the film centered. Both are so well-established in this universe, their continued banter always gives the film focus. Things can get crazy, but as long as Hulk and Thor are there, the story remains grounded enough that it doesn’t get lost in the spectacle.
And yet, with so much good stuff going on, there’s that one lingering problem: Rarely does any of it grab you in the guts. Anytime something dramatic starts to happen, which happens with almost every character, it nearly always pays off with a joke or action beat instead of emotional impact. The film will undoubtedly make you happy—and happiness is great!—but without something more, the movie basically only works on the surface.
That’s the only reason why Thor: Ragnarok barely misses being in the very top tier of Marvel movies. Instead it’s right there on the edge, a very, very good movie that’s almost great. However, its saving grace is that a truly funny movie can still have a life beyond the screen and, unlike many of its predecessors, Thor: Ragnarok has that timeless potential. Long after the Marvel Cinematic Universe is over, odds are we’ll still be enjoying, rewatching, and quoting this crazy, hilarious movie.
Thor: Ragnarok opens November 3.