It's no secret that the Thor solo movies haven't always been the most highly-praised in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While many fans don't outright hate them, and they still aren't nearly as bad as some of the worst of the worst superhero stuff out there, both Thor and especially Thor: The Dark World don't feel quite that special within the framework of the MCU. But Thor: Ragnarok, on the other hand, completely reinvented what a movie centered on Marvel's God of Thunder could be and gave us not only by far the character's best solo movie to date, but one of the most inventive comic book movies ever made.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige is owed a lot of credit for his overall vision and, especially in recent years, his willingness to let inventive filmmakers do their thing in the MCU. But Thor: Ragnarok is so clearly a product of director Taika Waititi's imagination that it's impossible not to single him out. It takes an army to make a movie, but this man reinvented this character brilliantly while completely honoring the legacy of what came before, all while making it fit beautifully within the confines of the larger universe.
Thor is literally a God. That brings an inherent seriousness to the whole franchise, even though these are comic book movies. But Thor: Ragnarok decides to subvert that and, instead, turns the whole thing into an action comedy that works brilliantly. Chris Hemsworth has never, ever been the issue. The dude is perfect as the character and has always committed to it fully. Luckily, Hemsworth also has comedic chops and commits totally to what this movie is selling. This is easily his best performance in the MCU to date and is one of his better credits over the course of his career so far. That makes it a shame that we may not get a Thor 4, depending on what happens after Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4.
This movie also beautifully finds a way around the whole issue of Hulk not being able to have his own solo movie in the MCU. Instead, they bring Mark Ruffalo along for the ride and loosely adapt the Planet Hulk storyline. It doesn't feel forced in any way. It's a smart and entertaining way to get more of Ruffalo's Hulk into this universe, while also serving the story of the movie at hand. Honestly, it doesn't get much better than the, "he's a friend from work" line. But loosely adapting Planet Hulk also gave Taika Waititi the chance to bring Korg into this universe. In the comics, the character is something of a simple, powerful warrior. Here, Waititi, who actually plays the character and voices him, turns him into something far more special. Korg, with very little screen time, manages to become quite possibly the most valuable comedic asset to the Marvel universe. We want more Korg. We need more Korg.
This is also a movie that features an impressive scope and true imagination. It's a movie that traverses the galaxy, going from Asgard to Earth, to hellish landscapes and the crazy world of Sakaar. Taika Waititi, for a guy who has never come close directing anything on this scale, effortlessly manages to pull it off. Sakaar, as a world, is so memorable and fully realized. It's bizarre and interesting, but easily the most important thing about it is Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster. Goldblum is essentially playing a wacky, super old spaceman version of himself, but one who rules a planet and has an affection for grand games. There was no better way to use a man of his talents within the MCU and we can only hope to see Grandmaster show up again in the future.
All of this and we've yet to speak of the stable of villains featured in Thor: Ragnarok. This movie hitches its wagon to the big bad Hela, played by the terrific Cate Blanchett. While she may not totally escape Marvel's issue with underdeveloped foes, Hela works within the confines of the movie quite well. There's also Surtur, who is visually spectacular and grand, as well as Skurge, played perfectly by Karl Urban. Though he starts as a bad guy, his character has a very satisfying arc where he winds up playing for the good guys before the credits role. As a grouping, the villains in this movie are satisfying, even if no single one of them on their own would totally do the trick. Also, how cool is that huge Fenris Wolf?
We are also introduced to Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie in this movie, who turns out to be a great addition. Loki and Thor are also probably the most fun they've ever been together, all while adding some actual depth to their relationship and to the character of Loki. Even though Thor: Ragnarok is hilarious and fun, it does manage to be serious when necessary, and effectively serious at that. This is evidenced by Odin's death scene, which carries a lot of weight.
It's a little weird speaking reflectively about a movie that is so recent, but this is one of the last steps on our journey to Infinity War, with just Black Panther left to discuss. With that in mind, Thor: Ragnarok does a decent amount to tee up the ball for the events of Avengers: Infinity War. The post-credits scene reveals Thanos' ship coming head-to-head with the remaining Asgardians and, as it just so happens, Loki is holding onto one of the Infinity Stones that the Mad Titan desperately needs. This does not bode well for anyone aboard that ship.
When it comes down to it, Thor: Ragnarok is a movie that dares you not to have a good time. If the goal of the MCU is to make fun and entertaining comic book movies, then this movie is about as successful as anything can be within those parameters. This movie not only shows the best of what the MCU is, but what it can be moving forward. Marvel Studios firmly planted a stake in the ground with Ragnarok that proclaims superhero fatigue will only be a thing if these movies stop being good and unique. It appears there's little or no danger of that happening anytime soon.