Thor: Ragnarok is poised to be a (Hulk) smash.
The embargo on reviews lifted Oct. 19, and the Marvel movie is by and large earning raves from critics. In the third installment in the series, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is imprisoned on the planet Sakaar. Without his mighty hammer Mjolnir (or his long blond hair!), the crown prince of Asgard must save his home planet before Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, can destroy it. But first, he must win a gladiatorial battle against a lost ally: The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Directed by Taika Waititi and produced by Kevin Feige, Thor: Ragnarok stars Tadanobu Asano as Hogun, Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Rachel House as Topaz, Zachary Levi as Fandral, Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Karl Urban as Skurge. The film is rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material and intense action scenes.
Thor: Ragnarok is in theaters Nov. 3.
Here's what critics are saying about the movie:
• "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," The Wrap's Alonso Duralde writes, praising its balance of "stakes and silliness." Fans "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." Hemsworth is a "daft performer," whose combined humor and sexuality "make him the 21st century version of Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield." His "comic rapport" with Hiddleston, Ruffalo and Thompson makes for a "screwball delight," Duralde adds. Whether people see superhero movies for "glossy escapism or the pulse-pounding action, you'll get your large soda's worth."
• "The plot technically revolves around Ragnarok—an apocalypse meant to signify the end of days in the mythical realm of Asgard—but it's basically an excuse to have Thor interact with a parade of nutjobs to rival the scamps of Guardians of the Galaxy," Rolling Stone's Peter Travers writes. In fact, "the whole movie is a grab-bag of insanity so off-the-chain hilarious that you stick with it even when the convoluted plot goes haywire." Hemsworth and Ruffalo's characters in particular "are frenemies to die for," and "the latter's transformation from beast to Bruce Banner is a doozy." Franchise newcomer Thompson is a "treat" as Valkyrie. "Granted, there are probably more monsters and CGI battles and explosions than the movie needs," Travers writes. "But the movie keeps this Thor party hopping like it's 1999 and Ragnarok will never come."
• Infused with Waititi's "signature goofiness," Thor: Ragnarok is "by far the best of the solo films" starring Hemsworth "as the hammer-wielding warrior," USA Today's Brian Truitt writes. "It's zany to a fault, though: The adventure leans hard into the campy Flash Gordon vibe and slapstick humor, so much so that when the third act save-the-world stuff comes, it doesn't feel completely earned." While it's "fantastic" and "trippy" visuals are stunning, the "best surprise" is seeing "both sides of Hulk, the rage monster and the insecure genius, get more to do than in their prior two Avengers appearances." And perhaps because of that, Truitt writes, "Even tonal issues can't upend the magic this movie taps into putting Thor and Hulk together as new best buddies, whether they're throwing down in an arena or having a bromantic heart-to-heart."
• "Undoubtedly the best of the character's three films, it's more confident than the others, more kaleidoscopically colorful, and more eye-catching in its design. It has more coherent fight sequences and more impressive digital effects than its predecessors did. And while it takes its hero's story to surprising new places, it has an endearing reverence for his comic-book roots: he keeps calling himself 'The Mighty Thor,' because that used to be the title of his monthly comic," the BBC's Nicholas Barber writes. "More importantly, this sequel, or threequel, establishes its blond leading man as somebody who's fun to hang around with for two hours. Not for him the geopolitical debates or the personal angst of Iron Man and Captain America."
• Waititi "brings the right balance of meaty action and sauciness" to the movie, according to The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan. "It may sound as if the movie is only for 13-year-old boys, or the Marvel faithful, but it isn't. In these times of heightened stress and anxiety, Ragnarok—a word from Norse mythology that refers to both the end of the old world and the rebirth of a better, new one—could not come at a more opportune time," he writes. "It's a movie that, to put it in terms that the film's screenwriters might appreciate, is Thor-ly needed."
• Hemsworth "diffuses his character's beefcake machismo with a quick tongue and a barely concealed insecurity—he's like Ben Stiller in the body of Dolph Lundgren," The Guardian's Steve Rose writes. Ruffalo gives his "most fleshed-out performance" as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, but overall, "There are a great many corners cut, plot holes papered over, and laws of physics bent out of recognition in this movie, to be honest. And if you've sat through the past dozen recent Marvel movies, you'll find the core elements very familiar—a rag-tag team of heroes (Thor unimaginatively dubs them 'the Revengers'), an all-powerful antagonist, an impending apocalypse, and a set of essentially un-killable characters. Added to which, the liberal use of CGI and green screen makes for a visual flimsiness. Even the scenes set in 'Norway' look fake."
• Hemsworth is "likeable," but "the Thor movies have been largely forgettable, memorable mostly for the upstaging antics of his brother, Loki, and as a bad fit for Natalie Portman (Thor's former love interest, now mercifully banished into the storytelling cornfield). Ragnarok tries hard to change that profile, and mostly succeeds by knocking its big, blond beauty consistently down to size," The New York Times' Manohla Dargis writes. "It makes sense for all sorts of reasons, including that superheroes can so easily appear to be on the wrong side of history, especially those who look like Aryan cartoons. That isn't Thor's fault; he was drawn that way. But times change, and a conceptual makeover was necessary—and not just to boost his box-office appeal. Marvel could have gone grimmer, broodier and sterner, but that isn't its onscreen way; so it has made Thor sunnier, sillier and funnier. It's a good fit, at least for a while."
• "Ragnarok is a doodle notebook full of teenage daydreams, a neon-infused fantasy of what superhero films could look like. There are gigantic monsters and beautiful women; zombie armies and a big spooky dog; an evil witch and Jeff Goldblum, but this isn't just a wacky movie made for the sake of wackiness. Ragnarok is the child of confident filmmaking and understanding of what the Thor franchise could have always been," Polygon's Brock Wilburt writes. "It takes a character that could have always been more and makes good on that promise through competent storytelling and unbridled enthusiasm for the world. This is exactly how fans should be rewarded for their fandom." Compared to other superhero films, "There has never been a clearer example of throwing the entire kitchen sink at a single title and having every single washer and lug-nut of that porcelain mechanism land in perfect order" than this.
• The movie is "pretty much skippable," Variety's Peter Debruge writes, "although it's not without its pleasures—most notably, the fact that Thor's not so solo this time around..." That said, it's also "easily the best of the three Thor movies—or maybe I just think so because its screenwriters and I finally seem to agree on one thing: The Thor movies are preposterous," he adds, noting that the script makes fun of the film's "plot, production design, locations and past adventures." As heroes go, "Thor is a big yawn," he writes. "Irreverent almost to the point of camp," Waititi was finally able to "imbue Marvel's dullest Avenger with a personality—even if said personality is little more than stony stoicism, best revealed in comedy riffs" with The Hulk.
• Hemsworth finally gets the "chance to find the comic groove beneath the title character's beefcake godliness," The Hollywood Reporter's Sheri Linden writes. "He does it expertly, and the self-mocking humor is all the more welcome given Thor's essential blandness." Hopkins' "high-ground patriarch feels a tad looser," while Hiddleston "offers more of the seething sarcasm" that makes his villain "the best thing to happen to bad hair in the new millennium." Some scenes "might bring a viewer back to the day's news," Linden adds, but "it's the loose-limbed laughs that amp the story's comic-book formula. In the evanescent Ragnarok, even the shock of grievous bodily injury evaporates before our eyes. What will linger when the weapons are withdrawn is the knowledge that you've been prepped for the inevitable next chapter."
• Waititi "brings his caffeinated pinball energy to the often-stoic Asgardian he-man, goosing the predictable, sometimes-plodding plot beats and tired tropes of the men-in-tights genre with giddy hits of WTF laughing gas," Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty writes. Even so, it's hard to overcome the "meandering and narcoleptic story," with its "rote, paint-by-numbers" script. Blanchett "camps and vamps" in her role, "essentially doing exactly what Angelina Jolie did in Maleficent and what Charlize Theron did in Snow White and the Huntsman." Thompson, however, is a standout. "The Marvel universe needs to see more of her," he says. "She's a star."
• "Anchored in genocide, slavery and the literal end of days, this is as weighty an adventure as any the hammered one has undertaken," Empire's James Dyer writes. "But Waititi's feather-light touch imbues the whole affair with effervescent jollity, caring not a wit whether it's dealing with mass impalements or a priceless reaction to the sight of Hulk's giant green penis."
• "One of the many surprising delights in the bright and brassy and wonderfully funny Thor: Ragnarok is the recasting of the God of Thunder as a perpetual underdog," The Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper writes. There is "a lot" going on at once, he notes, "and much of it is goofy and campy and marvelously self-referential." Overall, the cast is "outstanding," especially Blanchett, Hemsworth and Thompson. "The only thing I enjoyed more than the comedy in Thor: Ragnarok was a climactic battle sequence synced perfectly to Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song.'"
• "More than just having a spike in witty lines, Thor is free of the weight of whether or not to take Odin's crown, as well as his obligations to Earth, and instead gets to use this sequel to stand up as the proud defender of Asgard in time of crisis," Cinemablend's Eric Eisenberg writes. "Hulk has literally evolved, going from mindless beast to a syntax-challenged meathead who can finally start to articulate his side of his inner-conflict with Bruce Banner. And then there's Loki, who actually proves everyone wrong by being a somewhat effective leader of his realm—even if it means letting everywhere else descend into chaos." Fans have seen "a lot of these heroes and villains over the last decade" in various films, but "this story successfully never feels stale."
(Originally published on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, at 3 a.m. PDT.)