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A spirit that is not afraid

REVIEW: 'Thor: Ragnarok' finally makes the franchise godlike

The “Thor” movies have always been an odd fit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first one introduced the main villain of “The Avengers” and the second revealed another vital ingredient to the overarching story of the MCU in the form of an Infinity Stone, but the movies themselves never really stood out on their own.

It wasn’t because of the usual sins of cinema like bad acting or a lackluster cast, but rather because the films featuring the Asgardian Avenger have been largely, well, boring.

The settings and characters had so much potential to be amazing; a dishonored Norse god battling for nine realms while trying to impress his father and keep his not-so-secretly evil brother at bay. In the comics, that setup has brought about some of the best story arcs ever.

In the movies, however, the adventures of Thor and friends felt held back by safe writing, boring characters and an over-reliance on love interests to drive the story along.

Ignoring everything that came before it, “Thor: Ragnarok” rights the wrongs of previous installments by standing on its own, both in series and in cinematic universe.

“Ragnarok” is a movie that bends genre, art style and character archetypes to make a much more interesting and fun experience that secures it a place in the upper echelons of the MCU.

Directed by Taika Waititi, a first timer in the superhero genre, “Ragnarok” feels different than any MCU movie, and completely different from the first two “Thors.” Gone are the drawn out, opulent sounding diatribes of Nordic myth royalty, the largely faceless and aimless villains, and the excruciatingly boring Jane Foster love interest interactions.

Instead, “Ragnarok” carries itself like a dream sequence from the mind of an '80s cartoon fan, mixing sword and shield with lasers and aliens. While the action jumps back and forth between the fantasy haven of Asgard and the cyber punk planet of Sakaar, the motivations of all characters line up and the story is surprisingly coherent.

The most striking thing about “Ragnarok,” next to its vibrant, colorful cinematography that puts “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” to shame, is how absolutely hysterical it is. Because Waititi directed the film it wasn’t a surprise that the movie was funny, but the overall consistency of the humor was definitely an unexpected treat.

From the very opening scene, the movie delivers joke after joke. The humor fits well in the setting of the movie and perfectly compliments the absurdity of Thor and Hulk’s “buddy-cop” situations throughout.

That’s not to say the movie never gets serious, though. Peppered throughout the film are moments of emotion, intensity and an overall feeling that, even though everyone is laughing, there is a serious threat to the world as the characters know it.

The characters are the best part of "Ragnarok." Returning characters retain their primary characteristics while adding new, organic-feeling aspects to who they are. They also shed the comic book stereotypes that made them feel shallow.

New characters — and there are quite a lot — fit in perfectly to the universe and make viewers care for them without spending too much time on backstory. Every new character has a purpose that fits into the overarching, end-of-the-world narrative, meaning there is always someone to cheer for on screen.

The Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo, returns to the silver screen after his mysterious disappearance at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Without spoiling anything, the movie revolves around the big green monster rather than his average-sized alter ego Bruce Banner, and somehow has the Hulk’s third-person way of speaking and his simpleton rage stealing the show.

It is the pacing of the action, though, that really makes the movie shine. Nothing is presented in exposition and the story is told explicitly through the character's actions.

“Ragnarok” trims the fat of the older films and replaces the moments of sitting around planning with actively finding solutions to problems. Even when characters have flashback sequences or are figuring out their next move, these scenes are presented in a way that adds to the overall feel of the movie rather than making the action grind to a complete halt.

Marvel Studios seems to have caught their stride in their “third sequence” of films, and “Thor: Ragnarok” is the epitome of proof for that. The action is visceral, the story is interesting and the movie is just plain fun — something that was severely missing in the previous “Thor” installments.

“Ragnarok” proves that superhero films don’t have to fit the mold or stay safe like their predecessors, and that leaves an impact on the MCU that will hopefully influence the movies to come.

This is definitely a movie to check out, and is well worth the price of admission to see it on the big screen.

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