By Jonathon Potochnic

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With the first two “Thor” films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe being some of the worst received by critics and fans, a much-needed revision was needed. Boasting a colorful ‘80s direction, a respected director in Taika Waititi, well-paced writing and knockout casting, “Thor: Ragnarok” gifts audiences with one of the most entertaining viewing experiences of not only the year, but of the entire MCU.

Joining what seems like a stylistic movement, “Thor: Ragnarok” is a beautifully retro-themed, synthesized ‘80s escape. The pulsating score and speedy editing reminded me of my favorite parts in “Tron: Legacy.” Planet Hulk, where Thor finds himself imprisoned and forced into gladiator fights, is pure, unadulterated eye candy. The brightly colored, diverse locations in “Ragnarok” are a refreshing take on setting, creating a more consumable experience than other recent blockbusters with darker ideas and heavy themes. “Ragnarok” is one of the best shot, most visually engaging movies in theaters this year.

“Ragnarok” feels like recent stylish endeavors like “Tron Legacy” and “Oblivion,” but doesn’t lose its substance and characters in wake of such visual splendor. “Thor: Ragnarok” provides an unpredictable script with solid character writing and a ridiculous amount of comedy. “Ragnarok” consistently throws humor of all categories at viewers, and a surprising amount of it sticks. The writing and comedic timing here is ironic, inspired and wild. It never really whiffs either, staying far after the introductory scenes with steady success.

Quite a bit of the comedic achievements and strong character arcs in “Ragnarok” should be attributed to the surprisingly effective casting. Many of the supporting roles like Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Karl Urban’s Skurge are fascinating and well-warranted, adding meaningful wrinkles to a densely-crafted adventure. Taika Waititi’s Korg (yes, the director) and Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster are scene-stealers, adding charismatic comedy roles to an already-stuffed roster. Family conspiracy and lineage make Cate Blanchett’s background more interesting, giving her villainous role some weight and subverting the negative stereotypes of MCU baddies. Her time on screen paints her as an imposing, worthy foe for Asgard and the gods that rule the city.

The strongest characters in “Ragnarok” are its leads Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo. The film finally answers where the Hulk has been since “Age of Ultron.” Both characters go through a somewhat transformative phase: Thor, with the loss of his trusty hammer Mjolnir, and Bruce Banner as to how he can help people as the Hulk rather than inadvertently hurting them. These smaller, more dramatic scenes had me sold and work despite having so much going in the plot. Viewers who appreciate a slower-paced, emotional narrative may be disappointed with “Thor: Ragnarok,” but to go in with this desire is to miss the point of the film.

One aspect of Thor’s development in “Ragnarok” that stuck with me after my viewing was how he changed. The transformation that Thor goes through is important because it shifts the audience’s perspective of his character. Thor of course is a god, and throughout many of the Marvel films he has appeared in, he lacks a sense of vulnerability. I always thought Hemsworth was a great casting choice for such an unorthodox character, but I wanted his character to feel more relatable and conflicted about his decisions. I won’t spoil what happens in “Ragnarok,” but Marvel addresses this issue in an interesting manner, making his character much more compelling. On top of this, Hemsworth’s acting is superb. The narrative feels more in line with his character, creating issues that impact the God of Thunder in ways that are more alluring than the first two “Thor” films.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is one of the most entertaining movies to see this year. It delivers a fresh setting with strong characters and effective comedy. The dramatic elements somehow still hold importance despite a ridiculously wild plot, developing the big figures in the MCU with implications for future films. A bevy of well-written players and great casting choices add a layer of charisma to a tangent of the MCU that has long been missing such a trait. With excellent directing and a surprisingly well-balanced script to boot, “Thor: Ragnarok” gives more gravity to the events coming in “Infinity War.”

9.4. Amazing. "Wildly funny and entertaining."

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