For a franchise centered on the God of Thunder, the Thor movies have been disappointingly lackluster. Well, over-lustered truth be told. Preposterous costumes. Overuse of color. Dialogue bogged down in its own pretentiousness. And just when it seemed like Thor might only be good as a small part of the Avengers ensemble, we get Thor: Ragnarok. Thor: Ragnarok is over-lustered with preposterous costumes, overuse of color, and pretentious dialogue, but delightfully embraces it with gusto, humor, and shameless self-awareness.
Thor: Ragnarok parodies itself and its predecessors at every turn, flatly refusing to take itself seriously. Whatever Thor and The Dark World were aiming to be, Ragnarok doesn't care. If Thor and The Dark World had ambitions of being part of a serious franchise, Ragnarok casually tosses these hopes aside and then knocks back a swig of Asgardian ale, swaggering onward without a care.
Ragnarok decides early on that it won't be bothered with petty emotional arcs, and immediately dispels with the weakest points of the previous two movies with apathetic irreverence. The completely nonsensical romance between the God of Thunder and utterly boring earth scientist Jane Foster is mercifully over, and not even Thor seems to mind that too much. Odin passes away, and neither Thor nor Loki are affected beyond the healing powers of ten seconds' screen time. When Hela, the sister Thor never knew he had, shows up to reign sovereign over all nine realms and beyond, Thor never even asks why he's never heard of her, or wonders why his parents never mentioned her. Elsewhere, Hela unceremoniously disposes of Thor's sidekicks, and Thor never seems to notice. In fact, if you weren't paying attention, you may have entirely missed that Thor's best friends have been offed. It would seem that angst, drama, and pondering are the domain of Captain America, not Thor. And this works charmingly well in Ragnarok.
Whomever it was that decided that the third and final Thor movie could do without certain things was equally wise in realizing that there isn't a necessity for such things to be replaced. For example, Jane Foster is absent from Ragnarok, Lady Sif is nowhere to be found, and there's no love story of any kind in the movie. This decision alone buoyed Ragnarok out of the painful mediocrity that The Dark World left the franchise in. Ragnarok also avoids giving us too many villains and subplots. Hela is the villain, and everyone else is a nuisance at best. Not even Jeff Goldblum's absurd Grandmaster seems very threatening next to Hela's elk-from-Hades vibe. Speaking of Hela, true to the tone of the movie, Hela is an over-the-top villain, fitting perfectly into this absurd world of flashy colors and outrageous costumes. She's not a tortured semi-sympathetic villain, but a classically aristocratic evil who relishes in her nefarious ambitions.
Back for his fourth turn as the bane of Asgard is Loki, ever vacillating between narcissistic mischief and dark ambitions. Predictably, Thor and Loki must team up again while contending with how often they try to get rid of each other along the way. Thor will never stop insisting that Loki can't be trusted, all the while trusting him anyway. Loki will never stop insisting he can trusted, all the while stabbing the backs of whomever is in his way. Everyone uses each other, and that's just the nature of the game. Thor knows that Loki will ultimately betray him again, so he uses him as long as he can. Loki knows that at some point he'll want to make another play for power, so he plays sides wherever best suits him.
In the way of new characters, personally, I didn't see that Valkyrie brought very much to the table other than fan service, but since I've already gone to great lengths to explain how very un-serious Ragnarok is, I can't be overly critical about unimportant characters or gratuitous cameos. Speaking of the latter however, I was expecting to see more of Dr. Strange after the end credit scene in his movie, but it was a somewhat shoehorned moment. The only real purpose for it seemed to be putting Cumberbatch and Hiddleston on screen at the same time, and reminding the audience that they're all in the same universe. But since Strange's otherwise unnecessary cameo provided a few more moments to chuckle about, I'm not complaining. Ragnarok also introduces Skurge as a sort of accidental henchman, who is likewise not particularly important, but has his moments here and there before traveling an utterly predictable road in the finale.
The strongest point of Thor: Ragnarok is the effortless chemistry between Thor and Loki. The brotherly dynamic between Thor and Loki never wears off, and as always, you can't help but hope that they can work things out long enough to stay onscreen together as long as possible. Yet even when they inevitably double-cross each other, there's a playful mischief in it that's oddly endearing.
Thor: Ragnarok is quite simply, fun. The film walks the perfect line of comedy without making itself into a parody, and keeps just enough relevant story in the mix to make it interesting and worthwhile. Ragnarok may not top any lists of greatest superhero movies, but it towers over its other Thor predecessors, boldly and hilariously taking its own trippy and somewhat un-heroic path.