Parents need to know that "Thor: Ragnarok" is the third chapter in Marvel's solo-superhero series about the ancient god of thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) – and the first to be directed by cult favorite Taika Waititi ("What We Do in the Shadows"). It's much less serious and dark than the previous Thor installments (especially "The Dark World"); humor/tone-wise, it's a lot more like "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Ant-Man." Violence will probably be the main issue for most parents: Characters die, and there's more slashing and stabbing than in other Marvel movies, though it's still mostly gore-free and non-graphic. You can also expect plenty of big, explosive comic book-style moments. Language includes "ass" and "s--t," as well as adolescent humor-style references to masturbation and orgies. One character drinks a lot, but it's not treated as a serious problem. There's a theme of facing major, traumatic change that will have ripples throughout future Marvel titles and may have an impact on younger viewers; characters also display positive traits including courage and perseverance.
WHAT'S THE STORY?
Plagued by visions of Ragnarok – that is, the death of the gods and the end of Asgard – Thor (Chris Hemsworth) moves to avert the long-foretold disaster in "Thor: Ragnarok." After suffering a terrible personal loss, the son of Odin discovers life-changing truths about Asgard, his family, and the true threat. He finds he must escape captivity and recruit friends both new (Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie) and old (Mark Ruffalo as Hulk) for an epic confrontation against the most powerful forces he's ever faced (namely, Cate Blanchett as Hela, Goddess of Death).
IS IT ANY GOOD?
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The Marvel Cinematic Universe's most audacious entry so far, Thor's third stand-alone movie goes there with wild, bold choices – and it succeeds, epically, on many levels. "Thor: Ragnarok" is a triumphant unification of diverse MCU elements. It's as gonzo-funny as the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, it steps up the sci-fi from those and the Avengers entries, it expands on the best mythological threads of the previous Thor films, it introduces exciting sword-and-sorcery action, and it even allows for real, believable character growth. Director Taika Waititi and the screenwriters have realized that all these things exist simultaneously in this ever-expanding storytelling cosmos, and they embrace it all.
Ragnarok has dragons and demons and the Goddess of Death, spaceships and lasers and wormholes, gladiatorial combat and revolution, and even some magic in the form of a Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) crossover. Not ony does Waititi stir these ingredients together with the aplomb of a mad-but-brilliant chef, but he boldly adds his own special sauce with his quirky humor and even the use of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" as a kind of new, perfectly chosen theme for Thor.
We've seen hints of it before, but "Ragnarok" fully unlocks Hemsworth's Thor as a likable comic figure capable of personal growth. He's actually evolving into the great king he must become, while getting funnier with each appearance. The return of Ruffalo's Hulk is more than welcome – so much so that the only complaint with the film's eye-popping action is there isn't enough of him in the final battle. Even Anthony Hopkins, as Odin, gets to have some fun doing his version of Odin-as-played-by-Loki. Among the newcomers, Thompson shines as the conflicted, swaggering, too-cool-for-Asgard Valkyrie (though her alcoholism-of-the-gods drinking problem isn't addressed at all by the film). The most lovable of the new characters is the gentle, blue rockpile-revolutionary warrior Korg, voiced winningly by Waititi. And as Hela, Blanchett kills it. Hela was co-created by one of the greatest comic artists of all time, Jack Kirby, and, unlike some superhero movies (ahem, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer"), "Ragnarok" dives deeply into Kirby's incredible designs. The two-time Oscar-winning actress achieves the full Kirby, chewing the scenery with razor-sharp fangs and eyes shining with malevolence while looking comic-panel perfect doing it.
This isn't a perfect movie: The brightly lit, candy-colored cinematography and production design sometimes feel inappropriate (see "Blade Runner 2049," for instance, for a more visceral representation of a garbage-dump city). And major characters are killed and quickly forgotten. (Speaking of which, where's Sif?) But those are quibbles with a movie that, from its opening scene (easily the most thrilling in the MCU to date), incites a head-banging "right on!" Waititi, previously best known for small, personal comedies like "What We Do in the Shadows" and his work with "Flight of the Conchords," passes his first big-canvas test with flying colors. Avoiding the DC/Justice League Universe model of jamming together ill-suited parts in the name of "artistic freedom," Waititi shows, as James Gunn did with the "Guardians" movies, that an artist can be oneself and play within the same sprawling sandbox as others. The ambitious "Thor: Ragnarok" mixes wildly disparate elements – and achieves a kind of alchemy.
RATING AND CONTENT
Recommended for ages 12 and older
Quality: 4 out of 5
Positive messages: 3 out of 5
Positive role models: 2 out of 5
Violence: 3 out of 5
Sex: 2 out of 5
Language: 3 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 2 out of 5
Consumerism: 0 out of 5 (Are products/advertisements embedded? Is the title part of a broader marketing initiative/empire? Is the intent to sell things to kids?)
Theatrical release date: November 3, 2017
Director: Taika Watiti
Studio: Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures
Run time: 130 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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