The umptee-ninth installment of the ever-more-sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe hits theaters November 3, returning Chris Hemsworth’s God of Thunder (and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk) to the spotlight after sitting out Captain America: Civil War. I’ll try to keep it spoiler-free as far as this movie goes, but there will necessarily be spoilers for some of the previous movies, so if you haven’t seen Avengers: Age of Ultron or Thor: The Dark World, proceed with caution.
1. What’s it about?
While Thor has been off traipsing through the Nine Realms in search of answers to the visions he saw in the Hot Tub of Destiny, his long-lost sister, Hela, Goddess of Death, has returned to Asgard to claim the throne, Odin having been replaced by Loki in disguise. When Thor and Loki try to stop her, they find themselves hurled far from Asgard; Thor lands in the hands of an immortal called the Grandmaster, who consigns him to the gladiatorial arena, where he finds himself facing the Incredible Hulk in the Grandmaster’s “Contest of Champions.” Meanwhile, Heimdall (Idris Elba) and other Asgardians attempt to protect the realm from Hela and her underling, Skurge the Executioner (Karl Urban). Then it gets weird.
2. Will I like it?
That depends on how you like your superheroes. If you love the DC movies and hated the Guardians of the Galaxy, this one’s really not for you. If, on the other hand, you enjoyed the humor in Ant-Man and like Jack Kirby’s design sensibilities, welcome home. Taika Waititi has managed to capture the mind-blowing cosmic imagery and epic scale of Kirby and merge it with Walt Simonson’s mythic storytelling. The film owes a lot to both Simonson’s legendary run on the comics (Thor #337-353) and Greg Pak’s “Planet Hulk” run (Incredible Hulk #92-105 and Giant-Size Hulk #1), with a bit of the feel of Steve Gerber’s Defenders run, balancing improvisational comedy with incredible action sequences.
3. Will my kids like it?
They are going to love it, if they can handle the stabby parts. It’s bright, colorful, fast-paced, fun, and full of humor and action, and their favorite characters are there.
4. Is the rating accurate? What age is it okay for?
Thor: Ragnarok is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material”; that’s true, but it’s actually more than that. It seemed like there was more swearing than I remember hearing in Marvel movies, but that may just be the fact that we haven’t heard these particular characters drop these words. I don’t recall any F-bombs, but some of the other more popular words are in there. Also, while the violence is on par with the previous films, it seemed there was a lot more emphasis on slashing and stabbing than energy blasts and guns, so the violent scenes are more visceral, and possibly more upsetting for very young viewers. As always, you know your kid better than we do. There is a scene of Hulk’s naked bum played for comedy, some suggestive dialogue about sexual situations, and at least one character drinks a lot. There is a somewhat juvenile tone to some of the humor, delivered with the kind of “we said a bad word” smirk usually reserved for Beavis & Butthead episodes.
5. Which previous Marvel movies do I have to have seen?
Amazingly, I don’t think you have to have seen any of them. Everything you need to know is in the movie, at least enough to get the gist of it through context. If you haven’t ever seen a Marvel movie, all you need to know going in is that Thor’s brother Loki, the god of mischief, has removed their father, Odin, from the throne and is impersonating him (and Anthony Hopkins does a wonderful job of playing Loki pretending to be Odin); Thor has seen prophetic apocalyptic visions and is chasing them down; and Hulk has gone missing in an Avengers Quinjet after the events of Age of Ultron.
6. How is the cast?
Chris Hemsworth is obviously having a wonderful time of it, enjoying the more improvisational approach that Waititi brought to the set. Mark Ruffalo has some nice bits, as does Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, continuing the post-credits scene from his film. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie (allegedly the first openly LGBTQ character in a Marvel movie, but if so, I must have missed the scene that established that) is a hard-drinking badass who more than carries her part of the story, and Cate Blanchett’s Hela is sultry, sinister, dangerous, and more than a little bitter about having been exiled. Idris Elba finally gets to see some action as Heimdall. But it’s Jeff Goldblum who walks away with large chunks of the movie; his character, the Grandmaster, was a throwaway plot device in Marvel’s 1982 limited series Contest of Champions, but Goldblum turns him into an absurd cosmic game show host/DJ, exactly the sort of oblivious and glib narcissist one might find in a reality TV show star elevated to global ruler, and reveals just how dangerous such a person can be if given enough power. The other gem in the film’s cast is Korg, a gregarious gladiator made of rock, voiced by the director.
7. Does Thor: Ragnarok tie into Guardians of the Galaxy?
Not directly, but it certainly introduces the bold color palette and cosmic psychedelia of those movies into the main Marvel universe, setting the stage for the two teams to meet next year. There is one quick blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to something from the Guardians movies, pretty trivial, but enough to link things up.
8. Is it worth paying for IMAX, 3D, or both?
The screening I saw was neither IMAX nor 3D, but there are several scenes that would no doubt be pretty incredible in the large or 3D format. There is a lot to look at and a lot going on in the film and a lot of action that would lend itself to the jumbo 3D experience, so I’ll say sure, if you’re willing to pay extra for that, this would be a good one for it.
9. Is there anything after the credits?
Yep. Two scenes, one after the main credits, which is a nod toward next year’s Infinity War, and another at the very end that ties up a loose end from earlier in the film.
10. Does it set up a lot of stuff for the next one?
Thor: Ragnarok is pretty self-contained, more concerned with telling its own story and wrapping up the Asgard subplot of the previous films than in world-building for the future, so there’s very little here that will directly lead into the next Avengers film enough to make it mandatory viewing. You’ll want to see it because it’s a fun movie, not because it’s a necessary piece of the bigger story. As for what’s next, the Black Panther’s solo film comes out in February 2018, which will no doubt culminate in his joining the Avengers in time for Avengers: Infinity War in May. Ant-Man and the Wasp follows after in July, and then we wait until March 2019 for the long-overdue Captain Marvel debut.