Marvel Studios has been a pioneer in establishing a shared cinematic universe, and their heroes and villains have starred in a proud collection of films, one-off shorts and tie-in media. Last year’s Thor: Ragnarok is one of the latest films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it brings back its namesake lead for his biggest struggle yet.

THOR: RAGNAROK BLU-RAY REVIEW

Heretofore, Thor’s track record on the big screen has been the weakest of his universe’s headliners, with both Thor and especially Thor: The Dark World being among Marvel Studios’ most forgettable projects. There seems to have been some recognition of that by director Taika Waititi while creating Ragnarok, however, as although it continues the narratives of Thor’s prior adventures, it also works as something of a clean slate for his brand. Thor, still lovingly portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, begins the film chained up and seemingly captured, but the character laughs off the discomfort, immediately showing his character growth since his 2011 debut while also establishing that his latest adventure would be far more comical.

And, indeed, while Ragnarok does contain plenty of action in its sci-fi and fantasy settings, Ragnarok is a comedy. While not every joke is a winner, enough of them land fairly well, largely thanks to the cast. Hemsworth’s comedic timing has improved with every film, and his performance is at its peak here. Similarly, fellow Thor series veteran Tom Hiddleston reprises his role of Loki, Thor’s antagonistic adopted brother, giving another enigmatic performance as the rogue. Unfortunately, there are times when Ragnarok would’ve benefited from some restraint in its quips, especially since its story and developments are entirely life-changing to Thor, but overall it isn’t too distracting. Moreover, Ragnarok’s catchy soundtrack accentuates the sci-fi setting.

As for its events, Thor’s returned to his mythical home of Asgard after his self-appointed quest following Avengers: Age of Ultron, quickly ousting Loki’s disguise as Odin, Asgard’s leader and the brothers’ father. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is discovered by the duo on Earth, though he’s at the end of his life when they find him, giving his firstborn child, the villainous Hela (Cate Blanchett), the strength to reemerge from her exile. Marvel Studios’ movies are not acclaimed for having a strong lineup of well-written villains, but Blanchett nevertheless gives her character a charismatic aura, and Hela and her history – where she and Odin used to be savage warmongering tyrants – serve as a nice foil to Thor’s humbling over his years of heroics. It even retroactively gives Odin’s characterization in the prior films a bit more depth, as Odin wasn’t merely a wise old sage, he desperately didn’t want Thor to repeat his and Hela’s past mistakes.

Ragnarok primarily takes place on the futuristic yet dumpy Sakaar, a planet ruled by the eccentric Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Thor and Loki are both stranded there after their initial defeat to Hela, and Thor is quickly abducted by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and sold to the Grandmaster to compete in his bloodsport. Thor quickly befriends the amusingly timid Korg, played by Waititi himself, who’s one of the funniest characters on this alien world. Thor’s informed he can win his freedom, and therefore return to his home to fend off Hela and stop the prophesied Ragnarok from occurring, if he can defeat the champion, another familiar face to MCU patrons: the Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo. Disappointingly, the Asgardian plot threads and Bruce Banner’s time on Sakaar as Hulk fought each other somewhat for screen time, with Hela sadly suffering from this.

Thor eventually sneaks off with his Avenger alumni, Valkyrie and the reluctant Loki. The chemistry between the makeshift “Revenger” team is entertaining, with every member offering a fun dynamic when playing opposite Hemsworth. It’s Hiddleston who scores my favorite scenes, however. One was Loki’s reaction when he witnessed Hulk’s first appearance, owing to their previous encounter in Avengers. The other was when Loki and Thor discussed themselves and their futures, bringing a sweet sense of closure to their sibling rivalry. On that note, the ending brings Thor’s reign full circle while setting up his next appearance in this year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as I am, then you’ll enjoy Thor: Ragnarok’s bountiful bonus feature lineup. Waititi provides an entertaining commentary track, and behind the scenes features show off the filming and casting behind the movie, one of which gives the admittedly unsurprising implication that Valkyrie will continue to play a role in future films. 8-bit renditions of two fight scenes are a nifty bonus, as are the bloopers and deleted scenes. Finally, another five-minute feature serves as a retrospective of the MCU’s decade-long history, promoting how it will all come together in the next two Avengers films.