Thor isn't the most interesting of the MCU Avengers by a long shot. He has two modes, brooding and really mad, and doesn't capture the stage in the way someone like Iron Man or even Cap can. Iron Man has tons of memorable scenes that show his character such as the "Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist" exchange with Cap in Avengers or the Senate hearing in IM 2. Thor doesn't have a lot of them because he just has very little character. His comic book portrayal is, if not more interesting, at least more entertaining, with all kinds of wacky, over-the-top, bombastic, supremely cocky and eminently quotable dialogue delivered in Ye Olde English, but MCU Thor just talks in a kind of stale and slightly old-fashioned way. Even in his debut movie, the one with the most character development he had, I felt his transition from cocky Asgardian prince to humbled, self-sacrificing mortal was somewhat too hurried and not convincingly set up. So when I show up to a Thor movie I'm really only there for Chris Hemsworth fanservice and Darcy awesomeness delivered on an excuse plot.
That is not the movie I got.
Thor: Ragnarok is a fun, colorful and explosive romp. Literally: it opens with a rocket dragon chase and ends with the shattering of a planet. Even more impressive is how all the actors stole the show from expensive special effects, with performances that were rightfully lauded. I felt this was the first Marvel movie where they really made good use of Chris Hemsworth and let him display his ability as an actor. Thor in the movie was precisely the boisterous, charming and cocky young king he should be, underlined by a powerful streak of responsibility and duty (such as when he shows his determination to return and fight Hela despite being grossly outmatched), and softened by his many adorkable moments (like when he's cowering before a haircut or failing hilariously to make a dramatic window-breaking exit). So effective is Hemsworth's portrayal of Thor here that when Thor goes quiet and solemn -- such as during the climatic battle against Hela -- you immediately know things have got real serious instead it merely being another yawn-inducing return to default mode.
This movie broke new ground for all the main characters. Tom Hiddleston delivers the excellent performance that everyone expects of him by now, but I especially like that this movie figured out that Loki is at his most entertaining when he's trying to weasel his way out of unpleasant consequences. There is even a genuinely heartwarming moment of brotherhood near the end which I didn't think was possible after the last movie. It showed us a Hulk more expressive and vocal than ever before, someone who was recognizably his own person and not just a green rage machine, officially salvaging the character from the trainwreck of the forced love story in Age of Ultron.
And we saw the most awesome female superhero to ever grace the big screen in Valkyrie, whom I loved from the moment she sauntered up to Thor to take him in, looking mildly annoyed that her ship's blasters aren't coming online immediately. She's exactly the kind of boisterous and shamelessly drunk rogue who would be kicking around Sakaar, and I loved the portrayal of someone who seemed so fun-loving and rowdy on the outside but nursed deep trauma within her. She wasn't morally perfect -- abandoning her homeland and her initial selfish attitude see to that -- but she had a deep core of courage that gets uncovered over the course of the story. I also thought it was remarkable that Valkyrie did not fall in love with Thor. While I don't think that romance or sex necessarily detracts from a character, seeing a male and female protagonist working together, without undertones of romantic attraction and simply with mutual respect, is rare, and I think that more varied portrayals of women and the different kinds of relationships they have with people can only ever be a good thing. In contrast to shallow, clumsy attempts to make strong female characters by obsessing over whether their costumes are too skimpy (yes, it's good and right to protest female characters only ever being relegated to the role of sexual eye candy, but going too far inadvertently promotes a different kind of female objectification by judging women based on their clothes instead of actions or abilities), this movie did it right by making her a fun and complete person.
The movie's humor was highly praised and there were plenty of moments that made me smile, although none of the jokes were laugh-out-loud funny to me. But to me this speaks more to the movie's overall strength than the weakness of its humor. While Thor 2 felt like a series of funny, vaguely Thor-related skits, Thor 3 is a fun movie with good humor in it that doesn't overshadow the rest of the elements. The scriptwriting is tight and powerful. And the environment, especially the planet Sakaar where most of it takes place, has a bright, colorful aesthetic that can only be described as a retro videogame arcade, complete with synth music. And let's not forget the refreshing lack of nausea inducing shakycam that plagued Winter Soldier. This was a movie I could watch without drugging myself up on anti-emetics.
Thor: Ragnarok also did comic references the right way: respectfully. There was very little name-dropping Wakanda and Blablabla and nonsense words merely to wink, wink at the dwindling comic book reading audience; nearly everything made sense in context and could be enjoyed without prior knowledge of MCU and the comics. The biggest example of this is Skurge's famous last stand. Now, I actually have seen the comic in question (thanks to Kreuz) so I knew what this was referencing. But even without seeing that famous comic page, you can still enjoy Skurge's arc, and all of it -- right down to his title as 'Executioner', and where he gets the dual assault rifles and why he uses them instead of his huge axe -- feels natural, internally consistent with everything the movie shows us, something that creators in any medium could learn from. I also thought it was impressive on the director's and the actor's part that Skurge's internal conflict leading to his his pivotal decision is conveyed with almost no dialogue. You can easily tell what Skurge is thinking during one of the many shots of him looking conflicted or thoughtful or resolute after a cut of what's going on.
Really, everyone in this movie had a lot of character, down to the mean granny with the melt-stick who was so catty to Valkyrie early on and showed so much joy trying to blow her up in the ship later. It wasn't until a while later that I realized I didn't see Darcy anywhere in the movie, but by then it didn't matter. After the debacle of Age of Ultron, my love for the MCU is restored.