To stop the Asgardian apocalypse -- Ragnarok -- Thor must first survive a series of gladiator games and escape a literal trash planet before his sister, Hela The God of Death, destroys his home and enslaves his people. Directed by Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok is more comedic than the previous Thor films, so it won't be for everyone. I personally loved this fresh take, the strong character thematics, and the addition of two badass women to the MCU. As a VUDU UHD streaming experience, the Dolby Vision presentation is colorful and sharp while the Dolby Atmos track is good-not-great. Overall, the a/v presentation lacks a certain amount of refinement and fidelity we're hoping to see on the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. If you've dropped physical media, this VUDU UHD presentation is Recommended; if not, Skip It. Overall: Worth A Look.
Picking up after Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok finds the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) meeting his destiny on the road to prevent it. Thor gets himself captured by the fire demon Surtur because Surtur's crown is prophesied to bring about Ragnarok, the destruction of Asgard. After vanquishing Surtur, Thor brings the crown back to Asgard -- #ChekhovsGun -- only to find Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in charge and Odin (Anthony Hopkins) missing. A quick hunt leads Thor and Loki to Odin, whose time in the universe comes to an end. Not only is this sad, but Odin's death allows his firstborn, Hela The God of Death (Cate Blanchett), to return from banishment where she quickly defeats Thor and Loki and sets off to assume the Asgardian throne.
In the melee, Thor and Loki end up on Sakaar, a planet made entirely out of garbage that's run by Jeff Goldblum, aka The Grandmaster, who entertains his outcast citizens with a bloody series of gladiator games. To save his home and his people, Thor must find a way win the games, tame an old friend, and earn the trust of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a disgraced Asgardian warrior looking for redemption.
We recently ran a poll where our readers ranked Thor: The Dark World placed quite low in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don't know if Marvel execs agree, but their Ragnarok creative process did lead to New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, who you might know from his work on HBO's Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows, or Hunt for the Wilderpeople. If you're not familiar, let's just say his sensibilities are far more comedic than what we've seen in the Thor movies before, which results in a Thor adventure with a significant tonal shift, both overall and within each scene. The absurdist gags and awkward pauses and self-depreciating character beats work quite well for me; I found the experience to be fresh in an era where too many superhero films can feel the same. Similar to James Gunn, Waititi has a distinct, identifiable voice and excels at balancing comedy, drama, and character. To put it another way, I found the movie retained its heart and thrills and stakes while making me laugh for a couple hours.
That said, I could see how some Marvel/Thor fans could find these shifts too abrupt based on what we've seen before. Even Mark Mothersbaugh's 80s style synth score is radically different; much more akin to Stranger Things and Kung Fury than Thor or Thor: The Dark World.
However, if you're willing to take the leap, there's so much more to this movie than the gags, action set-pieces, and splashy visuals. The characters, no matter how small, all feature clear goals and thematic arcs -- even a henchman like Karl Urban's Skurge seems well rounded. And, sure, Chris Hemsworth nails the role, embracing his roguish charms while sending them up at the same time, but the supporting cast is where we find the true gems.
Cate Blanchett as Marvel's first female villain devours her scenes with an over-the-top gothic Shakespearean vibe that's ultra-fun. Tessa Thompson as Valkryie is another scene-stealer; she's right up there with Wonder Woman in her badassery, but more of a broken anti-hero and one of the most refreshing female characters in a modern blockbuster because she is allowed to be both awesome and horrible. And Jeff Goldblum? He looks like he's having a blast and that feeling is infectious, even as he pivots from hilarious to cruel.
Technically speaking, Ragnarok looks the part with excellent production design and CGI work that, while not always photo-real, continues to push what's possible for computer-generated characters and costumes (check out the Unstoppable Women: Hela and Valkyrie featurette to see what I mean).
Overall, Thor: Ragnarok won't be for everyone (it really depends on your sense of humor), but I enjoyed this one as it makes for a fun companion piece to the Guardians side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Vital Stats: VUDU UHD
Thor: Ragnarok battles its way onto 4K with a VUDU UHD presentation that includes Dolby Vision and HDR10 as well as Dolby Atmos audio. This release also includes access to 12 Bonus Features and costs about $5 less than buying the two-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack (that likely does NOT include a 4K digital copy).
Presented in Dolby Vision as well as HDR10, Thor: Ragnarok on VUDU UHD is sharp and colorful with decent contrast and excellent highlight details. But, after spending some time with this digital copy, I experienced banding aat times and feel the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray's added bitrate will provide noticeably-improved performance even though it lacks Dolby Vision.
Much like the theatrical presentation, Thor: Ragnarok was born to look great on 4K displays with HDR and WCG (wide color gamut) capabilities. From Surtur's fire demon forces to the neon-infused Sakaar to the interdimensional portals to Asgard itself, Ragnarok is a very colorful movie. Hello, eye candy. To be clear, this isn't as colorful Pacific Rim, Guardians Vol.2, or Great Gatsby, but it's pretty close. Highlight details are also quite good -- check out sunlight skies, interior lights, and any glass reflections to see more detail in all of those objects/locations as compared to the SDR grading.
Contrast is pretty good too, but like other streaming presentations, the image is flat at times, and I didn't get ultra-inky black levels I was hoping to see. To be honest, these results could be inherent to the transfer, but I suspect we're seeing the limitations of streaming's lower (sub 20Mbps) bandwidth. Further, I experienced mild-to-moderate banding during the opening action sequence. Though I haven't seen the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, based on my experience comparing 4K discs to their 4K streaming counterparts, I presume the physical release will correct these issues while offering an added sense of sharpness and depth. Stay tuned for our coverage of that release in the next week or so.
At the end of the day, if you're moving on past physical media, Thor: Ragnarok looks very good to amazing, and will please all but those who demand The Best. For those folks, wait for the disc (which, I assume, you are already planning to do).
Marvel movies don't have perfect marks in the audio department, even as they've embraced Dolby Atmos hemispherical immersion. Their home video sound mixes range from quite good (Guardians Vol.2) to I think there's an encoding problem (Age of Ultron). Thor: Ragnarok is one of the better Marvel mixes, overall, but ultimately a mid-tier Atmos mix that, in this Dolby Digital Plus-based streaming incarnation, lacks the fidelity and surround/overhead aggression of truly stunning soundtracks.
Let's begin with what works. Like the theatrical mix, Led Zepplin's music along with Mark Motherbaugh's synth-driven orchestrations are vivid and wrap around the listening space. Dialog is clear throughout. And there are some heavy LFE hits during the action sequences. Regarding the Atmos overhead immersion, there's activity, but it's far from what I'd call aggressive. The surround mixing as a whole is good-not-great.
This is a fine, competent mix, but nothing that stands close to Mad Max: Fury Road or Pacific Rim.
The biggest issue here is fidelity and dynamic range. Again, we'll likely see this improved or fixed on the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, thanks to its lossless Dolby TrueHD Atmos encoding, but it's worth noting that some of these VUDU Atmos mixes (Pacific Rim, Live.Die.Repeat) almost sound lossless. Ragnarok sounds thin, flat, front-heavy, and compressed by comparison.
For example, I just-so-happened to watch Ragnarok directly after screening Jurassic Park 3D, which boasts a stunningly immersive lossless 7.1 track that, when up-mixed, offers much more immersion, dynamic range, and fidelity.
Ultimately, Thor: Ragnarok 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray track should be better than the VUDU UHD stream, but I'm not sure this film will ever place high on any Dolby Atmos Demo lists.
Thor: Raganok arrives on VUDU UHD with 12 Bonus Features. Look for more coverage of these in our 4K Blu-ray review.
8 Bit Sequences
Thor and Hulk: A Galactic Adventure
Getting in Touch with Your Inner Thor
Journey Into The Mystery
Sakaar: On the Edge of the Known and Unknown
Unstoppable Women: Hela and Valkyrie
Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years - The Evolution of Heroes
Thor Ragnarok: Featurette
Thanks to a sizable tonal shift versus parts one and two, Thor: Ragnarok won't be for every Marvel fan, but I enjoyed Taika Waititi's comedic flourishes, the film's well-rounded characters, and Cate Blanchett's scene-devouring villainy. Visually, VUDU's UHD Dolby Vision transfer is colorful and sharp, though I did experience some minor banding and expect the physical disc to be an improvement. Likewise, the Dolby Atmos track is immersive at times, but like many Marvel movies, it doesn't have the articulation and finesse of the best demo-worthy mixes.
Thor: Ragnarok on VUDU UHD is Recommended to those who have given up on physical media, but a Skip It for 4K enthusiasts who prefer physical media and demand The Best (I can't guarantee it, but suspect that will be a superior technical experience). Average those two together for a Worth A Look bottom line.