MARVEL STUDIOS / WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2017)
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins
“I don’t hang with the Avengers anymore. It all got too corporate.”
Noo Zild director Taika Waititi, helmer of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, delivers the oddest, zaniest and most fun entry into the goliath that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The seventeenth entry, Thor: Ragnarok, shifts away from the oh-so-overused formula of its predecessors and provides essentially a comedy with action elements - comedy and action that works.
Having been unsuccessful in his search for the Infinity Stones, Thor (Hemsworth) finds himself captured by Surtur, the fire demon, who promises to destroy Asgard in the upcoming and unpreventable Ragnarok – i.e. realm apocalypse. Not one to be tied down for too long, Thor defeats Surtur and escapes to reunite with his brother Loki (Hiddleston), posing as their father Odin, on Asgard. With a little help from a certain Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the pair locates Odin (Hopkins) in Oslo, Norway. When they find him, Odin explains that he is dying and that when he is gone, the Goddess of Death, Hela (Blanchett), will return from captivity to rule Asgard. Problem is, Hela is the sister of Thor and Loki, so there’s a problem already.
As Hela arrives and lays waste to everything around her, including Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer), Thor and Loki are banished into space to die. Eventually, Thor lands on the planet Sakaar, a garbage planet ruled by the enigmatic Grandmaster (Goldblum) where he is again captured, this time by an alcoholic mercenary known as Scrapper 142 (Thompson), and delivered to the boss. Turns out Loki arrived there too and is now pretty chummy with the flamboyant leader, who promises to release Thor is he can overcome the planet’s gladiator champion in a duel – a gladiator Thor is well accustomed to.
Full of colour and shameless fun, Thor: Ragnarok is possibly the most entertaining movie in the MCU canon. Cleverly deviating from the tried and trusted formula that rakes in billions of dollars, the movie relies on the (mostly improv) chemistry between the cast and light-hearted flow to elevate the material. As the movie flows on, signs of the Marvel overlords controlling hands begin to show as more recognisable traits begin to rear their heads – i.e. overblown final CGI fightgasm, lack of satisfaction in the villain arc – however, the movie is strong enough to carry its downfalls.
Hemsworth has grown into the role now and utterly owns it, his comedic turns in Ghostbusters and Vacation have honed his comedic talents and he leads the movie with pure confidence. His chemistry with Tom Hiddleston really shines through and their back-and-forth comedy stands out. Mark Ruffalo gets time to shine, moreso in his Bruce Banner guise, but his Hulk has now received the ability to talk (which is odd) and it’s clear he has a blast playing the role. Jeff Goldblum is at his most Goldblum-ish as the campy, florescent Grandmaster – complete with customary ‘um’s and ‘aah’s’ just where they need to be. One thing the MCU stinks at is it’s handling of female characters, however, Tessa Thompson is given ample time to show her talents and become a concrete member of the team – she’s very good.
The gags come thick and fast in Thor: Ragnarok and they hit the mark. There’s a great mix of back-and-forth banter, one-liners, visual gags and slapstick comedy in the movie, there’s even a Willy Wonka reference snuck in. The character of Korg (voiced by Waititi himself) steals the majority of the laughs as the soft-spoken Kiwi gladiator desperate for a revolution. Look out for cameos from Sam Neill, Liam Hemsworth, Matt Damon and, of course, Stan Lee. The movie isn't just full of comedy, there are darker moments also, and not everyone comes away unscathed. Some of the action scenes are big and bold, in particular the titanic clash between Thor and Hulk.
However, the heavy, sensitive moments aren’t given any time to resonate, the scenes are too lightly developed and/or quickly overlooked – there’s genocide, murder and large-scale destruction, which should surely land an emotional beat, however, they don’t land (that and many of them are over-saturated by CGI). Thor and Loki’s father, Odin, fades away and dies in front of them and there’s no emotion whatsoever – after two films of investing in and building the character. Sod off Odin, seemingly. The third act descends into the standard battle that can be predicted well before the movie is even shot, and whilst not horrid, the third act is a step down from the previous two solid acts. The ‘twist’ at the end is clever though, and much appreciated.
Cate Blanchett’s villain is akin to a dominatrix stag, slinking her way through scenes looking like an adult emo kid. She gets more to do than most villains in the MCU, and gets a few decent action moments too as well as delivering an imposing threat throughout. However, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s an unsatisfying air around the complete execution of the character. MCU honcho Kevin Feige mentions that the movies are about the heroes, hence the lack of villain development, but doesn’t that just hinder the entire MCU knowing the villains are just hired goons to make the goodies look great?
There are whiffs of Lord of the Rings at times – in scenery and beats - also Flash Gordon and Masters of the Universe in colourful, campy scenes. You could potentially throw a Star Wars vibe in there too, especially with the handling of Odin. Thankfully, the movie has huge elements of being a simple stand-alone movie, rather than being tied down to the MCU (a problem that hindered the naff Spider-Man: Homecoming) – Doctor Strange shows up briefly to complete his post-credit scene from his own movie, a mention of the Infinity Stones at the very beginning and a sprinkling of references throughout – but there’s nothing that restricts a newcomers enjoyment.
Natalie Portman’s no-show here is key to the success of the movie, not having to shuffle in a poor love interest aids the experience – and usually, a lack of Natalie Portman is NEVER a good thing.
Thor: Ragnarok delivers the fun that comic book movies really should be bringing. It's zany and, at times, bonkers but it works. There’s action too, and some shakily-handled heavier moments, but together the elements make a solid addition to the genre. It’s great for an entertaining romp and hopefully, the MCU continue to take risks in their storytelling and directorial choices.
After the stand of the 'Revengers' here, the Avengers and the Infinity War looms large.
P.S. Keep the short locks, Thor Hemsworth!
November 3rd 2017