Directed by Taika Waititi
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo
The third Thor title and the 17th Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Thor: Ragnarok sees New Zealand director Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows) take up the reins as the MCU rushes towards it’s big Infinity War event. Based on a mix of the various Ragnarok story arcs in Thor comics over the decades (seriously it’s like Christmas for the Asgardians), with a touch of the Planet Hulk arc thrown in, Waititi brings us a film that is full of comedy and adventure.
Upon discovering Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) plot to banish their father to Migard, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) rushes to Earth to retrieve Odin. Already troubled by ominous dreams about the fall of Asgard (the fabled Ragnarok), Thor and Loki find an Odin (Anthony Hopkins) weakened to such a degree that he is incapable of maintaining the prison he has crafted for his first child, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death. Soon Thor finds himself stripped of his magic hammer, and cast to the alien world of Sakaar, while Asgard suffers under the yoke of Hela. However there he might find help from a fellow Avenger, that is, if the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) doesn’t kill him in Sakaar’s gladiatorial arena first.
This is Waititi’s loving ode to the sci-fi and fantasy adventure films of the late 70s and early 80s (with just a hint of Lord Of The Rings). Thor: Ragnarok is a big broad-brush strokes four colour comic romp through a neon bright alien world, and it’s an absolute blast for it. Character development and plot are secondary considerations (if not even lower down the pecking order) this is all about the audience enjoying the ride. Adventure, action, and comedy are brought to the forefront, and Thor hits the ground running for an over two hour thrill ride that rarely flags. Waititi quickly lets the audience in on this with Thor: Ragnarok opening to a rather humour laden exchange between the titular hero and the demonic fire-giant Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown), and by the time Thor starts to swing Mjolnir to the strains of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, there is no doubt what sort of film this is going to be. In short, set your expectations closer to Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) instead of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).
The actors react well to this. Hemsworth leans into the bravado and the swagger of his character, clearly loving the opportunity to play it over the top for comical effects, especially against long time Marvel co-star Hiddleston. Similarly Blanchett vamps up to the role of Hela, selling a rather two dimensional villain with her affected cynicism and haughtiness. Tessa Thompson (Creed) brings an appropriate amount of bad-arse anti-hero to Valkryie, managing to breathe life into a female character that seems blessedly free of any romantic sub-plots linking her to the main heroes, and just gets to wreak havoc. Finally it seems left to Idris Elba as Heimdall to sell the stakes of this film, as he plays his character less for laughs, and more straight down the line, as he tries to protect Asgard.
Although the fun in this film is infectious, there are a few niggling doubts that bring it down in the pantheon of both Marvel and Waititi films. Thor: Ragnarok is not a film that deals in subtleties of light and shade, and in a way this is a pity. There are a couple of points that Hela makes on colonialism, and the bloody foundations of empire that get lost amongst the flash and the fury – even if they are blatantly made. Similarly a few of the character interactions land a little flat, as the comedy feels forced in areas (Hemsworth and Ruffalo in particular, as they seem to work better as Thor and Hulk, than Thor and Banner). There’s no doubt that Thor: Ragnarok is exactly the film that Waititi wants it to be, but it certainly could have benefited by a touch of nuance and perhaps a sharper edit.
Those complaints aside, Thor: Ragnarok is certainly a film that brings the thunder, a blockbuster action adventure that is made in the style of the days of yore. ‘Nuff said.