By Jack Dignan
The Thor movies have been three distinctly different types of movies. The first film, which I consider to be the most underrated of the MCU and perhaps even one of their stronger films, is a Shakespearian, character-driven fish out of water scenario. Two years later we got Thor: The Dark World, which made an attempt at upping the fantasy while keeping things grounded on Earth, resulting in what’s probably the weakest MCU film, right alongside Iron Man 2. Now, we have Thor: Ragnarok, the third and presumably final film in Chris Hemsworth’s financially savvy franchise, and the character of Thor undergoes another necessary, rejuvenating change.
Marvel are consistently badgered about their inflexible narratives, use of repetition and recycling plot lines, but with 2017, and hopefully the forthcoming future, studio head Kevin Feige seems adamant to change that. He’s out to prove people wrong. And he’s doing a great job. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 saw an emotionally charged, visually astounding tale of ego and self indulgence, whereas Spider-Man: Homecoming (which, granted, I think I overrated in my initial review, but it’s still fun) is a high school comedy disguised as a superhero epic. Then we have Thor: Ragnarok, a witty and colourful space epic/buddy road trip adventure from innovative New Zealand director Taika Waititi. And it’s pretty bloody great.
Titular hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is out doing his part to help the galaxy, venturing from planet to planet and taking down bad guys to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song (if you thought it was epic in the trailer, just you wait). But when the evil villain Hela (Cate Blanchett) arrives in Thor’s home kingdom of Asgard, thirsty to rule, Thor is banished to far-away planet of Sakaar. Here, he finds himself sucked into an unwilling gladiator match with former Avenger presumed missing, The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Time is of the essence, as Thor and Hulk, along with a few new allies made along the way, must escape imprisonment and return home to save Thor’s people.
The first act of Thor: Ragnarok is bad. After an initially epic opening, full of humour and explosive visual eye candy, the plot needs to set up a great many things. Almost too much. It’s no doubt a fascinating plot, varying enough from the typical Marvel fanfare that it stands out amongst the crowd, but to tell the story, the audience needs to be filled in a lot of information. After all, it’s been four years since the last Thor film, and a lot’s happened since then that the casual viewer may not necessarily remember. We bounce across the galaxy from planet to planet, and it’s a very choppy, unevenly paced ride where the runtime is well and truly felt.
All humour in this first act consists of Thor accidentally breaking things or moving into a position where he shouldn’t stand. It’s funny the first time, and there are some inventive laughs in typical Waititi fashion, but it gets a bit repetitive and tiresome after a while. I was worried. There’s a lot of emotional beats compacted into the first half an hour, but everything’s skimmed through so quickly, the plot always on the move, that you never really feel their resonance. It was a shame to see after such an awesome way to open the movie. I genuinely started to think this was going to be the first MCU film I straight up disliked. But then, everything changed.
Once all opening expositions and plot developments are out of the way, we’re thrown into the true reason as to why we’re here. The plot’s been set up and begins moving in full gear, and that’s when the real fun begins. After the introduction of the show-stealing newbies, including Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Taika Waititi’s Korg (who’s easily the best thing about this film), the movie becomes exactly what I wanted it to be and more. There’s no need to rush things from here on out. Waititi and co. take their time in telling the plot, allowing enough dramatic weight and humourous circumstances to blend together in creating a masterpiece of fun.
A lot of the second act is largely predictable, but that doesn’t take away from the joy. It’s when this film starts to find its groove, and it follows that through all the way until the second post credit scene. Everybody here is having a ball. It’s the Thor movie we’ve always needed, armed with a zany self-awareness and tongue in cheek approach to its storytelling. Much of humour arrives from unexpected, often self-depreciating angles, but there’s lovability towards all of it. If you’re still complaining about Marvel movies having fun and joking around, you just don’t get it. That’s the point. These movies are a distraction from the real world, full of nerdy escapism and colourful visuals. Plus, we see a naked Hulk butt, and I’m unlikely to ever forget it.
A great deal of the dialogue is reportedly improvised, allowing these oh-so-brilliant actors to play around with the material and create some of Marvel’s best and most unexpected laughs. There’s jokes in here so unlike Marvel, but so brilliant in its own way. This is a very different type of superhero movie, and the entire cast kills it. Jeff Goldblum pretty much plays himself in space, but that’s far from a critique. Every film needs to have Jeff Goldblum playing himself. That man is a far more interesting character than any writer could come up with. However, this is Taika Waititi’s film through and through, both on and off the screen, for his character Korg is absolutely astounding. The humour is very Australian/New Zealander, resulting in us locals getting the biggest laughs out of his character.
Cate Blanchett does feel a tad underutilized, mostly just reigning over Asgard while our heroes are off on the other side of space, but her character works well for what this film was trying to do. She has a solid motivation, armed with an early-revealed secret that ups the ante and gives justification for her only now coming to take over Asgard. She riffs well off of the main cast, even if they only share a small handful of scenes together, but while a lot of the newcomers do steal the show, it’s the veterans who take this thing home. Chris Hemsworth is given a more flexible persona, and he rolls with it, whereas Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is just as devious and exciting as ever.
Even Hulk finally gets some necessary character development. Having now been the Hulk for two years, he’s developed more of a personality in comparison to his previous appearances, now talking and interacting with other characters. He gives one of the best on-screen tantrums in film history. It’s so juvenile and stupid that it works magic. Visually speaking, he looks incredibly, as does most of the character work. Some green screening and location design can look cartoony, particularly during the first introduction to Hela, but there are so many visual effects in this film that the smaller inconsistencies get overshadowed in the grand scheme of things.
It was a real struggle to choose between my inner fan boy and inner film critic when it came to giving this film a rating. In my heart, I know it deserves the rating I’m giving it, but as a comic book loving Marvel super fan, I really did love this movie. While plenty of Marvel films loose their rewatchability after a while, Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t seem like it’s going to be one of those films. It’s quite possibly the most Marvel film Marvel have made, and the universe going forwards is sure to be spectacular.
3 1/2 Stars
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