Thor: Ragnarok

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Taika Waititi

Starring

Cate Blanchett Chris Hemsworth Tom Hiddleston

Anticipation.

Is it just us or are these Marvel movies arriving weekly now?

Enjoyment.

The same but different. What a difference a genuine comedy director makes.

In Retrospect.

Get ready to switch up your Marvel movie power rankings.

Superheroes go comedy as Taika Waititi brings some much needed heart, soul and humour to the Marvel universe.

There’s an indisputable theory which goes a little something like this: all Marvel comic book movies are exactly the same. The same characters, the same arcs, the same misbegotten bad dudes, the same fights, the same effects, the same colours, the same lessons, the same morals. Sure, you can hoist in some new blood as a way to switch things up on a superficial level, but at the end of the day, Marvel movies are like self-assembly furniture: unfuckupable, but severely limited in design and scope. But lest we forget – people really like self-assembly furniture.

Thor: Ragnarok is the third film chronicling the interplanetary travails of the lord, no, sorry, “God” of Thunder, and yes, it is, within its opening frames, instantly identifiable as another glossy chapter in the rapidly metastasising Marvel canon. And yet, even though it’s very much business as usual, it’s also a bit different. At the helm is the Kiwi comedian Taika Waititi, and he hasn’t so much cottoned on to the fact that self-assembly furniture is easily burnable, but that it is possible to build it without the manual. What he has achieved here is what so many before him have failed to do. Which is, he has made a Marvel movie with charm to spare. It’s like the Mars Attacks! of Marvel movies – and in a good way.

The opening shot sees a golden-locked Chris Hemsworth clad in chains and suspended in a cage alongside a pantomime skeleton prop. His voiceover sets the scene, and it’s so archly dismissive of an attempt to even feign some sense of dramatic reality, that he may as well be saying, “blah, blah, blah, then some random shit happened, deal with it.” And yes, he confronts a fiery demon, knocks 10 bells out of it, and we’re off. It’s a weirdly off-the-cuff opening salvo, but thankfully it turns out to be a scene-setter for the entire film rather than just a light comic prefix before the all the inevitable tussling, explosions and soul-searching.

The sustained silly tone of Thor: Ragnarok is what makes it work, and what makes this so much stronger than other recent Marvel pretenders. Plus the fact that the jokes are actually jokes rather just insider nods to other characters or movies. A necessary interlude of brand awareness features Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, and it’s nice to see this pseudo-intellectual mystic briefly inducted into this film’s shaggy and self-aware domain.

Watiti himself steals the film, not so much as director, but as a voice player for supporting cast member Korg, a blue rock monster who is played as a rural stoner without a shred of self-awareness. His isn’t a deadpan commentary on the action at hand, more like a shot of schoolboy innocence placed in a situation of galaxy-crumbling significance. As a director, he takes to the task at hand, but the visuals remain fairly standardised for this world and this brand. There’s nothing new to see here.

Where Watiti comes into his own is his work with the actors: he peels back self-serious images and pretentious lore of returning characters (Tom Hiddleston’s Loki being one) and reframes them as lightly, lovably imbecilic. But it’s telling that the film’s best character is its sole sincere one: Tessa Thompson’s depressive, booze-sodden shitkicker, Valkyrie. Her initial strength is played off against an underlying vulnerability, which comes to the fore via an extraordinary slow-mo sequence which feels like it’s been plucked from a femme-drive Zack Snyder fever dream. Elsewhere, Cate Blanchett is roped in for stock cackling evildoer duties as god of death, Hela, while Jeff Goldblum plays himself as a dystopian dictator called the Grandmaster.

Cinematically speaking, there’s not much to really chew on, but the film does manages at once to be glib without ever being cynical, and dramatic without ever straying into emo-pomposity. With Thor: Ragnarok it feels as if Watiti has, first and foremost, taken this an opportunity to make the type of happy-go-lucky, lightly psychedelic lark that he would’ve watched (and rewatched) as a teenager. It just might – might! – be the greatest Marvel movie. It’s also a film where you’d happily watch a feature length spin-off focusing on every single side player. We’ll be first in line for the Korg movie.

Published 19 Oct 2017

Tags: Cate Blanchett Chris Hemsworth Idris Elba Taika Waititi Tessa Thompson Tom Hiddleston

Anticipation.

Is it just us or are these Marvel movies arriving weekly now?

Enjoyment.

The same but different. What a difference a genuine comedy director makes.

In Retrospect.

Get ready to switch up your Marvel movie power rankings.

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