Another year, another fourth superhero film. And people wonder why there’s superhero fatigue going around, I know I have that. But, best to keep an open mind on these things – you may be surprised one day. I certainly was with the first Thor. Fun fact, I had actually skipped on seeing the MCU films released before it. So, what had initially got me into the MCU was Thor. By no means a great film and not that memorable looking back on it, Thor was good. It was fun, a nice Shakespearian-inspired story, well directed by Kenneth Branagh and Asgard still looks amazing. But I do understand why people don’t enjoy the fish-out-of-water Earth side of the story and the non-existent chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman, so I get why things were changed for the sequel. Thor: The Dark World is easily the worst MCU film I have ever seen. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I thought that film was pointless, ugly and just all around awful. I liked Loki, and there’s a fun portal-based action scene at the end – I just hated everything else about it.
Lucky for me that Thor Ragnarok appears to be an apology for The Dark World – they even have a whole scene taking the mic out of it. What’s the story?
Loki has unwittingly released his and Thor’s older sibling Hela, the goddess of death, from her imprisonment. Thor quickly finds himself lost on a junk planet where he is forced into fights to the death in a gladiatorial arena. There he meet’s the Hulk, and together they forge a team to take back Asgard from the evils of Hela. There’s death, destruction and action in this fast-paced, high octane, visually striking…wait! This is a comedy?
Yes, Thor Ragnarok is directed by Taika Waititi – who gave us The Hunt for the Wilder People and What WE Do in the Shadows – and is therefore a comedy. Not only is it that, it’s easily the funniest thing that Marvel has ever produced. I couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t think I could if was actively trying. There’s something very different about Ragnarok. It feels like they hired Waititi and just let him do his thing. Making this film very Australian and New Zealandia in nature, and I don’t just mean the cast. I have seen a lot of films from that part of the world – not only do I tend to love them but I find that they tend to have a very witty, juxtaposing and often dry and satirical sense of humour. Ragnarok is almost entirely made of this humour, playing with bending the rules of tone and audience expectance to deliver its laughs. It very rarely fails to deliver on that front. I think only one ‘big’ joke failed on me, and it was in a beginning scene with Doctor Strange. It feels just like a big budget film from Waititi, and after The Dark World, and this years earlier Spider-man Homecoming it was a more than welcome change.
Before I go further, I must say that Thor Ragnarok is not perfect.
After a pretty entertaining opening scene, where Thor must fight a demon voiced by Clancy Brown, and a hilarious parody scene of The Dark World with some hilarious big-star cameo’s, the film becomes very rapid and disjointed for about ten or so minutes. It’s like they are trying to get the MCU stuff out of the way very quickly so that the story can just begin. It’s a shame when the fact that a film is in a franchise actively hurts the overall film for a time. I also thought that, while the effects are great throughout the rest of it, this ten-minute block had some very poor green-screen effects and some dodgy CGI.
The only other issues I have heard of are the tone and certain character deaths. The characters do die rather unceremoniously, but they weren’t characters I had any emotional connection with so I didn’t mind this. And the only character who I did care for that died was done in a respectful way. As for the tone, the film has two tones. Dark, where people are dying and destruction is imminent, and an over-the-top, colourful comedy. Jarring at times, but these tones were locked to Thor and Hela and changed only when perspectives of the film did. So, again, it didn’t bother me as much as I feared it would. And, as mentioned above, juxtaposition is one of the themes this film works with when it comes to humour and drama.
This is a great looking film. Branagh’s version may be grander, but this was just amazing to look at. The colours. The designs. The effects. It was all a treat for the eyes. Just as much was the action. Thor fighting Hulk was the highlight, but every single action scene was pretty awesome. It honestly feels like a love letter to John Carpenter, from direction, to action, to tone, right down to the music. I could see Carpenter directing this back in the ‘80’s. It certainly feels like Escape From New York, They Live and, of course, Big Trouble in Little China. It was very refreshing, even if it did have a pang of Guardians of the Galaxy to it. It quickly makes you forgive what shortcomings it has. Nobody can see this and not think ‘That was fun’. It’s not possible.
All that’s really left is the cast. Returning to us is Chris Hemsworth as Thor. A man who should do more comedy because his comedic timing was perfect. He improved in his dramatic moments because of this too. Sure, the strong script helps too, but credit where it’s due – I don’t think I have seen a better performance from the guy. With him come back Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. All great, all fun, all giving their all. In particular, I loved the Hulk. What they did with him was different from anything I have ever seen from the Hulk before. Newcomers include Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Waititi himself and Jeff Goldblum. I don’t know how they did it, but I couldn’t be happier with this cast. I loved all of them. Goldblum has not been this good since Jurassic Park and I loved every minute of his scene chewing.
Then we have Cate Blanchett as Hela. Marvel has outdone themselves on villains this year. Ego was fun, Vulture was good, Hela is a great villain. She’s cold, calculating and loves every minute of torment she causes. She is not without her humour, which is as sick and twisted as herself. She’s not particularly deep, but she proves a more than worthy adversary for the God of Thunder and provides us with some interesting and dark history to Thor’s world. Of course, it helps that she is played by Cate Blanchett. She’s one of those actresses who couldn’t do a bad performance if she tried. Every line oozes malice. Every move feels calculated. She’s pure evil and she is loving it, having fun and looking good while doing it. I don’t know why Thor gets the best villains of the MCU, but I am not complaining.
You can forgive a film a lot if it’s fun. A slightly jarred tone and a dodgy ten minutes at the start do not hurt Thor Ragnarok enough to remove the fun.
Truth be told it has been years since I last saw a MCU film and loved it. Last time it was called Guardians of the Galaxy- and before that it was Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man. I would have to see Ragnarok again to be sure – and I plan to very soon – but it’s definitely a strong contender for being the best film of the MCU so far. Waititi appears to be thinking about making a Thor 4 (and should just call it that for fun) and I honestly hope he does. If more films like this were made, different and fun, then people would stop complaining about the MCU once and for all.
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