“We know each other! He’s a friend from work!”
Thor is an interesting superhero. His Norse backstory, epic fantasy/science fiction homeworld, and insane level of power suggests he would have the most epic adventures out of all the Marvel universe. But somehow his two solo entries have been lacking. Both Kenneth Branagh’s dutch angle-filled 2011 film, and Alan Taylor’s slightly forgettable 2013 follow-up haven’t really done the god of thunder justice. But thanks to a shake up of the status quo by hilarious Kiwi director Taika Waititi, Thor: Ragnarok finally gets him note perfect.
Before the film can get going, there are few loose ends to tie up. Namely, Loki having disguised himself as Odin and banished the one-eyed king to exile on Earth. The Dark World ended with Loki taking over Asgard, treating it as a sinister ploy by the god of mischief, but here it is used as one of the funniest scenes in the movie. It turns out that Loki is lounging around as Odin, having people worship the brave and heroic sacrifice Loki made, even watching a theatrical version of the events. It gets more bizarre when we discover that the actor playing Loki in this Asgardian stage show is none other than Matt Damon! It sets up the tone for the rest of the film, so if you don’t like this more goofy side of the Marvel universe, time to leave.
The plot soon gets going, as the Asgardian brothers meet with Odin and find out about their long-lost evil big sister Hela, also known as the Goddess of Death. Even though the family plot is weighty, the jokes keep coming and they all land. It’s the sort of film that demands to be rewatched as the jokes come thick and fast. There are also reports that a lot the film was improvised, which makes sense. It has a goofy anarchic feel but it never feels out-of-place with the world and the characters. Chris Hemsworth in particular has superb comedic timing, and it’s great that we finally get to see this side of Thor. The character can come off a bit self-serious if not done correctly. He’s best here, as a larger-than-life hero.
The film is really a Thor buddy film though, with a great cast of characters accompanying him on his adventure. The main one is Hulk/Bruce Banner. This film does the best job yet with Hulk, a tricky character to get right, as it really shows the duality between the monster and Banner. Also Hulk is best as a supporting character, bouncing of characters, which is good because he can speak even better now. There’s a nice side to the film as Thor and Hulk/Banner become better friends. Thor doing Black Widow’s “The sun’s getting real low…” speech from Age of Ultron is hands-down the best and funniest moment of the year for me.
The new faces in the film definitely deserve a mention, though there isn’t enough time for all of them – this film is full to the brim with colourful and fleshed out characters. First up is Tessa Thompson’s hard-drinking Valkyrie, a fellow Asgardian with a backstory linked to Hela. Valkyrie is really cool and a better romantic interest to Thor than Jane was. Not that I disliked Natalie Portman as Jane (gone from this film) but she was perhaps not exciting enough. Valkyrie holds her own and leaves Thor catching up more often than not.
The best new addition, and the one you’ll hear quoted most, is Korg (voiced by Waititi himself). A soft-spoken Kronan, Korg is an ally to Thor and gets all of the best lines. Apparently there are rumours of a one-shot starring Korg and Miek, which would be excellent. Korg really gives Waititi a way to include that New Zealand charm that he is famous for, and just because it’s a big film doesn’t mean that that element is lost. Thor: Ragnarok has as much personality, humour, and heart as Waititi’s previous film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, just on bigger scale.
On top of all this, Loki makes an excellent return, Dr Strange makes an appearance, Karl Urban and Idris Elba are badass, and Jeff Goldblum is predictably insane. Despite this the film does not collapse under the weight. No one outstays their welcome and the pace is quick.
The film carries on Marvel’s Phase 3 trend of improved villains (though I’d argue the Marvel villains are nowhere near as poor as some people are quick to say). Cate Blanchett’s Hela has it all, the evil grungy look, the horned crown/headdress, and the crazy amount of power. Her claim to the throne of Asgard is actually pretty legit, as she was Odin’s firstborn. But the problem is that she is pure evil. One scene sees her taking out an entire regiment of Asgardian soldiers, so her power is established pretty early on. She hams it up pretty heavily too, but that is fine by me. She’s constantly entertaining and wonderfully vicious, and provides an extremely powerful foe for Thor – not one he can beat with just brawn alone.
A lot of the marketing around this film has seen it be described as a comedy and it is, more so than any other superhero film, more than Guardians of the Galaxy too. There is still plenty of really inventive action sequences. I always thought after the Mad Max-esque end chase in Hunt for the Wilderpeople that Waititi could make a great action director. Here he has a chance to shine. The highlight for me is when Thor throws his hammer at a surrounding group of enemies, and the camera follows the hammer in a circle as it smashes through foe after foe. Even throughout the action sequences there is a sense of fun and personality coming through.
Thor: Ragnarok is probably the best standalone MCU film to date, though admittedly I always say that! This feels like a game changer however, and shows that even after a decade and 17 films the franchise is only getting better and more sure of itself. With all the continuity, callbacks, and recurring characters it feels like I’m watching a fully-realised comic book universe. And this feels like a wacky, silver-age, Jack Kirby-drawn Thor story. The film makes me want to stop whatever I’m doing, and get back to reading comic books.
The next film on the roster is the very interesting looking Black Panther.
Reviewed by Jack