Thor: Ragnarok, 2017
Directed by Taika Waititi
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel House, Taika Waititi
Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.
It’s been a bumper 2017 for Marvel Studios, with two huge hits on their hands already with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming (though the latter was mostly Sony), and they’re rounding off the year with another trip to Asgard in Thor: Ragnarok. The third in the Thor franchise (and possibly last) is one of our final stops before we reach Avengers: Infinity War – but is it worth getting off at?
Thor finds himself in a bit of a bind. Since his nightmare visions while taking a bath in Avengers: Age of Ultron he’s been on a quest across the nine realms to answer his questions – but is coming up short. That is until he returns to Asgard to find his brother Loki (well, adopted brother) running the show with their father in exile. Things only get worse when the God of Thunder learns about the coming of Hela, the Goddess of Death, who wants to make Asgard her own. Along the way he’ll encounter familiar faces, and do battle on a junk-like planet where he must duel a friend from work.
The above paragraph barely scratches the surface of the plot of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok. In its early moments it moves at a near break-neck pace (including an almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch), though the movie never feels like it over stays its welcome. With a runtime that is well over two hours, Thor: Ragnarok is perfectly paced allowing time for every character to develop along with the story while constantly jumping back and forth from Hela on Asgard and Thor and chums on Sakaar. Waititi comes from a comedy background (which is very evident) but doesn’t suffer from the Judd Apatow’s trap of letting scenes run longer than needed or doing multiple versions of the same joke.
And there was clearly ample opportunity to do so, with Thor: Ragnarok ditching the fish-out-of-water lightness of Thor and the dank drama of Thor: The Dark World in favour of an all-out comedy jam. The opening scene of the film features no less than 10 attempts at jokes, with the majority landing. Waititi’s back catalogue of Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople shows he has a lot of faith in his actors improvising and bouncing around the script – and that is in full display in Thor: Ragnarok. Like Joss Whedon and James Gunn on The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, Waititi will often end scenes – even ones with dramatic weight – with a punch line or gag. But he doesn’t stop there, as he will have jokes peppered throughout scenes and dialogue preceding it.
Yet everything works. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 often thought it was funnier than it really was (Tazer Face being a good example), but Thor: Ragnarok balances its comedy, drama and action well. Scenes are funny, characters are hilarious and even the villain has her moments, but yet actions still carry heft, characters never feel goofy and Hela remains a threat.
Chris Hemsworth, here in his fifth outing as the character, is more alive than any previous outing. His brilliant working relationship with the director – seen in the wonderful Team Thor shorts – has brought a new side to Thor’s rather one-dimensional role. This is not the stern-faced Asgardian who talked about The Tesseract or the coming of the Dark Elves, this is a Thor who isn’t afraid to look like a fool, or have a witty one-liner should the moment require one. This is Hemsworth’s Thor – the one true Hemsworth Thor – the one he has wanted to play since picking up the hammer in 2011.
He’s supported wonderfully as always by Tom Hiddelston’s Loki and Idris Elba’s Heimdall (who has also said this was the first Thor movie he actually enjoyed making), but it’s the newcomers that steal the show. Mark Ruffalo and Jeff Goldblum, like Hemsworth, have a blast with the freedom Waititi has allowed them with the script – and it brings out the best Banner we’ve seen so far in the MCU. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is a fantastic addition to the ever-growing ensemble. Someone who was once a fighter with honour, is now just a drunkard looking to make easy money – and Thompson shines. She is a captivating presence, who commands the screen. And she would be the stand-out performance were it not for Cate Blanchett’s Hela. Although given scant screen time to work with (Thor: Ragnarok spends perhaps too much time on Sakaar and therefore away from Hela), she oozes charisma like no other. Her design is incredible – a sure fire cosplay hit in the coming years – and her dialogue delivery and conviction is unmatched. With just a bit more character work, she could have found herself as one of the all-time great villains in the MCU (though that is a short list).
However one does have to come back to the comedy of a Thor: Ragnarok. Those who are against Marvel’s lightness and found Captain America: Civil War too jovial despite its serious story will find no solace in this movie – even if it is about the end of the world. Waititi is here to make his audience laugh, never more so evident than in his own voice cameo as Korg – a rock formation that comes right from the Murray Hewitt playbook of comedic delivery. Many will feel Thor: Ragnarok is unbalanced, and there is an argument to that, but Waititi does make it work – it just won’t be for everyone.
So, really, you’re enjoyment of Thor: Ragnarok will come down to your taste in comedy. If you have previously loved Waititi’s back catalogue and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe you will find a lot to love. However if you’re in the Tommy Lee Jones camp of distaste for buffoonery – or you liked the darker edge of Thor movies – Thor: Ragnarok will leave a bitter taste in your mouth. What this writer will say, though, is that Waititi does balance the film very well, and action-hounds will still get a lot of thrills from the brilliant set pieces, fantastic visual effects and stunning set pieces. The music has a wonderful Turbo Kid-esque 80s charm that almost sounds like it will kick into Rush’s Tom Sawyer at any moment, and you’ll be screaming The Immigrant Song all the way home from the theatre. Waititi has delivered easily the best Thor movie to date, and the best outing Hemsworth has had with the character since The Avengers. To end on a pun – seeing as each and every scene ends with a punchline – Thor: Ragnarok is Thorsome.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth, a presenter for WrestleTalk, and the author of Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.