Maria Düster reviews Marvel’s latest blockbuster.
Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok offers a much-needed reboot to the Thor franchise. It is jam-packed with the humor, action, and engaging characters the first two films lacked. When it was originally announced Waititi would be helming the third movie in the Thor saga, those familiar with his work rejoiced. Waititi, an indigenous Maori actor, writer, and director from New Zealand, has been the mastermind behind numerous acclaimed indie films, such as his debut Boy, the vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, and, most recently, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Known for his dry humor and inclusion of Maori actors and culture, Waititi serves as a breath of fresh air in an industry known for its whiteness and formulaic scripts. Waititi’s hiring comes as no surprise: several major franchises have welcomed lesser known directors (Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn), often skyrocketing the careers of creators only known in the indie cinema scene. With Waititi, the choice has paid off: critics and fans can’t seem to get enough of the third Thor film, the film Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes since its initial release.
Thor: Ragnarok follows the events of Age of Ultron and Thor: The Dark World, and opens with the titular character searching the universe for his father Odin, who has been covertly overthrown by Thor’s trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). When the brothers eventually reunite with the patriarch, they encounter a new threat, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the first born child of Odin. Hela, Goddess of Death, promptly announces her plan to take over Asgard (and the world), overpowering the brothers and casting them into space. Thor finds himself on the planet Sakaar, on the other side of the universe from Asgard, and the main plot begins. There, the God of Thunder becomes a prisoner of the Grandmaster (played by Jeff Goldblum) and must battle the leader’s Champion for freedom.
While Thor flounders on Sakaar, his half-sister Hela returns to Asgard, establishes a dictatorship, and begins to expand the power of the Asgardian empire without mercy. Along with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and the ever-scheming Loki, Thor must return to Asgard and prevent Ragnarok, the prophesied end of the world.
Though the beginning of the film immediately sets the scene for a hilarious and action-packed ride, Ragnarok takes longer than it should to get to the main plot line. The first third of the movie, unfortunately, has to tie up loose ends from the previous Marvel films and does so by randomly (or conveniently) killing off numerous characters or just avoiding them altogether. While the exposition is necessary for the movie to make sense, some of the creative choices seem as though the writing team realized last minute two other films had preceded this one, and then scrambled to resolve all of the plot holes.
Regardless, right from the first scene, Thor: Ragnarok is funny. It’s lighter and doesn’t take itself as seriously as the previous two films, and Hemsworth seems to be genuinely enjoying playing his character. The Aussie actor manages to make us genuinely like the God of Thunder, transforming the “most boring Avenger” into a smart, quick-witted hero we can all root for. Where Thor and The Dark World’s joke were few and often fell flat, Ragnarok relies on humor as its driving force, the constant dry snark proof of Waititi’s influence. Waititi himself serves as comic relief, playing Korg, a dumb but lovable creature also imprisoned on Sakaar.
While the constant humour does add a fresh and younger vibe to the film series, Ragnarok ultimately sacrifices substance for laughs. Though there are serious themes throughout, including death and the concept of homeland, meaningful moments are scarce, and dialogue almost always ends in a joke. In one of the film’s scenes, Thor and his estranged brother Loki examine their relationship to one another and Loki’s place in the world. The conversation, full of emotion and seeking to humanize the mischievous god, suddenly cuts short as the two brothers have to devise a plan to achieve one of their goals, the end result entirely humorous. The sudden shift in tone and mood leaves us wondering if the film is any different from other superhero comedies and their formulaic scripts and unceasing jokes. Yet what sets Ragnarok apart is that commitment to humor and, more importantly, unpretentiousness. The film is meant to be dorky and stupid, poking fun at the previous two Thor films while creating something better.
Substance or not, the supporting cast is phenomenal. Jeff Goldblum plays the debauched and seedy Grandmaster like he was born for it, striding around in flashy clothes as a heightened intergalactic version of the actor himself. Tessa Thompson’s casting again showcases Waititi’s influence, in choosing to replace the historically blonde and blue-eyed Valkyrie with a black woman. Thompson knocks it out of the park, providing a sexy, powerful, and memorable heroine in a series arguably devoid of one (strangely, neither Jane Foster or Sif make an appearance in the film). Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, an initially surprising addition to the film, not only serves as comic relief but also allows for exploration of Bruce Banner’s difficult and traumatic relationship with his alter ego. Cate Blanchett’s Hela, however, leaves something to be desired. Like most Marvel villains, she spends a large chunk of the movie delivering long monologues about her past and the general destruction of the world, stalling the plot as our heroes race to defeat her. The constant cuts between Thor’s adventures on Sakaar and Hela’s takeover weakens the film, and the focus on the film’s villain only perpetuates the issues that plagued the first two Thor films.
Though the film occasionally falls into the trappings of other Marvel movies, Thor: Ragnarok emerges as a unique, funny, and essential addition to the MCU, led by Taika Waititi’s quirky brilliance. The film isn’t the next Captain America: Winter Soldier (arguably Marvel’s darkest, grittiest movie), simply because it doesn’t want to be. Unpretentious, the film offers a geeky and fun comedy for Marvel fans, and in this regard, it passes with flying colors.
Thor: Ragnarok is currently out in UK cinemas. Check out the trailer below: