Finally, Marvel Studios has shed all pretence and fully embraced the kooky potential of Thor, making for one Hela entertaining superhero romp. While the first two installments performed reasonably well at the box office and established the demi-god as a compelling member of the Avengers in his own right, his standalone movies haven’t quite taken off. But this could very well change with Thor: Ragnarok.
In his third solo outing, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) find themselves on a distant, landfill-like planet known as Sakaar after a brief but violent run-in with Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death. Without his enchanted hammer Mjolnir, he gets captured and sold to the flamboyant Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The aficionados among you would know that the Grandmaster is the brother of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) from Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Grandmaster imprisons fighters from across the universe to join his intergalactic gladiatorial contest. Thor is pitted against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), his fellow Avenger who has been missing for two years (Think back to the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron where he flew an aircraft alone into the sunset at the end).
So Thor must enlist the help of Loki, Hulk/ Bruce Banner and the bounty hunter who captured him, self-exiled Asgardian soldier Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), to get back to Asgard and stop Hela from destroying Asgardian civillization.
Thor was in dire need of a rejuvenation, especially after Thor: The Dark World, an uninspired sequel that featured one of the worst villains (sorry, Malekith!) in comic book movie history. And with Ragnarok, Thor is finally liberated as the movie cuts ties with the series’s largely Earth-set story arcs.
This new trajectory is possible thanks to director Taika Waititi, who is known for his quirky humour and eccentric vision, and the success of GotG. Guardians is proof that a comic book adaptation set entirely in space filled with outlandish planets and cultures, if done right, can be a hit with the masses, and this paved the way for Thor to go full space opera.
Tonally, the movies now match with their similar affinity for wacky humour and retro-influenced aesthetics, right down to the soundtrack and the title’s ‘80s-like typography. So much so that we’ve joked that Ragnarok should really be called Asgardians of the Galaxy.
Personally, I enjoyed director Kenneth Branagh’s treatment of the first Thor movie, in which the gods’ power struggles and family angst played out like a Shakespearean dynasty drama. But while there was no shortage of Branagh’s brand of wry humour, the whole set-up may still come across as a tad stuffy.
To make it all the more accessible, Waititi has brought the humour to the fore and multiplied it tenfold. Plus, his goofy sensibilities and whimsical approach to storytelling further humanises these otherworldly characters. And this is one of Ragnarok’s strengths – there are several heartwarming moments, particularly in the tender interactions between Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Thor and Loki as they work out their trust issues and figure out their place in the grand scheme of things.
And that laugh-a-minute script! My gods, you’d be Loki if you didn’t split your sides from laughing. The quirky jokes and slapstick comedy are signature Waititi, who is best known for directing hilarious films such as vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows. It also presents an opportunity for Hemsworth to show off his versatility and flawless comic timing, which – for anyone who’s been paying attention – had been on display on numerous talk shows and in last year’s Ghostbusters remake.
I need to take a moment to say what a joy it is to see Hiddlesworth back together again in their iconic roles. Their execution of Thor and Loki is perfect by now and between Hemsworth’s torso (yes, there IS a token shirtless Thor scene) and Hiddleston’s cheekbones, I was suddenly compelled to give this movie a rating of six stars… out of five. But I was told that this is apparently not how ratings systems work. Whatever.
Also a joy to watch is Blanchett’s Hela, the smoky-eyed goddess of death with an alluring strut and wicked antler-like head gear. Blanchett plays her with such relish and she’s easily one of the more memorable villains to come along in a while. Thompson kicks ass as the skilled soldier Valkyrie and holds her own among these established thespians and Goldblum is, well, deliciously Goldblum as the Grandmaster.
They’ve also ramped up the visuals and the cinematography just pops. While the first two Thor movies with their panoramic views of Asgard and the Bifrost Bridge were lush, Ragnarok is a total spectacle! Sequences that are forever seared into my brain include the excruciatingly beautiful shot of the army of Valkyrie soldiers on their winged horses attacking Hela in slow motion, and the atmospheric prologue in which Thor faces Surtur for the first time and fends off a dragon.
The latter looks like something straight out of a pulpy retro sci-fi fantasy, like Flash Gordon crossed with a heavy metal band’s cover art, so it’s satisfying to watch the scene being paired with Led Zeppelin’s rock anthem, Immigrant Song.
Thor: Ragnarok is a huge improvement from The Dark World and the Norse god’s most entertaining standalone adventure thus far. Now that it’s done and dusted, I can safely say that Thor-d time’s the charm. Don’t forget to stay on for the obligatory post-credits scenes. And as for those puns I’ve snuck into this review, #ThorryNotThorry.
Thor: Ragnarok is out in cinemas today. Are you ready to Rok and roll?