The biggest breath of fresh air in the MCU since Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Thor entries have always been the weakest link in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the first entry had the fact it was the first Thor film going for it, it turned out surprisingly dull; nothing on the black-hearted borefest that was The Dark World however. Taika Waititi, director of last year’s magnificent Hunt for the Wilderpeople, is at the helm for the third entry, and as the saying goes, the third time is certainly the charm.
After the return of Hela, the Goddess of Death and Odin’s first-born executioner (Cate Blanchett), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are banished to the trashy, gladiatorial Sakaar. There they must find a way to escape and prevent Hela from obliterating Asgard. On Sakaar, they meet an old friend – The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Marvel films certainly don’t shy away from humour, with most if not every film in the series containing at least one reasonable laugh-out-loud moment. In 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy bucked the trend, becoming the funniest superhero ensemble to date. That was a pivotal moment in the MCU – they realised they could be bold, be different, be strange. Ant-Man soon followed, exploiting Paul Rudd’s comic abilities to giggle-inducing highs. However, Thor: Ragnarok is the without a doubt the most hilarious comic-book movie ever made. Waititi knows how to make an audience cackle, and he makes that clear straight from the opening scene. We see Thor locked in a cage, faced with an imposing fiery monster. While the foe gives a lecturing, intimidating speech, Thor slowly spins round on the chain: “I’ll be back round in a second” he assures. It’s a moment of brilliant silliness that sets the tone for the rest of the feature.
Waititi does bite off a lot in the narrative; you have the impending end of days aka Ragnarok, Idris Elba leading Asgardian slaves, the threat of genocide and of course the eternal conflict between the Trickster and the God of Thunder. But Waititi also manages to perform a near-perfect balancing act between elements of the plot, giving the entire movie a light-hearted, punky feel. Special nod to the 80s inspired synth soundtrack mixed with Led Zeppelin’s rock-gospel ‘Immigrant Song’, a choice which cannot be understated – it’s the fantastically electric lightning to the thunderous blockbuster.
The humour is the centrepiece of Ragnarok. While most superhero outings use humour as comic relief, Waititi uses action as the backdrop to the stomach-grasping delights, such as Thor’s reaction to the Hulk’s obviously ginormous penis (“that’s in my brain now”), the Willy Wonka inspired kaleidoscopic sequence to the sound of the timeless ‘Pure Imagination’ which introduces us to uber-Goldblum as the Grandmaster, or Waititi himself as the scene-stealing, Thing-like warrior Korg, who gets the biggest laughs with soft, innocent Kiwi dialogue. This is also the most articulate we’ve seen the Hulk, as he battles with Thor both physically – in a grin-inducing, giddy fight – and emotionally, the pair often sparring like young brothers trying to out-do each other with petty insults which lead to stroppy, hilarious tantrums. Mark Ruffalo is a welcome return as Bruce Banner, switching seamlessly between the fury of the green monster and the naive dorkiness of his highly intelligent counterpart.
Tom Hiddleston is expectedly remarkable as the God of Mischief, a role he was clearly born and bred for. Hemsworth has never been better as the lord of Thunder, implanting his comedic education from stints in oddball outings to pitch-perfect execution, while retaining the physicality and coolness that makes Thor a loveable hero.
At the core of the narrative there’s Cate Blanchett, as the ruthlessly evil Hela. While you never underestimate the Goddess of Death’s capabilities, especially in a awe-inspiringly utterly gorgeous massacre showing her bloody tyranny, and also a Matrix Reloaded inspired 1v100 showdown, she is ultimately a one-note villain, without a strand of development. Blanchett carries herself well, and has a lot of fun with the role, but the script didn’t allow her any breathing room. The film outweighs the humour and the intensity, with certain emotional moments packing less of a teary punch than one would expect and the camera often cutting away just a bit too early, but when you have such a crowd pleasing combination of gags, action and music on your hands, one finds it hard to find themselves too hard done by. Now the nail-bitingly, excruciatingly short wait for the superhero event of the century; Avengers: Infinity War.