Synopsis – 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.
My Take – After more than ten films in less than ten years, it’s pretty safe to say that Marvel has safely established itself as a popular, successful franchise with its own identity. Known for comedy, references to its other films and comics, and epic, fun action, every Marvel film is at least enjoyable. However, there are some that peak; some that can be included in the best Marvel films – and sometimes best films in the superhero genre, such as The Avengers, The Winter Soldier, Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1 are a few those, so where does this one stand? Since his transition from the comic book pages to the big screen in 2011, the god of thunder has mostly been everyone’s second least favorite Avenger (after Hawkeye). No don’t get me wrong, I did really enjoy the 1st film, and also quite enjoyed its bigger, darker and bolder follow-up ‘Thor: The Dark World’, but in comparison how the Captain America & Iron Man solo outings transitioned, they do feel a bit stale. Now, coming back for his third solo outing in the 17th installment into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), one would presume that this cosmic adventure would show signs of repetition and fatigue, considering how formulaic their films have become despite being intriguing on their own excellent level, thankfully, that’s not the case here as this Taika Waititi directed film is one of those rare threequels that’s better than its predecessors, and one of Marvel’s best film to date, along with being a strong contender for the funniest MCU film. Here, New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows), brings in an unique energy and ingenuity in comparison to the previously darker Thor outings and trades it in for a vibrancy of colors and characters like gigantic monsters and beautiful women; zombie armies and a big spooky dog; an evil witch and the ever awesome Jeff Goldblum along with a laugh-heavy vibe closer to Guardians of the Galaxy films.
Taika Waititi‘s fantastic direction is all over the film as he is able to achieve a flawless balance between fantasy, comedy, drama and action, something that most Marvel directors have faced trouble with. It’s a testament to Marvel Studios that, even after so many entries, they can still produce something as unique and exhilarating as they have here, as this latest installment truly solidifies the new route MCU has been commencing in Phase 3 of being experimental in full force. Set two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the story follows, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who after taking the crown from Surtur (Clancy Brown), the ruler of Muspelheim, returns to his home on Asgard to find out that his devious step-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who he presumed to be dead (after the events of Thor: The Dark World), has taken over the crown and hidden their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) on Earth, but upon his death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death and their powerful elder sister, comes back to take the throne for herself. Thrown across the Universe, Thor is captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), sold to Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and held captive on the planet Sakaar where he and other warriors, including Korg (Taiki Waititi), are forced to fight in his personal coliseum against his champion, who turns out to be none other than his follow Avenger, The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to earn their freedom. But with his hammer shattered into pieces, can Thor not only win his gladiatorial duel against his former friend but also convince and assemble a team to stop Hela and prevent Ragnarok, the doom of the Asgardian civilization? If that all sounds like serious business, rest assured it’s very much not. There’s a gentle wit threaded through every frame of this film – a glorious, big-hearted silliness that fans of director Taika Waititi will remember (and treasure) from such indie comedy gems as What We Did In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Miraculously, director Waititi has managed to infuse this gargantuan, green-screened epic with his trademark offbeat vibe, best exemplified in the way key plot points are revealed (via sardonic monologue or ironic stage play) and the character he plays. For (largely) better or (occasionally) worse, the film doesn’t dwell as much on the royal family drama as its predecessors did. Instead, its second act plays out on the candy-coated, death-dealing planet of Sakaar, ruled by the whims and fancies of the Grandmaster, where his people are relentlessly entertained in their very own battle dome.
What specifically is good about this film is the drastic change in tone and style from Thor’s previous outings are often considered dull and monotonous, the result of which the inclusion of humor is a welcome addition and thankfully a lot of the jokes hit bullseyes as I was laughing constantly throughout this film as I would while watching a genuine comedy. Essentially, director Waititi throws out all the cumbersome weights that hampered Thor and tells a simpler but no less cool story about a superhero trying to get back to his home to clean house. In between he gives Thor ample opportunities to be a beer-swigging beefcake, negotiate some treacherously outlandish situations and strip him off the one thing that makes him Thor, the Mjolnir. At one point, Odin even asks a defeated Thor ‘What are you, the God of Hammers? ‘, had me laughing till my tears rolled down. After all, this is a film about a traditional Norse God as a superhero fighting alongside a big, angry, green rage monster – it’s important to have fun with it! The tone is light but no less serious, populated by so many colorful characters in a vivid world trapped in impossible situations. At first I thought the introduction of Hulk in the early trailer is a misstep, but Mark Ruffalo‘s casting would have been close to impossible to keep under wraps. By giving Planet Hulk comic fans a look-in would have been a better move. The repartee between Thor and Hulk/Banner is so hilarious. No less funny is also the dialogue between Thor and Loki, gone is that “he aren’t heavy, he is my brother” vibe and this is a Thor that will give Loki a smack down if he is out of step. It’s the screenplay from Eric Pearson that should take most of the credit, along with some of the brilliant new characters we’re introduced to, Korg in particular played by Waititi himself being one of the MCU’s most welcome additions. The characters are even more expansive in development, both intrigue and entertain and their well fleshed out personalities make them easy to care for them. Thor and Loki are beautifully realized characters while Hulk is the most interesting he’s been in a long time. Valkeryie is interesting addition mainly due to her feisty personality and personal motivations. Korg (with Waititi writing himself in to portray) is a bit random but is a lot of fun. The film has the mythological scale of something like The Lord of the Rings, the over-the-top fun of Richard Donner‘s Superman films, and the extra sprinkling of The Hulk in a gladiator costume to top all this insanity off in a perfectly gorgeous combo. Oh, and it accomplishes the other-world-liness of films like The Star Wars Trilogy. The crazy, kinetic action really does extend to the whole of the film, from beginning to end, each sequence excellently choreographed. It doesn’t shy away from its roots from comics as some of the fights are just as delightfully eccentric and over-the- top. Still they never cease to entertain and, more than that, some are just stunning to behold; the flashback to Valkyrie battling Hela the first time, her army atop a hoard of winged horses soaring through an orange sky only to be cut down by swords and spikes flying towards them in slow- motion. Director Waititi manages to find character and comedy beats even in swooping spaceship chases and bruising hand-to-hand combat. There’s a thrilling fluidity to the action sequences – whether it’s Thor soaring towards his enemies like lightning made flesh, or Hela unleashing her multiple projectiles of death with a dark, graceful beauty. The action, of which there is plenty, is driven by the retro vibes of Mark Mothersbaugh‘s score and even Led Zeppelin‘s Immigrant Song, which kicks the finale into overdrive particularly well. Perhaps more impressively, director Waititi handles every Marvel blockbuster’s requisite action scenes with more clarity and flair than you’d expect from an indie director.
Javier Aguirresarobe‘s cinematography combines seamlessly with the expectedly stunning visual effects to create an almost psychedelic sense to the action sequences. Sadly, the film doesn’t come without its flaws, with the biggest one being the main antagonist Hela herself. Hela is another in a long line of lackluster MCU villains. She’s the first female villain to pose as the main antagonist, which is great, and Cate Blanchett is perfect in the role, yet despite an interesting backstory, she is never really developed and ends up just becoming another one-dimensional villain with a plan that’s flawed from the offset, with no motivation beyond just being evil. Her being the Goddess of Death is also never really capitalized on outside of her resurrecting dead soldiers of Asgard’s crypts reasonably early on. Also, I am not quite pleased how the film handled some characters like Heimdall (Idris Elba), who throughout the whole film is running around in the jungle saving people, this is a character which the film could have easily done without. Karl Urban certainly does look like Skurge from the comic books, but his character also doesn’t do much until the climax. Also I wasn’t too fond of how they handled the absence of Jane (Natalie Portman) and dispatched of Thor’s companions, the Warriors Three, Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Fandral (Zachary Levi), so quickly without any form of remorse. Plus, where was Sif (Jaimie Alexander) when this all was going down? Coming to the performances, the film features a strong ensemble cast, pretty much all of them showing some fine comedy instincts at one point in the film. Chris Hemsworth leads the film with such a confident performance, matching both the cockiness and naivety of his character to great effect. It’s not that he hasn’t been good in his previous appearances as the God of Thunder throughout the franchise – he was suavely charming in Thor and resolutely grim in The Dark World. But he’s so remarkably good here, switching effortlessly between bright-eyed puppy and care-worn leader that it feels like he’s finally come home. Hemsworth‘s performance in this film is a fantastic balance of sunshine and silliness; it’s a joy to behold. Mark Ruffalo continues to play the dual aspects of Bruce Banner – looming brute and mild-mannered professor – with so much winning charm that you want him to get his own Hulk film. Tom Hiddleston returns to the role of Loki and he’s expectedly wicked, making it easy to see why he’s such a favorite with the fans, while MCU newcomer Tessa Thompson shows plenty of potential to become a future fan favorite with a performance full of grit and fire as Valkyrie. If you’re a fan of Jeff Goldblum then I’d just like to say you won’t be disappointed with his performance as Grandmaster, a character just as eccentric as Goldblum himself. In supporting roles, Anthony Hopkins, Taika Waititi, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel House and Clancy Brown are also great .The cameos of Luke Hemsworth, Sam Neill and Matt Damon were just incredible. This film is another part of Marvel’s ever running hot streak, and here’s hoping it continues a little bit longer to say the least. On the whole, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is a wild and wacky intergalactic popcorn-blockbuster that is brimming with fun, personality and action.
Directed – Taika Waititi
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 130 minutes