Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
After the painful Thor: The Dark World, it’s understandable that Marvel wanted to go in a completely different direction for the third in the franchise, and thank heavens they did. Following the success of his more comedic works, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, so-hot-right-now Taika Waititi was hired to inject life into possibly the least popular Avenger (OK, maybe not least – sorry Hawkeye).
Inject some life he did. Thor: Ragnarok is an 80s-infsued, Flash Gordon-esque, psychedelic romp, and one of the most fun movies the MCU has to offer. After failing to find any of the Infinity Stones, Thor (Hemsworth) returns to Asgard to find his brother Loki (Hiddleston) gallivanting as Odin (Hopkins), ruling, or rather, not ruling enough. After an altercation with Goddess of Death Hela (Blanchett), Thor lands on Sakaar, where he re-connects with Hulk (Ruffalo), the planet’s gladiator champion.
This is exactly how Thor should be in this cinematic universe; surreal, bright, sometimes a little hammy, Waititi knows exactly how to approach the larger-than-life character, and his comedic leanings are a perfect compliment. Slightly sillier than the comedy of, say, The Avengers, jokes and slapstick are key here, and it franchise benefits from a lack of seriousness.
It’s hard to imagine the entire cast ever having more fun in their respective roles. Hemsworth’s comedic timing is impeccable, and he relishes the chance for improv in the role (a particular scene, in which Thor recalls a moment in which Loki tricked him by pretending to be a snake, is incredibly enjoyable). Hiddleston is, once again, great as Loki, and Ruffalo finally gets to have fun as the burdened Bruce Banner/Hulk.
There are, however, two perfect casting choices which shine brighter, the first being Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, a PTSD-stricken alcoholic with a blunter side. In many hands this could drag the film down to murkier depths, and a short flashback sequence does provide a dour emotional beat for the character, however, Thompson’s performance teeters just above the edge of depressing – she’s far past that.
The second (and frankly ingenious) piece of perfect casting is Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, a hedonistic ruler on the planet of Sakaar. The internet’s perpetual obsession, Goldblum essentially plays himself but this only adds to the absurdity of the role, never detracts. He understands the role perfectly, not even bothering to answer some questions other characters ask of him, and he provides many of the comedic beats of the movie.
Despite this being his first major blockbuster, Waititi seems to have a strong grip on action. Frenetic and electrifying (sometimes quite literally), it far surpasses the action in previous Thor movies, and provides some kick-ass moments for almost everyone, from Thor to Karl Urban’s Skurge, Asgardian turned Hela goon.
Speaking of which, the film’s only major downfall is, once again, its villains. Hela is portrayed with relish by Blanchett, and you can tell it’s a massively fun role for her to play. However, there is no motivation to her other than the fact that she likes to be evil, and that doesn’t make for a compelling antagonist. The same goes for Skurge, who, even with a strong comedic introduction, is missing from most of the film.
However, this is offset by the fantastic chemistry between Hemsworth and Banner. The perfect combo of Thor and Hulk, ideas of which were planted in The Avengers, it is more buddy adventure than one superhero against hordes of villains. As Banner comes to terms with the fact that he’s been Hulk for the past two years, Thor must come to the realisation that his father wasn’t as benevolent as he once thought, and the broad comedy of the two characters mesh perfectly.
It far surpasses the previous Thor movies, even with my positive thoughts on the first. Funny, visually stunning, with a perfect cast and great direction, this is not one to be missed. Waititi for the win.