Thor: Ragnarok (Cert 12A)
US (2017) Dir. Taika Waititi
I must confess that I wasn’t overly impressed with the first two Thor films and very little about the trailers made me excited for this third entry into the franchise’s cinematic canon. I can’t quite put my finger on why this was but given the recent run of huge success Marvel had over the past two years, could third time be a charm?
Set two years after we saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, the God Of Thunder learns that his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is no longer in his home world of Asgard. Along with his duplicitous adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor heads to Earth to find Odin, finding him dying. Just before he passes on, Odin confesses to his sons that they have an older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett).
Hela, aka the Goddess of Death, appears immediately after Odin dies, and attacks the brothers, sending them off into different world on the trip back to Asgard. With the fires of her home world giving her renewed strength, Hela plans to take over Asgard while Thor finds himself trapped on the planet of Sakaar, where he must literally fight for his freedom, making some new friends and reuniting with old faces.
Boy, this is one schizophrenic film. Obviously comic book films, and those from Marvel in particular, like to play around with expectations in going all out to present blistering, escapist blockbusters but Thor: Ragnarok takes it a step further, literally flitting from one genre to the next without taking a breath not does it apologise for this. It starts within the fantasy realm beholden to Thor’s Nordic origins, then enters modern day drama with a trip to Earth before turning into a Guardians Of The Galaxy style Sci-fi romp!
At this point in the review, the question ordinarily would be “How are we supposed to take this seriously?” The answer is, we don’t. Why? Because the film doesn’t take itself seriously. Gone is the try hard sensibility of the Kenneth Branagh directed first film and the convoluted plotting of the second film, instead this is straightforward FX led bombast with gags to spare – and by the Gods, it actually works.
Opening with Thor wisecracking his way out of trouble against the fire giant Surtur while the new guard of the Bifrost, Skurge (a pseudo-cockney sounding Karl Urban), is busy trying to impress a couple of maidens, the comedy stall is set out immediately and doesn’t close until the now obligatory post credits sequence. This is followed by more levity when Thor returns home to find Odin acting a bit weird, exposing his father to be Loki in disguise.
From here we move to Earth for a mind-bending slapstick filled cameo from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) before Hela conveniently appears just moments after Odin reveals her existence, and summarily reveals her superior strength by destroying Thor’s precious hammer! What a bitch! With Loki apparently obliterated in the Bifrost, Thor ends up the captive of bounty hunter SR-142 (Tessa Thompson), working for Sakaar’s ruler, the flamboyant Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).
Thor naturally plans to escape from Sakaar but being a powerful being detained under the purview of the Grandmaster means automatic entry into the gladiatorial games run for the amusement of the Grandmaster, against his reigning undefeated champion, a certain humungous green chap that Thor knows very well. Or at least thought he did.
At least now we have an explanation as to why Thor and the Hulk were both absent for the Civil War Avengers reunion, suggesting the two different time lines are concurrent whilst a couple of Easter eggs here serve to keep the connection the group alive. Doctor Strange’s appearance was teased during the post credit skit from his film but is given less explanation other than it just happened, deal with it.
Keeping track of everything that occurs is surprisingly easy given the erratic nature of the universe trotting that takes place, eventually settling down to feature just Sakaar and Asgard. There is no real complexity to the bare bones of the main story, only to some of the applied elements as they only receive cursory exposition since this is only 130-minutes long and they have to fit the gags in.
The predominance of the humour will be hit and miss depending on how seriously you take your comic book adventures but for the most part it helps make the film more accessible to non-comic book audiences. For the majority of this rather verbose script, the jokes take the form of witty barbs and rejoinders shared by almost everyone, although naming a portal the “Devil’s Anus” seems a bit much for a 12A rated film!
It has been said a lot of the dialogue was improvised and this is most evident in the scenes featuring Jeff Goldblum, whose Grandmaster is just too gauche in his lack of self-awareness to have been meticulously scripted. Hela is downright nasty and heavy on the sarcasm and one can see Cate Blanchett enjoying every second in being able to ham it up with fear of reproach. Tessa Thompson impresses as the butt kicking SR-142 and could make for an interesting spin-off character.
Once again through the magic of CGI we are transported to a number of fantastic worlds each one with its own unique look and feel, from Asgard’s classical architecture to Sakaar’s futuristic hi-tech metropolis. Similarly conflicting is the musical score, part sweeping orchestral symphonies, part 80’s synth pop, which sounds incongruous but actually complements the frantic action sequences on Sakaar. Plus Led Zeppelin’s Immigration Song for us real music fans.
By stepping out of the comic book comfort zone Thor: Ragnarok should by rights be an unmitigated disaster but instead it is not only the best of the Thor films but also hugely enjoyable trolling of the snobby critics who dismiss popcorn blockbusters as trite and worthless entertainment. And remember to stay until after the credits!
Rating – ****
Man In Black