After coming face to face with the recently released from exile Goddess of Death, Thor finds himself forced onto a journey of self-discovery. This adventure takes him to a strange new place, reunites him with a missing-in-action friend from work and forces him into new alliances as he prepares to save his home from Ragnarok, the end of days.
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins
Run Time: 130 Minutes
Release Date: 3 November (US)/Out now (Europe)
Taika Waititi’s appointment as director of Marvel Studio’s third Thor outing was always a peculiar one; those who saw his previous works, including Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do In the Shadows, would attest that this was not a man who would stick to the tried-and-tested superhero movie formula employed by so many before him. This was encouraging, as it appeared that Marvel would be willing to step outside their comfort zones and allow Waititi to take their God of Thunder and do with him what he will.
However, what we could not have expected was for Marvel to step so far out of their comfort zone as they have here. Waititi has gone so far to the other end of the usual superhero movie spectrum, that all Marvel movies that follow will never be able to match this one. And that’s a good thing, and a long-overdue thing to boot. Despite the different characters in play, there is usually always a feeling that an MCU film must follow the same blueprint. Not here though, as this is not a superhero movie, this is an honest-to-god comedy film that will occasionally go back to the bigger picture and MCU narrative, but never stay there for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s hard to imagine another Marvel film anything like this coming any time soon.
Of course, being a Marvel film, there has to be a superhero story as this is the third film in the Thor series and there is the small matter of Infinity War to build towards. Except, it seems Waititi either didn’t get the memo about that or chose to ignore it. Other than the odd – and I mean, occasional – mention, and they mainly come at the beginning to set things up. There is little here that would even suggest that this is the third film in a character series or even the penultimate movie before Thanos arrives to wreak havoc, something a decade in the making. It is as insular a franchise movie as you will see and, as much as we all like a good story-building MCU yarn, it is refreshing to watch a film that feels almost-totally standalone.
The other main question heading into Ragnarok is how the main actors, now ingrained with the Marvel way of doing things, would react to a directory seemingly hell-bent on ignoring all that has come before whilst at the same time determined to make a funny road trip movie. Thankfully, they seem to relish the opportunity to, at least temporarily, break free from the proverbial shackles and let loose. Chris Hemsworth, in particular, is like night and day with his Thor here compared to previous outings. Of course, those that saw Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters know of his comedic timing and ability, but dedicated MCU viewers will be pleasantly surprised and amused here. Elsewhere Tom Hiddleston continues to show that as long as he is willing to keep donning the pointy Loki helmet, Marvel should always be looking to give him a call when a new movie comes about. The chemistry that he and Hemsworth have already shown they possess is amplified here, aided on course by the ability to add multiple layers of comedy to their work. Despite their sterling work, however, they are ultimately upstaged in the comedy ranks by the director himself; Waititi voices Korg, an intimidating rock monster who nabs some of the best lines in the movie, with the character’s appearance complimented perfectly with the director’s Kiwi accent.
Unfortunately it isn’t all good news, and once again Marvel’s biggest weak point comes in its villain. This time, Cate Blanchett shows up as the movie’s big bad, giving us the MCU’s first female villain Hela. Regrettably, she is not blessed with a well-rounded character, with her backstory – while at least explained and seemingly given some thought – all she really has going for her, though as the movie goes on she quickly goes from a potentially-interesting character into a regular Marvel villain. There is really very little to her and it doesn’t take long to become painfully obvious. It really is a wonder how bad guys continue to be let down so badly in the Marvel films, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for Thanos’ arrival in Infinity War, though you would like to think – and hope – that a villain 10 years and 17 movies in the making would be ably prepared to carry the villain load in what will essentially be his own movie. The other obstacle with Hela is that she is upstaged in the female character ranks by the other new face; Tessa Thompson shines as Valkyrie, a fighting, drinking scrapper making a living bringing in contenders for the Grandmaster. Thompson is a delight here, coming across as a likeable, relatable person just looking to get on with things and leaving behind her traumatic history.
Elsewhere, let’s get to that big, green elephant in the room. Not seen since Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk returns to action in a story at least in part adapted from that classic Hulk tale Planet Hulk. While marketing dictated that the angry one would always be promoted, you can’t help but wonder how much more impact would have been felt if he was just sprung upon an unsuspecting viewer. As it is, once Hulk arrives the movie takes on a whole new dynamic, with Hemsworth and Ruffalo free to build this genuinely-funny and believable chemistry between their characters. Hulk can of course talk now, child-like as it is, which in itself brings the laughs. We don’t get a huge amount of explanation of how Hulk ended up where we meet him, given how we last saw him in Sokovia, though that could always be revisited later when these two meet up once again with their Avenging buddies. Hulk of course has spent the best part of two years as the fighting champion of their host the Grandmaster, played as only he can by Jeff Goldblum, in what is probably best described as the Goldblum-iest of Goldblum performances. And that’s a compliment.
The only other criticism that could be levelled against this, and it really is a minor one, is that the film is rooted so much in humour that when we do get a heavy or serious moment, it feels that it is out of place and the script is not built to support it. We get mass murder and some pretty dramatic character moments and yet they don’t feel like they carry the same level of gravitas that they would if this were a more grounded movie. Again, it’s a minor criticism, as the film is so on point with the humour and appearance that it more than carries things through.
All in all, Ragnarok is an absolute delight. The gags are non-stop, the new lands we encounter are striking and vibrant and the whole thing comes across as an indie movie that happens to be a part of one of the biggest movie franchises of all-time. What Waititi has been allowed to do – and my god has he run with it – is startling, and while there is the odd misfire here or there, you come out of this more than entertained and far more blessed to have experienced this.
Marvel may never be the same again.