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 mins
Thor: Ragnarok is the latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon and the third solo outing for the God of Thunder. The previous films (Thor and Thor: The Dark World) have generally been regarded as lesser entries in the collection but I moderately enjoyed both of them. Kiwi director Taika Waititi is in the director’s chair, having previously directed What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople, two films that I love. Waititi is a genuine and growing talent and Thor: Ragnarok is his first big-budget film. It is quite surprising in itself that Marvel were even able to sign such a talented director up for a film after famously losing key figures such as Edgar Wright from Ant-Man and Patty Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World to avoid compromising their vision. Waititi has a daunting task on his hands – firstly, to elevate himself up to a behemoth of a project as this and secondly, to make a universally appealing Thor film to overturn the notion of them being lesser films around. There is always the danger of these smaller directors having their visions corrupted by the studio (or worse destroyed like Josh Trank on Fantastic Four for example) so it will be interesting to see how much of Waititi’s style seeps its way into the film.
Waititi decides to make multiple changes to the format of the narrative the first two films took. Firstly, by ditching Earth. The first two films were heavily set on our planet, mostly to perform the function of serving Thor’s love interest, Jane, capably played by Natalie Portman. This is truly a film set in the cosmic realms, where Chris Hemsworth’s Nordic God must prevent the titular Ragnarok (end of the worlds in essence) after his evil half sister, Hela, the Goddess of Death played by Aussie Cate Blanchett wreaks havoc. Thor finds himself on Planet Sakaar, a garbage-filled yet colourful location where it is being run in a dictatorship by Jeff Goldblum’s zanily tyrannical Grandmaster. Thor finds himself quickly becoming a “contender” where he’ll have to battle to claim his victory against an unknown entity but unless he makes a mutinous escape, he’s pretty much locked in the Grandmaster’s clutches. You can probably see how this all comes together. Tom Hiddleston’s fan favourite Loki also returns and Waititi introduces new characters alongside Blanchett and Goldblum’s villains with Karl Urban as Skurge and Tessa Thompson as a Valkyrie, a warrior who had previously battled Blanchett’s unstoppable villain but is now a deflated, moody drunkard working for the Grandmaster.
Thor: Ragnarok is a Taika Waititi film through and through – it retains his signature humour and really inverts expectations on what a Thor film should be. This feels refreshingly different from the first two films, more vibrantly coloured and more comical. The film is extremely entertaining and puts the characters that we have grown to like over the course of the films in rather vulnerable positions throughout the film and there is a real sense of danger prevalent. Unlike recent comic book films which have a great, big (and boring) action climax at the end of the film to save the world, Thor: Ragnarok actually earns its finale. The marketing for this film has also been extremely impressive upon viewing the final product – there’s a lot that Marvel have managed to withold from its audiences which is very satisfying.
The cast are expectedly great, with Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum and director Taika Waititi himself making the biggest impressions. When not given the right material, Hemsworth’s performances dangerously verge on wooden but Waititi’s switch to a more comical film is a task that Hemsworth leaps up to and he proves a very deft hand at comedy (in addition to a well-needed haircut). Goldblum essentially plays himself as the Grandmaster and has many great lines and scenes with the characters. Waititi appears himself as Korg, a rock monster of sorts who trains the Grandmaster’s contenders before they fight and Waititi’s performance, based on Polynesian club bouncers, is extraordinary, managing to balance both rib-tickling humour and required heart. The rest of the cast all generally fare well but Blanchett’s villain isn’t given all that much to do sadly but when she is on-screen, she’s good enough. There is one exception though. Bizzarely, Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Bruce Banner / Hulk. Whilst Ruffalo is great as Hulk who Waititi really develops as a character, Ruffalo is terrible in this film as Bruce Banner. Following the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Banner has been permanently living in his Hulk guise. When he becomes Banner, Ruffalo’s performance feels oddly dejected from the film – it’s very strange and is the first time Ruffalo has ever underperformed in my book.
Waititi’s tone is frequently brilliant throughout the film and Thor: Ragnarok takes itself much less seriously than Thor’s previous outings. If there’s an issue with the film, it’s with the opening (although not the very first scene which is brilliant) before Thor finds himself on Sakaar. Waitit’s influence isn’t felt quite as much here and the film feels a bit choppily edited in a brief escapade back to Earth. Once Thor reaches Sakaar, the film never really lets go of its grip and it doesn’t let its foot off the gas until the credits roll.
Thor: Ragnarok is a big success for Marvel and a seamless leap to big budget fare from Taika Waititi. I was constantly entertained by it and its ending reminded me of the magic Marvel can pull off which makes Avengers: Infinity War look a very promising prospect next year, particularly with how the film surprisingly ends. Along with Spider-Man: Homecoming this year, Marvel have had 2/3 successes in my book – it’s just a shame Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a disappointment. Otherwise, I can’t wait for where the characters are taken from here and what Taika Waititi goes on to direct next.