Thor: Ragnarok Review
By a hair’s breadth, Taika Waititi’s trademark quirks remain audible above the booms and belly laughs in this, Marvel’s bawdy cosmic romp. Hela, the goddess of death (Cate Blanchett, practically feasting on the scenery), emerges from an ancient slumber and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is separated from his beloved kingdom of Asgard. Robbed of his legendary hammer, the lonely thunder god must enlist the help of Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and a befuddled Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to escape imprisonment by the salacious Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, untethered).
The Thor series has become somewhat of a black sheep within the larger Marvel exercise: in the four years since his last solo outing, the Norse legend has only appeared once (in 2015, for Avengers: Age of Ultron), not even getting a look-in for the collect ‘em all antics of Civil War, and it’s easy to understand why. Throwing a protagonist with the powers of a literal god into the mix means that stakes become very thin-on-the-ground, and having him bring down limitless destructive power from the heavens doesn’t help the CGI-overload problem which every film of this genre must inevitably confront.
What Ragnarok does is remind us why we love spending time with Hemsworth’s cheery titan by bringing a sense of vulnerability back to the character, much like Kenneth Branagh’s first entry in 2011. Though there’s no real escape from “X ,son of Y” exposition dumps (see Thor: The Dark World), this instalment learns not to take this world or any of the characters zooming around it remotely seriously. Reluctant to engage in much digital battery, it’s quite happy to gather together a myriad of costumed weirdos and spend two hours poking fun at them.
And what fun it is, too. I often get a bit irked by the arbitrary re-labelling of these films based on miniscule breaks from convention (The Winter Soldier as a Cold War thriller, Ant-Man as a heist movie, etc), but if you want to call this a sci-fi sex comedy, you go right ahead. There’s a magnificent effortlessness to the constant stream of gags – both verbal, physical and literal – that fuels Ragnarok. It’s a nice variation, given that the default humour mode for the MCU thus far consists of a general knowledge quiz round with added snark. This is a lot lewder and cruder, but never feels forced. I genuinely look forward to re-discovering the punchlines on second viewing, which is more than can be said for something like The Avengers, whose one-liners became more grating with every revisit.
Everyone onscreen delivers at least three laugh-out-loud moments, and twice as many dirty smirks. Thompson is delightfully rough-and-tumble, Hemsworth turns Thor’s grinning incompetence into an art, and Ruffalo is all eyebrows and bedraggled confusion, stealing scenes almost by accident. Though Tom Hiddleston certainly gets a chuckle or two (usually at Loki’s own expense), it’s a performance and character arc that feels very cut-and-paste from previous appearances, and the constant double-crosses are as predictable as the sunrise.
That same predictability extends to the direction: working within the realms of such a behemoth clearly hasn’t fazed Waititi in the slightest, but much of the New Zealand director’s offbeat style is lost to rather generic compositions and construction. His unique signature is reserved entirely for his digital character, Korg, a Parma Violet-shaded rock monster whose comments pertaining to Thor’s almighty hammer pushed the 12a certificate (and my sides) to the outermost limits.
For all its colourful language, Flash Gordon-meets-RuPaul costumes and rainbow marketing, the final product is rather depressingly sapped of those burning hues the MCU desperately needs. The GIF sets of Loki that will doubtless populate Tumblr for the next year or so, plastered in over-cranked filters, will be more vibrant than the original article. There’s also some very dodgy green screen work in places, and the frayed visual edges arouses suspicion that Marvel have, for once, spent the largest portion of their gargantuan budget on the screenwriters.
All the money in the world, however, can’t overcome circumstance or common sense: you could – and I’m sure many will – write essays on one display of fan service which illustrates tone-deafness of wormhole proportions. In what is meant to be his emotional climax, Karl Urban – playing Skurge, a feckless show-off who kneels before Hela – unloads gleefully with a pair of assault weapons. Inescapable real-world timing and the use of stolen, Texas-approved machine guns soured into silence an audience who had previously been laughing, applauding and whooping like clockwork.
In everything from these tonal misadventures to Mark Mothersbaugh’s erratic score, Ragnarok ensures this fun but inconsistent trilogy is completed in appropriate style. While little it provides will change the landscape of superhero stories to come, it’s a genuine crowd-pleaser and a socking great time at the movies.