Thor: Ragnarok review – a non-stop mind-boggler of an adventure
Marvel Studios are a brazen bunch, aren’t they? Three movies, two ABC shows, three Netflix shows, a Hulu and a Freeform series all in one year. It takes giant godlike nuts to do that without fear of over saturation. With their ongoing need to hire some of the oddest directorial choices for big blockbusters, Taika Waititi, the director of the brilliant Hunt for the Wilderpeople and the very funny What We Do in the Shadows gives us Thor: Ragnarok, an easy to enjoy romp that sits as one of the best solo Marvel Comics Universe films to date.
With a sort of neon drenched Saturday morning cartoon look about it, this is the world of Marvel comics at it’s most colourful; out-joking, out-breezing and out-colouring even the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy. Picking up two years after Age of Ultron, Thor has been travelling across the nine realms trying to make sense of the Infinity Stones and their place in the world. This is where the film gets off to a running start, with Clancy Brown’s monstrous Surtur preaching death and destruction.
From here, Ragnarok very quickly begins taking apart everything we thought we knew about the Thor series and does it’s own thing. Asgard is less a CGI disney land, and more a world of grit and feeling, complete with political turmoil, with many of the supporting players from the previous two films gone – criminally the Warriors Three and Lady Sif are given short shrift in this film. What follows is an adventure comedy that never lets up on the gas for a second.
The great things are this: it’s fun. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming, there is a sense of fun, and it’s an 80s sci-fi madness film in the mould of great adventures. The cast are all exceptional, those who have been in the role for years feel so comfortable that it never appears like they need direction. Hemsworth excels at the now Earth-literate Thor who is two parts cocky Avenger, one part Royal and still the biggest dummy in the universe, while Hiddleston continues his route of imbuing Loki with a strange sense of trust, pathos and likeability. Gone is the tragic antagonist of Thor, no longer is he the genocidal villain of The Avengers, or even the untrustworthy anti-hero ally of The Dark World. He is funny, concerned, and ultimately playing the role like he’s truly unsure of who he is. It’s brilliant that in the film there are moments for the two brothers and a returning Anthony Hopkins to discuss the nature of their strange family, and their love for one another.
Idris Elba is also brilliant as watcher Heimdall. Being both an action man, and a wise older figure, he works in the film hiding in the forest like a strange sword swinging Gandalf. Of course, the big coup is Mark Ruffalo as Banner / Hulk; yes, we’ve all seen the “he’s a friend from work” line, but what really clicks here is that it feels like an odd couple style comedy, with the Hulk taking centre strange. What’s more, a two year stretch as the big green guy means there’s a tension about whether or not the Hulk will take over. It’s also wonderful that Thor has remembered the events of Age of Ultron and is using it to help Banner.
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In the new characters, the stand out amongst them is Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, a drinker and former soldier of the royal guard who wants nothing to do with Asgard. She makes Valkyrie more than just a fighter, creating a three dimensional person with character flaws and traits, as well as her loving, almost big sister relationship with the Hulk.
Jeff Goldblum is his most Goldblum as the Grandmaster, used to perfection as the over-the-top orgy loving ruler of the strange trash planet Sakaar, like an opulent Liberace (not unlike Benicio del Toro’s The Collector) ruling over the sand people of Star Wars. Karl Urban is also good fun as muscle cockney thug Skurge who is neither hero nor villain, but actually does help, and has more characterisation that many of the Marvel universe second-in-commands.
However it’s really the great work of Cate Blanchett as Marvel’s first proper fully fledged on-screen lady villain Hela; camp, green clad like Rita Rapulsa on crack cocaine, she’s an Alice Cooper glam rock villain to be reckoned with and boasts some incredible fight scenes. Her motivations may appear somewhat similar to Loki’s in previous films, but her ruthlessness cannot be faulted as she slaughters series standards without a second glance. Taika Waititi himself boasts possibly the biggest laughs with his director-cameo as rock monster man Korg, the soft spoken bouncer of the film who gets all the biggest belly laughs.
Outside of the key actors and the great cameos – there’s too many to mention – the film deserves technical praise; all the visual effects are top notch, making water clad fur believable, giving fight scenes grace and threat, and the design and costumes of Asgard are very believable. There’s less of the Armour clad people from previous Thor films, and more of a sort of Greek epic style costuming that works perfectly, as well as great use of bright neon colours for Sakaar’s slave planet.
The music by Mark Mothersbaugh is also great, knowing when to be an over the top synth adventure, while also reprising themes from the previous films in the series. At times it feels like a little more focus on the emotion instead of the full forward drive might be a little better, and, as with all Thor films, it takes place over about three days, which means everything is an intense forward-pushing ride.
We’ve recently seen a spate of utterly different, totally enjoyable Marvel Comic’s Universe films which bolster a series of incredible movies that charm and delight, and it’s quite difficult to get too annoyed with them when everyone is having such a blast. Considering the previous two Thor films were criticised for being too dependent on the wider universe, this is a non-stop mind-boggler of an adventure that doesn’t take it’s foot off the gas until the end chuckle. Thor might not be the strongest Avenger, but he’s finally gotten a solo film worthy of his royal title.