Thursday, 9 November 2017

Review #1,260: 'Thor: Ragnarok' (2017)

One of the fairest criticisms aimed at Marvel's now 9 years in-the-making Cinematic Universe is that mastermind Kevin Fiege has worked out the perfect superhero blockbuster formula and has stuck with it. It's a cookie-cutter approach, so much so that entries like Iron Man, Ant-Man and Doctor Strange seem almost indistinguishable on paper. The MCU has now raked in over $13 billion at the box-office, so it's clearly doing something right. But recently, Marvel have deliberately selected directors capable of leaving their fingerprints, such as Ryan Coogler being handed the task of tackling the Africa-set Black Panther (due next year), and Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi - a choice met with both confusion and sheer excitement on its announcement - to handle the Norse apocalypse. Although I enjoyed 2011's Thor for all its Shakesperian campiness, 2013's sequel The Dark World was mediocre at best, and the God of Thunder was in major need of a kick up the arse.

In fact, the sight of 'the strongest Avenger' receiving a boot up the backside wouldn't look out of place in Waititi's bright, 80's-inspired cosmic wet-dream. Marvel's have always peppered the heroics with humour and sight gags, but Thor: Ragnarok represents the first time they have opted for full-blown comedy with an occasional action scene in between. Waititi was clearly hired for this very reason, and anybody who fell in love with vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows and last year's surprisingly touching Hunt for the Wilderpeople will find plenty of laughs here. The director's goofy, playful sense of humour can be found all over Ragnarok, and anybody concerned that this will be to the detriment of taking the film's end-of-the-world premise seriously can be rest assured. Characters are offed or mutilated without pausing for breath, and the climax changes the universe of the MCU forever. The good guys also face their most formidable threat yet, the Goddess of Death herself, Hela (a striking Cate Blanchett).

We first meet up with Chris Hemsworth's Thor as he lies chained-up and imprisoned by fire demon Surtur, after having spent the last two years travelling the cosmos searching for those pesky Infinity Stones. When he finally arrives home, he finds his mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) posing as their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), allowing Asgard's many enemies to gain more power as a result. They travel to Earth and, with the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), locate their father, who is apparently waiting to die in Norway. He warns his sons that Ragnarok is coming, as is their sister Hela. After a skirmish that sees the hammer Mjolnir destroyed, Thor is blown into space and lands of Sakaar, where most of the universe's garbage ends up. He is captured by scrapper Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is forced to become a gladiator for the amusement of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Here he meets his old friend Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has been in Hulk form for the past two years and clearly enjoying his life as a celebrity warrior.

Waititi promised a buddy road-trip through the cosmos and that is exactly what we get. Hemsworth has always had a gift for comedy and he is given free reign here, with the bulk of the dialogue made up of improvisation. Ragnarok is truly daft and care-free, even finding the time to squeeze in jokes about masturbation and a wormhole called 'The Devil's Anus'. The director himself also shines on camera as well as behind it, lending his voice to the gently-spoken rock monster Korg, who steals every scene he is in. There are weaknesses: Not all the jokes land, and Blanchett's Hela comes across as a one-note distraction from the events on Sakaar, where Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, Banner and a Jeff Goldblum at his most Goldbumiest are having a much better time. But when Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song kicks in near the end, you'll be too busy punching the air to care about such flaws. Very much like how The Winter Soldier finally nailed Captain America after a stumbling start, Ragnarok elevates Thor from the runt of the litter to one of the leaders of the pack, reminding us just why he's called the God of Thunder.

Directed by: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins
Country: USA

Rating: ****

Tom Gillespie

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) on IMDb

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