Claiming the honour of being the best Thor film to date isn’t exactly high praise but, in the case of Thor: Ragnarok, it does at least herald the incoming of a pleasingly fresher take on the Norse god’s super-sub-franchise. With the surprisingly tangible vision of Hunt of Wilderpeople’s Taika Waititi, part-three Thor makes for a fun addition to Marvel’s tiresomely sprawling universe and blessed relief for Chris Hemsworth’s erstwhile little used funny bones.
After two gloomier offerings, new look Thor gets its dose of wit and slapstick right from the off, beginning with some rye ironic exposition in Eric Pearson’s script – ‘It’s a long story but basically I’m a bit of a hero’ – and a brilliantly executed interrogation scene gag, in which said hero pauses his aggressor mid-flow to allow the rope he’s hanging from to do one-eighty turn so they can be face to face. Was Thor (Hemsworth) always this impishly collegiate in his humour?
Back to back with its direct predecessor, Ragnarok makes for a largely jarring experience and owes far more to the efforts of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy duo than anything by Branagh or Taylor in the trilogy. Portman, Skarsgård and Dennings have all been given the chop, somewhat gracelessly in the case of love-interest Jane, while Earth merely cameos. Infusing just about every detail with nostalgia, Waititi aims squarely at levity, with an almost glib attitude to drama. Zipping from the opening encounter back to home planet Asgard, Thor quickly derails the foreboding cliff-hanger of The Dark World, exposing Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as actually being Loki (Tom Hiddleston – his bronemy?) in disguise, before promptly shooting off to New York to find his real father. Were it not for the sequence featuring a triumvirate of cameos, that will go down among the all time greats, it would be easy to feel short-changed.
This keep ‘em laughing approach is, however, an undeniably successful one. In spite of the slight patchiness of its set-up, Ragnarok has vibressant energy and a comic-book stylisation befitting of the brand. Whereas Christopher Ecclestone took to his nemesis role with a dull solemnity, Cate Blanchett’s rock-chick Alice Cooper meets Maleficent is quite the opposite and all the more gleeful for it. Likewise, Jeff Goldblum dials up the camp for his gold-dressing-gown and glitter turn as the Grandmaster of intergalactic dump-planet Sakaar, and Waititi steals the show as anthropomorphic man-rock Korg, whose soft New Zealand lilt delivers giggles with every sharp line: ‘I wanted to start a revolution, but I didn’t print enough pamphlets…’
Blanchett plays Hela here, a blighted enemy of state set on ruling Asgard and conquering the MCU in the process. It’s a strand that adds up to precious little by the sheer nature of the overarching plot, ultimately contributing to the pacing issues of the wider film. For all its charming value, at a little over two hours, Ragnarok feels long and oddly inconsequential; especially given how much actually happens when laid out on paper. Characters die and looming grounds are set for future features but there’s certainly no sense of peril beneath the fun.
That said, there is more than enough of the fun to go around. A soundtrack composed by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh puts the rock into Ragnarok, laying on an aural treat of radiophonic delights, Led Zeppelin and – very in vogue – nods to the eighties. Mark Ruffalo revels in an opportunity to flesh out the Hulk, even if the character is given way too much dialogue, whilst Tessa Thompson’s Sarah Conner-inspired Valkyrie more than equals Thor and Loki in the action and likability stakes, joining team Thor as one of the ‘Revengers’. Yes, another super-gang to throw into next year’s daunting Infinity War. As for the look, too much CGI is a given, but there’s enough of Waititi’s roots to maintain a fleeting sense of ernest beauty.
If Thor doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, or hold long in the memory, you’d be hard pressed to find any in the mix who particularly care. Ragnarok is rompy space silliness – thank the gods.