What is Thor: Ragnarok?
Finding himself imprisoned on the other side of the universe, Thor must compete in a gladiatorial battle against old friend Hulk to win his freedom and get back to Asgard, where the all-powerful Hela is endeavouring to lay waste to the entire planet.
Civil War Aftermath
Times are tough in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the Guardians of the Galaxy have been raising laughs in space, it’s been much more serious on earth. Ultron managed to kill an Avenger, while the Sokovia Accords tore Iron Man and Captain America‘s friendship apart, causing Civil War, and triggering a devastating superhero split.
It’s times like these we need some light in the dark, and Thor: Ragnarok provides just that, being a colourful, joyous, synth-scored, fun-filled romp that’s filled with bizarre characters and insane flights of fancy. Making it easily the silliest Marvel movie yet. Which is surprising when you consider that title, ‘Ragnarok’ representing the ‘end of days’ in Norse mythology, and the film’s villain planning just that, journeying to Asgard to settle old scores by destroying civilization on the planet.
But with Taika Waititi on directing duties, Thor: Ragnarok was never going to be a frown-fest. The New Zealander is responsible for two of the funniest films of the last few years in the shape of What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and here he brings that mischievous, offbeat humour to the MCU in hilarious fashion.
The prologue makes it clear that this is a very different kind of Thor movie; our hero starting proceedings trapped in a cage and cracking jokes while fighting for his life. Thor has always been a headstrong god of action, but here he’s immediately on the back-foot, and that’s where he stays for much of Ragnarok, desperately endeavouring to keep up with the random events unfolding around him. Which is something the audience also has to do during the film’s exposition-heavy early scenes.
The narrative jumps from the fiery planet of Muspelheim to Asgard to earth as we’re brought up to speed regarding what’s been happening with Thor, Loki, Jane and Odin. Via a brief and somewhat random visit to 177A Bleecker Street. Yet while the plot machinations to get the characters where they need to be seem overly complicated, they are pulled off with such zippy dialogue and visual flair that you barely notice them.
Contest of Champions
Thor then lands on Sakaar, and the real fun and games begin. Because he quickly becomes the plaything of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, delightfully unhinged), a tyrant who forces gladiators to do battle in his vast arena as part of the ‘Contest of Champions’ where — wouldn’t you know it — Hulk is reigning supreme.
What follows is a loose adaptation of classic comic storyline Planet Hulk, and the film’s undoubted high point. The build-up to the brawl is a blast, introducing the movie’s MVP in the shape of Korg. A Kronan revolutionary who is made of rock, he’s voiced in deadpan fashion by Waititi, and steals pretty much every scene he’s in.
The clash itself is electrifying, both metaphorically, and literally. Watching Thor and Hulk go toe-to-toe was a highlight of the first Avengers movie, and here they take it to the next level, the fight as funny as it is spectacular as the God of Thunder battles the Green Goliath.
We won’t spoil who wins, but when the fisticuffs are over, what follows is very nearly as entertaining. Banner has been Hulk for two years, and learned to talk, Hulk-style. So when he and Thor spend some quality time together it’s genuinely hilarious, most notably when being called the stupidest Avenger causes the big guy to have an incredible sulk. We also get to see Hulk butt, while when Banner does show up, there’s some interesting insight into what hulking out is doing to his mental state, and where he fears it’s all heading.
Trouble is, the rest of Ragnarok struggles to reach those dizzy heights, the strange structure meaning that the film’s high point comes mid-way through proceedings.
Hela Good Villain
As far as villains go, Hela kicks all kinds of ass, and it’s a blast seeing a CG Cate Blanchett kick seven bells out of one of the nine realms. Her back-story and motive are also better than most baddies in the MCU. But while we’re told her powers are “limitless,” it’s never clear exactly how they manifest themselves, which makes the threat she poses a little vague. It’s also a shame she doesn’t spend more time arguing with or facing off against Thor.
Elsewhere there are several somewhat weak sub-plots. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is never fully developed, and her drunk acting and English accent aren’t quite up to scratch. Karl Urban also seems to have joined the bad accents club as Skurge, while his character has a bizarre and wholly unconvincing arc. Finally Heimdall. Poor Heimdall. Yet again Idris Elba’s sizeable talents go to waste, as his glorified doorman is given little or nothing to do.
But Waititi pulls it all together for the film’s finale. The action isn’t a million miles away from the battle royales that conclude most superhero movies, but there are surprises and impressive visual flourishes all over the place, while it builds to a grand crescendo that looks like some twisted fever dream, and ends the film in dazzling fashion.
Is Thor: Ragnarok Good?
Marvel is frequently criticised for sticking to a formula when it comes to the MCU, but in recent years the studio has managed to tell stories in a variety of genres while sticking within the framework that makes their movies such a success. Guardians of the Galaxy was a comedy space opera, Winter Soldier a paranoid action-thriller, and Doctor Strange a cosmic head-trip.
I’m not sure what Thor: Ragnarok is. Maybe an end-of-the-world movie with gladiators. Or a screwball buddy comedy with fights. Or a story of destiny fulfilled, with the odd masturbation gag thrown in for good measure. Whatever the case, that odd concoction is a blast, and easily the best of the Thor flicks thus far. Though the competition isn’t exactly stiff on that front.
But it’s also one of the most entertaining Marvel movies yet; a day-glow silly symphony that mixes high drama with stunning visuals and a steady stream of puerile jokes that are guaranteed to leave a goofy grin on your face.