Director Taika Waititi’s foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe gives the Asgardian God of Thunder a new lease of life
There’s a certain safety in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When you buy your ticket, you know you’ll be rewarded with top-notch special effects, thrilling action sequences, and, more often than not, characters that you’ve grown to love over the last decade or so (don’t worry Ant-Man, I liked you).
It’s consistent to say the least but this can often be a double-edged sword: if you don’t like the formula, there’s rarely anything new to tempt you back into the project.
It’s not boring by any means, but there is method in the mundanity. This decade-long endeavour reaches its climax next year with Infinity War — Part One so why on earth would anyone do anything to rock this, the sturdiest of boats? Ask director Taika Waititi because that’s exactly what he’s done.
People often refer back to 2008’s Iron Man when questioning the quality of any new Marvel instalment. It’s focused, funny, and widely regarded as setting the highest of bars to which all future superhero movies should reach for. It’s a great pleasure to announce that, nine years later, Thor: Ragnarok has finally surpassed it. Visually stunning? Check. Brilliant new characters? Check. Funny as f***? Check. What more could you want?
Cast your minds back to a pre-Guardians of the Galaxy world. It’s 2013 and Thor: The Dark World has come out. It’s bleak, predictable and entirely forgettable. Ragnarok, for all the doom it promises, couldn’t be more different. Having Waititi direct might have something to do with that, though the success of Guardians and it’s childish glee can’t be overlooked. The aforementioned new characters are an absolute triumph. Jeff Goldblum’s Grand Master is delightfully colourful and camp, while Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie brings some lovable alcoholism to the table.
However, Waititi obviously wasn’t content with letting his cast have all the fun (he is an actor too, after all), and so we have Korg. Made of (perishable) rocks, with a knife-wielding insect sidekick and a Kiwi accent to boot, Waititi claims all the best lines for himself and nails every single one. Even the comedy itself feels new. It’s absurd, it’s vulgar, it’s effortless and would normally be out of place in a blockbuster action feature, yet with Ragnarok it feels right at home.
It’s such a rare sight to see action and comedy have such a perfect romance on screen where neither seems to neglect or outshine the other, preferring to complement each other in a glorious symbiotic relationship. Frankly, you’ll wish the film was longer.
But, with every Marvel film there’s a weak link, and so often that link comes with the antagonist. Cate Blanchett is Hela, Goddess of Death. She’s fine. She serves her purpose of giving the film a plot, but once again her grievances and motivations give nothing complex or interesting to get your teeth stuck in to, nor do they ask any particularly stirring questions for our heroes to grapple with. Business as usual.
It’s a shame though, as Chris Hemsworth gives Thor a well-deserved breath of new life. The tried and tested pomposity of the previous films is replaced by a charming, cocky, buffoonery that’s infectious. Couple this with the return of Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk and the second act becomes a wonderfully silly buddy comedy. If only they had an equally entertaining adversary.
The comedy can come with a cost. The tone of weightier scenes can be snuffed out with a sudden one-liner, and key deaths don’t ever feel quite as heavy as they should. With the imminent threat of Asgard’s destruction ever-looming, would it kill them to look solemn once in a while? But all in all, these are small grievances for a film that’s dared to be different and, well, deranged. This could easily have been another set-up stepping stone towards Infinity War but by defying this it’s cemented itself as one of the Marvel greats. You’ll be watching this for years to come. Though you might leave asking whether Doctor Strange really needed to appear? Food for Thort. (Sorry).