Thor: Ragnarok is the best Thor movie yet, and it’s also the funniest Marvel movie yet. While the previous two Thor movies have been somewhat serious Wagnerian affairs, director Taika Waititi takes Thor and his merry gang to what is their most outlandish adventure yet.
Think of it as a departure from past Thor movies – Jane Foster gets a passing mention but otherwise only the Asgardians have stuck around for this movie. Even then, forget most of the old ones – while you’ll see some of them, a new cast of Asgardians claim the limelight. Meet the new guys: Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the villanous Hela (Cate Blanchett) and Skurge (Karl Urban).
In Thor: Ragnarok, Asgard is coming to an end. As Odin (Anthony Hopkin) wanes, Hela the goddess of death rises to claim the throne. And it turns out she has the birthright – Hela is Thor’s eldest Sister, cast away by Odin himself due to her blood-thirsty nature. Thor and Loki try to stop Hela, but Thor gets thrown off the Bifrost and lands on planet Sakarr. There is where the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) rules, and Thor must win the right to escape and go back to Asgard. Good thing he meets a “friend from work” in the colosseum – The Hulk – and … well, fisticuffs ensue.
The film jumps back and forth between the destruction in Asgard and the colosseum action on Sakarr. On Asgard you’ll see Asgardians attempting to rise up against Hela, and it’s great to see Heimdall (Idris Elba) getting a much larger role in the series.
But it’s on Sakarr where all the fun happens, with director Waititi ramping up the visuals and humour. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know Thor: Ragnarok looks wonderfully crazy in its Kirbyesque way. Visually, this might also be the most inventive MCU movie yet – even if it is extremely inspired by the comics. Thor: Ragnarok is also the most metal Marvel movie yet – you’ll know it once you see it.
Waititi also brings his comic (comedy, not book) sensibilities previously shown in the off-kilter What We Do In The Shadows, and it’s a light-heartedness that one might not be used to, even in a Marvel movie.
The humour skirts the line of toilet humour a few times – “Ass-guard” is one example – but thankfully it doesn’t get obnoxious. Waititi deftly unleashes Hemworth’s comedic timing (already on show on Ghostbusters (2016), and it works without descending into thoughtless camp. While Thor regularly served up laughs in fish out of water situations in previous movies, now he gets to shine, even as a lovably clumsy oaf. The warmth from Waititi’s previous film, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, is present here too (and some of the stars of Wilderpeople are also get roles!).
What’s also great is Valkyrie and Hela, both very kick-ass women. For those who don’t know her, Thompson as Valkyrie will be a revelation, while Cate Blanchett continues to chew scenery in all her regal splendour. You’ll leaving wanting more movies with Valkyrie in it, and wishing that Hela got to do lots more in the film.
(And speaking of chewing scenery, Anthony Hopkins is plain amazing to watch in what is likely his final turn as Odin.)
In a way, these aren’t the comic book superheroes we know, with some of the minor characters from the funnybooks getting new personalities, sometimes purely for comic relief. But as we flip from Asgard to Sakarr and back, all this shifting affects the tone of the show, with the humour undercutting just how serious Ragnarok is. At times you won’t feel too impressed at how urgent Thor’s quest is, but the good thing is that you’ll be having fun anyway.
That has been a criticism of MCU movies, that the stakes aren’t that high, that the characters come out unaffected with each adventure. But yet, here, the formula works just enough that those concerns don’t really sink in at all.
Waititi manages to fill the film with enough fun cameos, easter eggs and jokes to keep things moving at a quick pace, and he’s no slouch in the action department either. Coupled with some strong performances, the only real complaint is that one expects things to be a bit more tense in an apocalypse, especially with Thanos looming in the next Avengers movie.
While Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming have paved the way for how madcap Marvel movies can get, Thor: Ragnarok’s humour and visuals are truly an extension of James Gunn’s work on Guardians Of The Galaxy (Vols 1 and 2). It’s unclear if all the Marvel movies will tread this path – Black Panther looks more intense and epic, but as we head to the cosmos for Avengers: Infinity War (and the end of many movie contracts for the big stars), it looks like Marvel movies will start to have bigger stakes. But yet, it’s this mixture that keeps things interesting, instead of having everything dark and intense.
In the end, it’s clear that Thor: Ragnarok is a worthy movie – even if it’s more of a Stormbreaker than Mjolnir. In some ways, it’s not for everyone, especially if you’re not a fan of things getting too campy in a superhero movie.
And yes! Stay for the end-credit scenes, at least the first one. There are a total of two, and the second one isn’t such a big deal.
Thor: Ragnarok opens in Singapore on Oct 26.