Thor 3 Ragnarok Review: Taika Waititi Nearly Transcends the Marvel Universe

Thor 3 Ragnarok Review: The veteran director helms a zany space adventure—until series mythology gets in the way.

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Marvel Studios Thor: Ragnarok..L to R: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2017

In idiosyncratic, somewhat fledgling director being handed the reins of one of Marvel’s big light shows can, in a way, feel like a triumph. A budding auteur has gotten the calls from Hollywood—a huge career boost for them, indeed. But also it’s good for us; it means our superhero movies—which are just a part of life now, and we must accept them—will be better, crafted by more thoughtful hands than some paycheck-mad, blow-’em-up hack’s. Everybody wins!

And to some extent, that has been proven true. Marvel has shown ingenuity by recruiting directors with distinct perspectives, and reaped rewards from it, be it Joe and Anthony Russo deftly handling the Captain America pictures, or Jon Watts giving us an unexpectedly endearing Spider-Man reset, or James Gunn leaving horror-comedy behind to bring witty life to Guardians of the Galaxy. Those films are all far better than they might have been had some dutiful company man been tasked to bring the ship into port with the help of a fleet of studio tugs. (Just go with the metaphor.)

Watching Marvel’s latest flick, the glorious and antic Thor 3 Thor Ragnarok made me feel something other than victory, though. Directed by cult-favorite New Zealand director Taika WaititiThor 3 Thor Ragnarok is silly and fun and zippy, a great showcase for star Chris Hemsworth’s increasingly reliable humor, and a solid introduction for Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and some other spirited supporting characters. It’s a fine diversion, and ably carries the Marvel torch before it’s passed to Black Panther(and then to Avengers Infinity War, Part 1, and then to Ant-Man and the Wasp .etc.). However, the film is entertaining enough, and Waititi shows enough moxie and goofy wit throughout, that rather than feeling glad that he’d been hired to direct the film, I felt a little sad that he had to bother at all.

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Marvel Studios Thor: Ragnarok..Thor (Chris Hemsworth)..Photo: Jasin Boland..©Marvel Studios 2017

Meaning: hopefully, Thor 3 Ragnarok full movie will become a major hit and will write Waititi a fat check to do whatever flight of prickly whimsy he wants to do later. For that, it was probably all worth it. But watching Thor 3 Ragnarok, I was struck by the assimilating, Borg-esque aspect of this whole Marvel enterprise—the way it absorbs filmmakers’ talents, compacting them all into the house style. It’s almost aggressive from that aspect, how they hunt down interesting directors and make them follow their will. At least Thor Ragnarok movie features what looks a little bit like revolution.

Half-ish of the movie takes place on a distant garbage planet ruled by Jeff Goldblum’s delightfully loopy Grandmaster, an ageless being who spends his time toying with various collected creatures in a gladiatorial arena. Thor and his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston, his acid-green glow dimmed some, now that he’s done this shtick four times) find themselves on this planet through circumstances both complicated and not complicated at all—the point is they get there.

While Thor 3 Ragnarok full movie is mining this strange place and its inhabitants—including a lovably odd rock monster voiced by Waititi, whom I want to see featured in a buddy comedy next to Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape—the film has gleeful bounce. It’s an arch and winking cousin, or companion piece, to Guardians of the Galaxy, with a tone and verve all its own.

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Marvel Studios’ THOR: RAGNAROK..L to R: Hela (Cate Blanchett) and Skurge (Karl Urban)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2017

But the problem is that this is a Thor picture, and a direct part of the Avengers continuity—so Waititi must sooner or later pull his attention away from all this play and finish his mythology homework. Enter Cate Blanchett as Hela, the goddess of death and heretofore unknown first child of Odin (Anthony Hopkins, so very tired), who is hella bent on taking control of Asgard (Thor’s home planet) and turning its people into a violent, colonial warrior race again.

Sigh. I can’t believe I’m saying that the Cate Blanchett-as-villain parts were my least favorite parts of a movie, but there it is. These parts are just so dutiful and nostalgic, with all their slow motion brawl and deus-ex-machina solutions and complete lack of stakes.

To the film’s credit, even though we know that Hela will eventually be defeated in some way and Thor will win, how she’s defeated and how he wins do actually have some reverberating effects that will alternate the physics of the Avengers universe.

Nevertheless, for the most part, we know how this all heads to, and the sequences on Asgard have a bored, perfunctory limpness. Even Hela’s villain one-liners, which are delivered again by Cate-freaking-Blanchett, are half-hearted and unconvincing. (The script was written by Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost.) All this “I will destroy [blank]!” stuff, all the superhero self-actualization stuff . . . it’s either not interesting to Waititi, or it’s just not his ken. Whatever the reason, Thor Ragnarok sags when it actually has to be a true, hardcore Marvel movie.

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Marvel Studios’ THOR: RAGNAROK..Hela (Cate Blanchett) in foreground..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2017

Which brings me back to wondering whether or not these kinda hip, indie filmmakers getting dragged into this process is always, or ever, a good thing. Right across the Disney lot (or next door; I’ve never been), Lucasfilm is having its trouble with auteurs, firing young indie directors and replacing them with the likes of Ron Howard. Which could pose its own set of problems—recklessness swapped for a safe bet. But at least the original Han Solo prequel directors, Christopher Millerand Phil Lord, are free to do something outside the strictures of this particularly intricate studio scheme. (As for the other fired Star Wars director, let’s just say I’m less eager to see what Colin Trevorrow does next.)

I have a similar wish for Waititi. Maybe he had a blast making Thor 3 Ragnarok, which is suggested by some of the movie’s airier, more joyful stretches. But I’d much rather see something that’s wholly his, rather than Marvel mining him for his resources and funneling them into the irradiated slurry that fuels all these projects. Perhaps this big superhero endeavor—which, again, Waititi more than half pulls off—means he has written his ticket. Here’s hoping he’ll use it to get as far away from Asgard he can.

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Thor 3 Ragnarok Review: Taika Waititi Nearly Transcends the Marvel Universe
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