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If you like your superheroes buff and snarky (and who doesn’t?), you’ll love Thor Ragnarok. Heck, even if you don’t like superheroes at all, you’ll love this movie.
Chris Hemsworth is Thor in the third film based on the comic book character. He is definitely buff and he’s definitely snarky, hilariously so. Yes, Thor Ragnarok is funny, right out of the gate. When we first met the man, he’s a prisoner of Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown), a fiery, horned demon, whom Thor jokes — he tells Surtur he thought his demon’s horns were a huge eyebrow — although he’s chained and held dangling in front of Surtur. The slow twisting away from the demon, and twisting back, is used to great comedic effect.
But it’s not all fun and games, as Hela (Cate Blanchett, all cheekbones and flaunting a headdress that a more maliciously evil Maleficent might wear), Odin’s first born, sister to Thor and goddess of the dead, has been unleashed, bringing havoc and destruction with her to Asgard, Thor’s home town. Ragnarok, the end of everything, has begun.
Thor has to stop her, but he has also been held imprisoned on the planet Sakaar and is now the toy of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, incredibly full of ticks and pauses). To win his freedom, Thor must fight the Grandmaster’s champion — Thor’s friend and fellow Avenger, the Hulk.
The movie is a long series of captures, escapes and battles. It’s a fun a minute, which is lots of funs for a running time of 130 minutes. It’s especially thrilling to watch in IMAX 3D. And you don’t have to know anything about the Marvel Universe to enjoy it all, although it probably wouldn’t hurt. There’s enough exposition to get you through, but it’s occasionally lost in the fast-paced action.
The absolute highlight, among so many, is director Taika Waititi as Korg, another captive on Sakaar. Korg is made of rocks and is lethal with the throwaway lines (“I’m made of rocks. You don’t need to be afraid unless you’re made of scissors.”).
The best thing about Thor Ragnarok is Taiki Waititi. The New Zealand director who made hilarious vampire flat-share movie What We Do in the Shadows and funny, quirky, coming-of ager Hunt for the Wilderpeople has brought wit and charm to the sometimes overly earnest Thor sub-franchise.
It really works, transforming fish-out-of-water fantasy into a colourful, great-looking sci-fi quest where a band of misfit buddies must unite to defeat an evil overlord (or overlady, as it happens) and rescue an endangered people. Lord of the Rings in space, if you like.
Thor Ragnarok is good-natured, warm and funny and it really feels like Waititi’s movie.
The worst thing about Thor Ragnarok is that it’s a superhero movie which is part of a massive expanded universe, and which carries all the baggage that comes with those things. If you can live with that, you’ll probably love it.
As the film opens we find Thor trapped in a cage, separated from his trusted hammer Mjolnir and cracking wise with vague references to what he’s been up to since we last saw him in Avengers Age of Ultron. Essentially: not much other than NOT being in Asgard.
One cunning escape later and Thor’s back on his home planet only to discover Loki has lobbed Odin in an old people’s home on Earth and appointed himself King, the git. Big mistake, as it turns out. Loki’s actions indirectly lead to the emergence of Cate Blanchett‘s cat-suited death goddess Hela, who wants to return Asgard to the bad old days of conquering other worlds.
A visit to Doctor Strange (only briefly expanding on the post credits sequence we saw at the end of Doctor Strange) and some planet-hopping later and Thor finds himself on planet Sakaar as a playing of sleazy ruler the Grandmaster, forced to face against The Hulk in an arena, gladiator-style. And that’s all pretty much in the first act.
Hitting all the obligatory beats – big fights, explosions, gross-out gags, Stan Lee cameo – and introducing a host of new characters, Thor Ragnarok at times feels like it’s trying to pack an awful lot in to its 130-min runtime. How Waititi ever thought this was going to be a 100-minute movie, we don’t know.
Gags come thick and fast with new characters and worlds introduced at a pace – it’s a smart storyline and an efficient one, which nails at juggling exposition with humor deftly, even though at times the funnies are SO front and center it can detract a bit from any feelings of peril or drama.
Of the new characters, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie is the standout. A hard-drinking mercenary with a troubled past, she was once an Asgardian warrior but now works for The Grandmaster capturing contenders for his gladiatorial games.
Jeff Goldblum plays the Grandmaster like the smarmy CEO of a party planet, a selfish (and in fact murderous) sleazebag who you’d still quite like to hang out with.
Another wonderful detail is Korg, voiced by Waititi himself, a captor of the Grandmaster who long for revolution. Korg is pure comic relief – he’s a sweet, naive rock monster who’d have fitted in perfectly at an off-world Summer Heights High.
The baddies don’t fare so well. Blanchett’s Hela looks stunning, but only has a cursory backstory and never seems like a real threat or a rounded character.
Her newly appointed henchman Skurge (Karl Urban) is equally flat, while the flaming MacGuffin we meet at the start of the film is just same-old CGI nonsense. Marvel really is clueless with know how to do villains, which doesn’t fill us with all that much confidence for Infinity War.
Still, the movie is carried capably by Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk/Bruce Banner, perhaps the most likeable and guileless of the Avengers. It’s this tone that sets the film apart from any of the Marvel movies that have come before and stamps it as Waititi’s. While James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy are indeed cool, scruffy ruffians, Waititi’s crew are all instead pure and child-like.
From Thor telling Hulk that the gang used to refer to him as ‘the stupid avenger’ as an insult, to Korg’s mildly smutty ‘your hammer pulled you off?’ joke, Thor Ragnarok has the sense of humor and the sensibilities of a Sundance indie with some hundred million dollars to burn.