A pretty common criticism of phase one of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe for all you casuals) was that formulaic nature of each of the films. As they were all origin stories, it was a clear pattern: hero discovers/gains their power, love interest, friend who turns into an evil variation of the hero defeated, cue post credits Sam Jackson foreshadowing the hell out of the future team up; Boom, done. If there is anything that ‘Thor Ragnarok’ isn’t, it’s being bound by the common tropes of existing Marvel films. The third instalment of the ‘Thor’ franchises is so far removed from its decent first instalment and bland sequel, that it almost seems like a different IP altogether.
In many ways, things are familiar; the core cast of characters has many familiar faces, with the addition of a one or two new ones including Cate Blanchett’s wonderfully hammy Goddess of death, Hera. It’s no secret that Mark Ruffalo returns as Bruce Banner also returning are Thor’s brother and father, Loki and Odin, played by British national treasures Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins respectively. However, the names of these characters are where the similarities with previous films end. Every single character here seems like a weird, alternate reality version of themselves. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just an odd choice. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor for example is now silly, arrogant and partial cracking one liners, killing tension at the drop of a hammer. Bruce Banner, one of Marvel’s most tragic, complex and tortured characters is now a jittery, spaced out oddball more reminiscent of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor from that terrible DC film we don’t talk about. I suppose the argument can be made that he’s shock and prolonged Hulk transformation have this effect, but the script seems to turn the two leads into a petty, arguing married couple rather than allow for the weight that a story like ‘Ragnarok’ should bring.
However, if there’s one thing that director Taika Waititi excels at, its pace. The film is nonstop excitement, which is often, it must be said, at the expense of the plot. While certainly not dull, the story being told here is quite frankly, a mess. The inclusion of the Hulk is welcome and there are certainly some excellent elements, but the lean on comedy makes it a disorganised and clustered collection of ideas, with only some of them landing. However, visually, it’s a Marvel. (See what I did there?). From an Asgard under attack to the new, dusty, junk planet of Sakaar, it’s a feast to the eyes. It’s also refreshing to see these heroes away from Earth for once for almost the entire run. As ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ looks to be centred around Earth, it was nice to get another cosmic adventure before everyone ends up back on our home turf. Speaking of space, I would be remiss to not mention the clear influence of James Gunn’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movies present here. While a winning formula for the Guardians, a focus on humour doesn’t land quite as well here, probably because the focus on the funny means that we don’t recognise our leads from their appearances in previous Avenger based romps. Some jokes are indeed excellent and had me laughing out loud, but Marvel in general needs to learn when to take itself seriously and this film is a prime example of not doing that.
From everything I’ve said, you probably think I didn’t enjoy ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ but I was thoroughly entertained by it. Putting aside that we were clearly watching ‘Bizzzaro’ versions of Thor, Hulk and Loki, the film does work in its own weird, surreal world. The action, as you’d expect from Marvel, is sensational and it looks the closest to reality that the studio has yet come. The tone is all around fun and if you just take it at face value, it is a lot of fun.It’s clear that everyone involved clearly had a blast making this one and that comes through in the actors performances. Ruffalo and Hemsworth have excellent chemistry and the addition of Tessa Thompson to the cast is welcome and adds a nice new dynamic that boring old Natalie Portman never did. The film also succeeds in presenting a decent villain, another struggle that the studio has fought with for years. Hera has wonderful menace and is presented as a threat on a completely different level to anything we’ve seen yet. Hell, even a living planet wasn’t able to accomplish the things she did, so kudos to the writing staff for that. As said, she does come off pretty hammy and Blanchett is clearly loving the chance to channel her inner Saturday morning cartoon villain.
Finally a mention of the score. In a similar vein to that Netflix tv show I’ve been so obsessed with lately, the film takes an 80’s synth approach to the score. Channeling its cheesy influences, it works well, and the use of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ is awesome and succeeds at pumping up the audience even further for key action scenes.
All in all, if there was a word to describe ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, it’d be unconventional. It’s a surreal, exhilarating and fast paced thrill ride with stunning visuals and mostly solid humour and action. While MCU purists might be disgruntled by the odd characterisations presented in these strange versions of beloved existing characters, the charming script, strong score and consistently good acting, is enough to keep you invested. Waititi clearly understands Thor and doesn’t fall into the trap of previous instalments of feeling the need to dislodge Thor from his cosmic roots and instead create a ‘fish out of water’ story on Earth. Instead, he allows his title character to fully embrace the goofy side of Marvel’s cosmic universe and without giving anything away, actually ends up changing quite a bit of the mythos ahead of ‘Avengers; Infinity War’ next year. With the Russo brothers directing, I’m sure that the third ‘Avengers’ film will take a grittier and more dramatic tone than this movie and it will be interesting to see if the Hulk and Thor keep the new personality traits introduced. All in all, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ breaks the mold; the most entertaining Thor by far.