What a lot of comic books don’t want you to know is that they are, at core, faintly — or even openly — ridiculous. This is how you end up with deadly serious movies trying to hide their origins beneath darkness and grittiness. The approach sometimes works, but often you get a joyless mess pretending to offer a higher meaning. Not so with Thor: Ragnarok, the third instalment of the Thor series, fifth outing for the character and seventeenth overall Marvel Cinematic Universe entry; the character has let down his hair — and cut it off — for an adventure more adventurous than any he’s had to date.
When God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Ghostbusters) is challenged by Goddess of Death Hela (Cate Blanchett, Cinderella), his hammer is destroyed and he finds himself stranded on the Planet Sakaar. Forced by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day: Resurgence) to participate in gladiatorial death matches, Thor must find his way back to Asgard with scrapper SR-142 (Tessa Thompson, TV’s Westworld), his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island) and old friend the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Now You See Me 2).
Thor: Ragnarok begins with a voice over illustrating that it is not much like the Thor films that have come before it. With Marvel now confident that it can take risks and not conform to a strict formula, Thor acknowledges his own capacity for the silly and slapstick. There have been hints over his previous films, but now the man is able to embrace his true nature and have some fun. The number of dumb — but quality — jokes are thick on the ground and suddenly there are multiple tones in play, ranging from something as simple as getting hit by a ball to something as big as preventing or bringing on the end of a world.
Hemsworth headlines the film, and is completely committed to the role. Being able to cut loose and crack wise suits his character, and the resulting sense of joy permeates the rest of the cast. Blanchett appropriately chews all of the scenery that she can find, and though she could have stood a few more characters to bounce her dialogue off, she’s a suitably apocalyptic villain. Goldblum is having the time of his dang life, and one hopes that he can become something of a recurring element in future MCU instalments (this is technically his second appearance, as he appeared in the background of the end credits of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). Thor: Ragnarok may not boast supreme emotional depth, but it’s got enough story and enough laughs to carry it over the line.
Thor: Ragnarok also signifies Marvel’s commitment to running multiple aesthetics at once. Sakaar looks like no other planet or city from any Marvel film to date, reminiscent of golden age sci-fi with spaceship designs that evoke the more outré classic work of Chris Foss. The synth-futurism of Mark Mothersbaugh’s (The Lego Ninjago Movie) score is a more than perfect complement to this singular look.
Directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi (Hunt For The Wilderpeople) with a script by Eric Pearson (Agent Carter), Christopher Yost (Star Wars: Rebels) and Craig Kyle (Iron Man: Armored Aventures), the new and old blood combine for a capable movie. The action sequences are dynamic with a humour that matches the rest of the film, are slightly different to anything that you’re used to from the last sixteen films, and Waititi’s own sensibility (and his accent) are infused in the film.
Taking a character who has become embedded in the popular psyche and doing something slightly twisted with them is a good way of ensuring continuity while thumbing one’s nose at the familiarity of contempt. With a rollicking fun script, a unique aesthetic and creative action, Thor: Ragnarok offers the comfort of the familiar paired with the thrill of the new, and it’s a good flavour indeed.
Thor: Ragnarok opened in Australian cinemas on October 26, 2017.
Directed by: Taika Waititi.
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Hopkins.