After the relatively dour previous Thor movies, “Thor: Ragnarok” is on a different planet. Our heroic god of thunder is literally expelled to a bizarre alien planet — and tonally, it’s an absolute riot.
Director Taika Waititi gleefully mines every moment for its comic potential, serving up more laughs in the first five minutes than both previous Thor movies combined. With charm, humour and visual panache carrying a thin story, “Ragnarok” is a joy from start to finish.
Putting most half-baked, tepid blockbusters to shame, this is a multiplex movie done absolutely right. Care and attention and imagination drip from every line and every frame. The visuals are eye popping. There are no hacky jokes or lame set pieces. The cast relishes every moment. Doubling down on the big, bold, colourful fun of ““, it’s a proper fun night at the movies.
Since we last saw Thor, the musclebound blond god of thunder from the part-sci-fi, part-magic realm of Asgard has been travelling through space looking for trouble with his invincible hammer. Trouble finds him as the goddess of death Hela returns to Asgard and sets about living up to her name. Lost on a dangerous alien world, Thor must battle his way back to Asgard. But first he has to go through some familiar frenemies: trickster god Loki and big green rage machine the incredible Hulk.
Many superpowered punch-ups follow, obviously, including an epic “who would win in a fight between…” showdown. But the strength of the film is in the interactions between the well-drawn characters, some familiar and some new. As they bicker and bond, even the most epic moments are served up with a laugh.
As funny as it is, there’s more to “Ragnarok” than humour. Even in his relatively low-budget earlier films “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” Waititi showed flashes of stylistic ambition, and “Ragnarok” is a neon-drenched visual treat. Highlights include characters reflected in a glass-like floor as the camera swoons around them, a swirling dream-like flashback, and an exhilarating high-speed hammer-cam shot glued to Thor’s favourite weapon as it careens through the bad guys. The costumes and sets, rendered in comic book colours, pile gorgeous details on top of each other — check out the Hulk-sized drinks cabinet, for instance. Everybody involved is firing on all cylinders and clearly having the time of their life.
That includes the cast. Chris Hemsworth flexes his comic muscles as well as his actual muscles, playing up Thor’s arrogance and pettiness to hilarious effect. Mark Ruffalo is a great straight man as the nervy Bruce Banner (and bulky, sulky Hulk). A finger-snapping, eye-linered Jeff Goldblum plays what might be the only murderous dictator with a backing band, and it’s as delightful as it sounds.
Cate Blanchett‘s Hela is a slinky, sultry treat. Karl Urban brings a much-needed comic sensibility to the earnest world of Asgard. But the real stand-out is a luminous Tessa Thompson, swaggering in and stealing every scene as hard-drinking warrior woman Valkyrie.
Before we get to Sakaar there is, unfortunately, a good half hour of time in Asgard to get through (as well as a lengthy corporate-mandated crossover cameo). Your tolerance for Marvel‘s quasi-mythical vision of Asgard may vary — and at least “Ragnarok” doesn’t take it too seriously — but I for one could do without yet another story about the godly realm being invaded by a powerful ancient enemy. The plot once again hinges on a battle for the Bifrost, the Asgardian rainbow road teleport, which I’m pretty sure was the plot of the previous two movies. Every time we cut from the bizarre, high-gear action on Sakaar back to the oddly static plot in Asgard the film begins to drag.
As winning as the performances are, they do paper over a thin story. The big moment that’s meant to kick off the plot is oddly low-key. When that big showpiece fight comes, there aren’t really any stakes to the spectacle. And the primary conflict doesn’t have much depth to it: Someone invades Asgard and Thor wants to get back to fight them. The story runs on rails without many complicating factors to keep you guessing.
I’m not saying I want a comic book action movie to be full of subtle twists and turns, but separating Thor from the action in Asgard sucks the drama and impact out of much of the film. And although the film manages to feel fresh for most of its runtime, it does succumb to some Marvel movie sameness with yet more hordes of easily killable, faceless bad guys for the heroes to wade through.
The climax does finally deliver a clever subversion of expectations, however, as well as a genuinely shocking — and quite grim — change for Thor. If subtle subtext is your thing, look out too for an interesting riff on the dangers of rewriting history. Oh, and don’t forget to stick around for the end credits.
Hilarious and supremely stylish, “Thor: Ragnarok” keeps Marvel’s recent sci-fi direction feeling fresh. It’ll (ragna)rock your world.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is in cinemas in the UK on 24 October, in Australia on 26 October in the US on 3 November.
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