Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Karl Urban
With a shockingly low bar to overcome thanks to Alan Taylor and his Dark World, the early trailers for Thor: Ragnarok instantly grabbed everyone’s attention with their day-glo colour scheme and ever-so-slightly-bonkers, heavy metal aesthetic. It was clear right from the get-go that fan favourite director Tika Waititi (of What We Do In The Shadows fame) was out to stamp his own indelible mark on the MCU, an act which turned out to be both the biggest strength and the most significant drawback of this movie.
Much like Luke Skywalker casually tossing away his lightsaber in The Last Jedi, Waititi shows an offhand disregard for what has come before him, undoing Loki’s Machiavellian scheme to usurp Odin within a few minutes, and dispatching fan favourite characters (Warriors Three, we hardly knew ye) for no apparent reason other than to shock the viewer.
My personal pet peeve with the MCU is also ramped up to ridiculous levels here, with pretty much everything being used as a setup for a gag. Any attempt at storyline gravitas is instantly undone by a pratfall or slapstick moment, and, on paper, I should passionately hate this movie and everything it stands for.
But dammit if it isn’t still bloody enjoyable.
Easily the funniest movie in the MCU to date, right from the opening scene, Ragnarok feels almost like one of those freestyling Apatow movies at times, with the actors riffing off one another, making for some wonderfully natural comedic interactions. The story is ‘back of a fag packet’ stuff, with the Goddess of Death returning to take over Asgard and Thor being knocked into a “Planet Hulk”-esque planet, but it’s only really used as a rough framework to hang the hilarity on, so it’s all good.
Hemsworth gives another likeable performance as the God (Lord?) of Thunder, with some solid comic timing throughout. His physical comedy chops are also undoubtedly impressive, and even if every silly pratfall and kicking-a-ball-into-his-own-face stupidity chips away more and more of a character I’d grown to love during my “Road to Infinity War” recap, it’s still a lot of fun to watch (albeit through gritted teeth at times).
The supporting cast are a bit of a mixed bag. Jeff Goldblum shows up to play Jeff Goldblum, leaning into his well-publicised eccentricity and preternatural charisma to deliver a thoroughly memorable performance. Cate Blanchett exudes sexuality and no small amount of menace as Hela, but her performance feels too earnest in what is an otherwise silly movie, to the point where the scenes with her taking control of Asgard leave the viewer wishing we were back on The Grandmaster’s planet where all the fun is happening.
Karl Urban is here too (more or less), delivering a jumbled performance as a character who only seems to be there to recreate one particular comic book moment. Oh, and Waititi himself shows up to provide the voice of the scene-stealing Korg, giving himself all the funniest lines (because why not, right?), most of which are based around the fact that a New Zealand accent sounds a bit silly coming from a giant rock monster.
Rising about it all though is Tessa Thompson, who puts forth a fantastic performance as the hard-drinking, ass-kicking Valkyrie. An instant fan-favourite for almost everyone who watched the movie, her dry wit and awesome physicality make her a thoroughly enjoyable new addition, and even if she gets lost in the shuffle just a little, the seeds are sown here for what should hopefully be more than just a one-off MCU appearance.
On the other end of the scale, and somewhat frustratingly, Loki continues to be a character completely and utterly devoid of consequence. Sure, Hiddleston’s performance ensures that he remains incredibly watchable, but the fact that Loki remains an amusing comedic foil in spite of all his repeated betrayals, back-stabbings and attempts to take over the world is starting to feel more and more like lazy writing and fan service than any sort of valid character-based redemption.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Waititi shows some impressive big-screen action blockbuster chops here (between all the slapstick silliness, that is). The action moments are suitably grand, with Hela’s assault on Asgard and the showdown between Thor and The Hulk guaranteed to get any MCU fan’s pulse racing.
Ultimately then, as a comedy, Thor Ragnarok succeeds on all counts, providing what is easily the most hilarious offering from the MCU so far. However, as an actual superhero movie, it actually undoes a lot of the work that has gone before, making established characters into little more than punchlines and repeatedly undermining any attempts at credibility with a parade of slapstick and jarring moments that feel like they’d be better suited to a Marvel-themed SNL skit. Sure it’s a fun couple of hours, but it’s never getting out of the middle of the MCU pack for me.