After a middling origin story, a bloated sequel, and two team-up movies, the God of Thunder returns to conclude his trilogy, joined by the not-so-jolly green giant, The Incredible Hulk. THOR RAGNAROK is not only the best film that the Odinson has ever starred in, nor is it just about the closest Marvel fans will get to seeing a Planet Hulk adaption; it goes toe-to-toe with the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series as a contender for the funniest film in the entire cinematic universe.
At the end of his unsatisfactory hunt for the infinity stones, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself face to face with Surtur (Clancy Brown), a fire giant who is destined to destroy Asgard in the long-prophesied apocalyptic event of Ragnarök. After wielding his mighty hammer Mjolnir and doing what he does best, Thor returns home, with Surtur’s crown, assured that the world will not end as long as the fire giant’s power is safe in Asgard’s vault. Never one to rest, Thor quickly finds that his father has been deposed by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and banished to Earth, but when the brothers arrive to retrieve him, they see that the nursing home Odin (Anthony Hopkins) was left in has been demolished, and the Allfather has vanished.
A brief cameo by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) leads Thor and Loki to find their dear old dad hanging out in Norway, but any semblance of a joyous family reunion is cut short with the arrival of main villain Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. After a brief fight, Hela shows her mettle by reducing Mjolnir to a pile of rubble and casts both brothers into the depths of space as they try and stop her returning to Asgard. Tossed through an interstellar wormhole, Thor finds himself on the junk planet of Sakaar, imprisoned by a heavily troubled and heavily drinking Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena for the amusement of the eccentric Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).
Hemsworth takes on the more comedic role with such ease that it becomes instantly hard to imagine a Thor film that wasn’t […] a comedy.
While the plot may sound a little convoluted (and that’s just the first half an hour), a strong focus on the characters allows for these changes in backdrops, even planets, without sacrificing cohesion. Thor is still the same pompous, perpetual fish out of water that he has always been, but the mistake of taking him seriously has finally been lifted. Here, his performance is more akin to the laid-back, delightfully silly joke-machine seen in the Team Thor promotional material that satirically explores what the Thunder God was really doing while everyone else was butting heads in CIVIL WAR. Clearly enjoying the Hell(heim) out of his job, Hemsworth takes on the more comedic role with such ease that it becomes instantly hard to imagine a Thor film that wasn’t billed as a comedy.
Given the intergalactic road-trip structure of the film, its unsurprising that there is a veritable horde of side characters and sub-plots to contend with here. Returning Asgardians Hopkins and Hiddleston bring their usual gravitas and energy to Odin and Loki, respectively, but as with Hemsworth, both get to have a lot more fun this time around, and it brings that extra level of depth to their performances. Thompson is a surprisingly maudlin presence for such a jovial film, and her depressive and pessimistic character is a delight to unravel as her tragic backstory is slowly revealed. Reaching the enviable position of funniest character in the film is Korg (played, unsurprisingly by career oddball and the film’s director, Taika Waititi), a rock-skinned alien with a soft New Zealand accent, whose thoughtful and well-meaning commentary on proceedings more often than not invoke the biggest laughs.
With that many strong and recognisable characters on his side, it goes without saying that Thor faces more antagonists along the course of the 130 minute run-time than ever before. Goldblum is at his Goldblumiest as the odd, randomly pausing aristocrat, and fills every scene he graces with an unconventional sense of villainy, one less focused on world domination, and more on gold sashes and weird sci-fi DJ decks. Conversely to this delightfully tone-appropriate villain, Hela, as the main threat and a supposedly huge deal in Asgardian history, is an incredible disappointment across the board. Despite her iconic and imposing look, not to mention Blanchett’s considerable talent, Hela just never really feels all that deep, and potential for exploring her backstory are mostly glossed over, leaving much to be desired. It says a lot that secondary villain and Hela’s henchman Skurge (a cockney Karl Urban who totally owns the role) is a much more engaging villain with a more interesting arc than his mistress.
Blurring the lines between antagonist and sidekick, and coming the closest to starring in his own film since 2008’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Bruce Banner and his grumpy alter-ego ride along as the Murtaugh to Thor’s Riggs. Both sides of this gamma-irradiated coin get plenty of room to stretch their legs, and Hulk in particular is a lot more interesting than previous outings, thanks in most part to his better developed language skills. The Hulk’s newfound ability to talk, however stilted it is, not only offers some new insights into the psyche of the big guy, but more importantly makes him the perfect counterpart to Thor; there is plenty of banter and arguments over who the strongest Avenger is, and this pairing emerges as the most delightful surprise the film has to offer.
Key emotional scenes are given no time to land, and everything meaningful seems to end up lost in the sea of jokes.
Handing the directorial reins over to Waititi may have seemed like an odd choice at first – his history with whimsical, character focused pieces didn’t exactly mesh with Thor’s previous outings – but within minutes of the joke filled, beautifully shot introduction, it’s clear that it was a choice well made. Given that he’s a literal god who flies by spinning his hammer really fast and travels between realms on a bridge made of rainbows, it seems close to madness that Thor was dragged through the previous films (neither of which are without their merits) before he found a tone that suited him. Bland villains and bloated plots aside, there is no excuse for the fact that it took until the threequel for Thor to swing his hammer around to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song.
For everything that Waititi’s unique style and quirky sense of humour bring to THOR RAGNAROK, which is considerable, there is a second edge to this sword, and it proves to be the biggest drawback in an otherwise fun-fest. With the sheer amount of jokes in the film, there is very little time for anything to be taken seriously. Fight scenes don’t suffer from this, barring a distinct lack of threat to any of the key characters, but the real loss is felt whenever the plot turns to more affecting material. Key emotional scenes are given no time to land, and everything meaningful seems to end up lost in the sea of jokes that surrounds it.
Though it’s hard to ignore the fact that emotional scenes that are squandered here would have received better treatment in any other Marvel film (Guardians included), the fact that these key moments deserved better is such a small criticism when compared with just how much fun the rest of the ride turns out to be. Thor is a natural fit for a comedy, and pairing him with both Hulk and Banner offers exactly the kind of surprising dynamics that merits these superhero team-ups in the first place. THOR RAGNAROK may not deliver much on the emotions side of things, but everywhere else this is the funniest, freshest and simply the most fun that Thor has ever been.
Verdict: 4/5 Paddles