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Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Director: Taika Waititi
Screenwriter: Craig Kyle, Eric Pearson, Christopher L. Yost
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Taika Waititi
When Taika Waititi, the New Zealand born director who helmed What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), was announced as the man to helm Marvel’s latest Thor movie, it seemed like an uphill struggle for the mostly independent director regarding his power to assert his laugh-out-loud funny yet innocent and easy-going style onto the film amidst a universe filled with interlocked stories, presentation and an ever-growing list of characters. To the credit of both himself and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was a challenge that he overcame with the same great might as the hammer of Thor, destroying some of the more tiresome Marvel tropes in the same hilarious manner he had presented his most recent movies, ultimately creating an unmissable Marvel release that worked to breathe new life into the Thor franchise and may have a more profound wider effect on the Avengers franchise, too. Ragnarok was so funny it may just change the fabric of the universe forever…
First things first, Thor: Ragnarok is by no means a game-changing film with profound effects on the overall presentation and reception of superhero movies in any way beyond its impressively strong comedic chops. In fact, the story borrows a lot from the vastly similar plots of both The Avengers (2012) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) in that a group of misfits are brought together in the pursuit of doing some good, only to be locked in an inescapable situation they inevitably escape in order to take down a faceless army led by an underwhelming villain with little more credibility than an early story beat that seems to come out of nowhere in the wider scheme of the universe. The visual presentation is similarly as samey, with the exotic worlds being different to Earth, yes, but lacking in real creativity or the colourful spectacle the Guardians films so excellently offered. These are elements barely noticeable under the freshness of the movie’s outright comedy, but they’re indicative of a universe recycling the same things with new faces and new directors in the hope that we shan’t notice. We notice, sure, but do we really care? I’d say not.
Ragnarok excels in ways that most superhero genre films do not. It’s exceedingly funny. Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man: Homecoming are perhaps the only mainstream superhero films in recent years to boast comedy as one of their sub-genres to anywhere near the same degree as offered in this picture, and it’s more than enough to push Ragnarok way beyond Thor 2 and, dare I say it, Thor (1) in terms of quality. Of course, the task in Ragnarok is entirely different to that of Thor, and a comparison is therefore perhaps unfair, but it remains a debate to be had which is a compliment in of itself.
Telling the tale of Thor reuniting with Loki to overcome the sadistic goals of a long-lost sister that has returned to Asgard, the movie is, of course, led with the same charismatic charm as has become apparent across the career of its director Taika Waititi, who even ends up stealing the show in a cameo as side-character Korg, a creature made of rocks (but falling apart one stone at a time). The overall tone of the film is very similar to that of the trailer, which gave a real sense of the tongue-in-cheek nature of much of the film. Take one scene for example, where Thor crosses a stage-play designed to praise the supposed death of Loki. In it, the actor playing Thor is Chris Hemsworth’s real-life brother Luke, and the actor playing Loki is Matt Damon. It’s barely referenced, and only highlighted as much as it needs to be, reinforcing the much less serious and much lighter version of the universe and particularly the Thor character than we’ve perhaps seen before, even for a franchise in which he is often used for comedic effect. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster – a planet ruling tyrant with more fluff than evil – is similarly designed, offering a threat to protagonist Thor while remaining likeable and almost too nice of a person to be carrying out the sort of acts we witness him carry out. It is only through the ever-serious presence of Hela, the Goddess of Death (Blanchett), that the only serious threat to Thor’s world, heritage and existence exists, and though she does become the force behind much of the destruction the events in the film cause, and though she technically plays a larger part in Thor’s character-arc than any other character in the movie and perhaps in the franchise (other than Odin), the gravitas of Blanchett’s performance, the foreshadowing of her failure in her task and the overall up-beat tone of the film do play her off to be less than important in the grander scheme of things, playing her ultimately terrifying destruction off as something altogether less scary.
Ragnarok seems often to play with the idea of the Marvel universe itself, and the ultimately awkward encounters that can occur within it due to the over-the-top characterisations at its heart. Playing like a sit-com, a particularly noteworthy moment in the film features a prominent character cameo whose powers are met with confusion and awkwardness by Thor himself as the Asgardian has never crossed paths with said character in the universe before. But how would he know what to expect? It’s a simple question that seems to be skimmed over in other, lesser, superhero films but is excellently explored in Ragnarok. Similarly, character traits we’ve become accustomed to over the years, such as Loki’s ability to appear in multiple locations at once, are highlighted for their absurdity through comedy, which actually brings the powers to the forefront of the characterisation, placing a greater emphasis on superhero abilities than we’ve perhaps seen before in a franchise so often striving to be human, identifiable.
While Ragnarok offers very little in terms of imaginative and overwhelmingly impressive CG effects as well as its overall visual presentation, nor in terms of its seemingly by the (Marvel) books story formula, the movie does bring the typical Waititi sense of community and heart-felt personality that was unknowingly missing from Marvel movies and particularly the Thor franchise, which seemed the perfect fit for the director’s very particular style. Musically, the film gave birth to a new theme for the Thor character that we’re sure to see in the movies ahead, and the relationship between himself, Loki and Hulk was taken to a new level that is sure to bring something extra to the already very full table set for Avengers 3 (Infinity War) in 2018.
Conclusively, Waititi has taken a could-be stale formula and transformed it into something heartfelt and with a key sense of community that has helped to build the out-of-this-world nature of Thor’s life/upbringing as something entirely more relatable than it has been in the past, all the while expressing his terrific sense of comedic presentation for what is undeniably the funniest Marvel movie yet – an innocent, loving comedy you’re bound to fall in love with.