It’s hardly the end of the world as we know it.
Let me preface this review by saying, first and foremost, that Thor: Ragnarok is a lot of fun.
That’s the thing most critics seem to have taken away from this latest instalment in the Marvel canon: that it’s fun, funny, loads of fun; just, like, the funnest. My housemate Alex even drew up a bingo card. Helmed by the immensely likeable Taika Waititi, whose previous work includes What We Do in the Shadows, the film takes a refreshingly idiosyncratic approach to the denizens of Asgard.
A mashup of various classic story-lines, this is the closest the franchise has come to outright comedy; even taking into account the somewhat jumbled tone of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.
When the seemingly unstoppable Hela (Cate Blanchett), is released from her aeons-old prison – as Goddesses of Death are wont to be – Odin’s heir presumptive, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), finds himself blasted across the universe and marooned on an alien world.
Largely de-powered, and forced to fight as gladiator for the amusement of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), he here encounters an old friend and ally: The Hulk; now champion of the arena, having been left literally up in the air at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and who’s not as immediately welcoming as Thor might have hoped.
Waititi brings a breezy charm to proceedings of which Hemsworth himself is a large part. Gone is the mock-Shakespearean bombast of his early characterisation. This is a God of Thunder who’s at home in his own skin; enough so that he doesn’t seem overly embarrassed with the occasional burst of hysterical screaming.
Thor: Ragnarok’s comedy comes from taking these larger-than-life characters and subjecting them to all-too-human awkwardness and indignity; like Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who’s terrified of taking another thrashing from the big green meanie – now in his sulky, conversant toddler phase – or Asgardian-warrior-turned-bounty-hunter Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who, after a self-assured introduction, promptly taking a drunken header off the ramp of a spacecraft. Goldblum, meanwhile, is so offbeat he might as be set to Ska music.
The film also steers into the ‘80s vibe: Mark Mothersbaugh’s synth-infused score brings to mind the likes of Flash Gordon and Highlander; influences which also feed into the retro-futuristic design of the Grandmaster’s world, Sakaar.
It’s when it comes to stakes and emotionality that Thor: Ragnarok lets the team down. Hela, for instance, is emblematic of the franchise’s continuing villain problem. An embittered, gimlet-eyed megalomaniac, she has a genuine grudge against Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his ilk, but is given no venue to express them.
Her plan to conquer the universe, and the unrelated destruction of Asgard, are basically non-starters. Her henchman Skurge (Karl Urban) is a shave-headed Cockney blagger with a Warhammer 40K vibe. Death is all around, but almost always played with a smirk.
Slow-mo flashes of the Valkyries, golden and majestic, going into battle against the forces of darkness bring some much-needed portentousness, but the counterpoint lacks significance.
Thor: Ragnarok is a film with twin resistance movements: one amid the forests and mountains of Asgard, with Heimdall (Idris Elba) as Robin Hood, protecting a bunch of generic villagers; the other, an amusingly ineffectual slave rebellion on Sakaar, led by a wannabe Spartacus, mild-mannered rock monster Korg (played by Waititi himself). The irreverence of the latter character in particular has a habit of undercutting emotional moments. As such, when Eric Pearson’s screenplay – presumably transformed by Waititi and Co.’s improvisational approach – tries for genuine emotion, it falls flat.
The action, too, feels fairly obligatory: cartoon-y CGI that feels very much like a second unit offering. It’s clear where Waititi’s passion lie – with character and comedy, over action and emotion.
Marvel seems to have taken the wrong lessons from the supposedly-mould-breaking first Guardians film and decided that humour is the most important part of their brand. DC makes films that are, more often than not, a self-serious mess – a situation they’re now starting to address – but at least it feels like they’re trying something.
Ultimately, Thor: Ragnarok is an entertainingly lighthearted addition to the MCU; a wacky space adventure, just two degrees off centre. Supporting cast members from the first two films are unceremoniously bumped off; presumably clearing some pawns off the board in the build-up to Avengers: Infinity War. It remains to be seen if the film for which Marvel has deferred so many payoffs, moved so many pieces, is worth all that expended energy – or if the Justice League might just overcome their superhero rivals in the quest for a truly memorable team-up.
If that, in terms of precedence, is Disney’s next Star Wars, then Thor: Ragnarok is just a bit, well, Lost in Space.