Film Review: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

Thor does Planet Hulk…

Spoiler-free review

 

Thor 3

For Asgard: Chris Hemsworth leads the quest to save his home in Marvel Studios release ‘Thor: Ragnarok’.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Tessa Thompson

Directed by: Taikia Waititi / Written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle & Christopher L. Yost / 130 minutes

What’s it about?

As Asgard is attacked by Hela, the Goddess of Death, Thor finds himself stranded on a hostile alien planet where he is reunited with a familiar face and a hope to save his civilization from destruction…

In review

After sitting out last year’s team up in Captain America: Civil War, Marvel’s God of Thunder returns to the screen for a third solo outing where he is reunited with a “friend…from work” – the raging Incredible Hulk for an offbeat cosmic comic book adventure that’s a lot of fun, if overly daft and a little too self-indulgent.

Thor: Ragnarok largely eschews the more Shakespearean tone of Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World, director Taikia Waititi taking things in a somewhat goofier and lighter direction.  This is both a blessing and a curse, because at times Ragnarok feels like a James Gunn cover version, rarely straying too far from zany frivolity – often at the expense of drama and character.  A good dose of levity isn’t unwelcome, and there are genuinely funny moments, but what works so well for Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t always hit the mark here and for a film that concerns the fall of Thor’s home – the mighty and magical realm of Asgard, the preference for those instances undermines some of the dramatic potential of Ragnarok.

Like those aforementioned directors, Waititi presents the viewer with a colourful, visually majestic film with grand scale and exciting blockbuster action.  If the film is occasionally let down by its slapstick tendencies and Guardians-esque imitations, there’s no faulting the craftsmanship and slick direction.

Chris Hemsworth makes an assured return as Thor and clearly relishes this particular take, confidently leading the rest of the cast.  What Ragnarok achieves more successfully than previous outings is giving us a Thor that truly feels like a God of Thunder and there are a few standout moments where director Waititi ensures that this strikes the viewer with awe.

Tom Hiddleston is once again on top form as he effortlessly hits the ground running as the devious Loki, further exploring his fractured brotherly dynamic with Hemsworth’s Thor.  There are also notable returns for Anthony Hopkins (Odin) and Idris Elba (Heimdall) as well as a guest role for the always excellent Karl Urban as Skurge (Asgard’s new keeper of the Rainbrow Bridge) and Westworld’s Tessa Thompson proves to be a highlight as former Asgardian warrior turned drunken bounty hunter, Valkyrie.

As for the bringer of Asgard’s doom, Cate Blanchett oozes and thrills as Hela (Marvel Studios’ first female villain) in a performance that deftly melds a dark, maniacal edge with sizzling sassiness.  Along with Hiddleston’s Loki she is one of the more memorable and better served antagonists of the MCU thus far.

Arguably though, the real star of the show is Mark Ruffalo – whether via performance capture as the Hulk (continuing advances in technology allowing every nuance to penetrate the computer generated exterior) or Bruce Banner, he infuses the role with a richness and charm that seizes the attention of the audience with a portrayal that’s equally heartfelt and funny.

Ragnarok is ostensibly a Thor film, however the ‘Ragnarok’ aspect of the narrative tends to take a back seat to its incorporation of fan-favourite Marvel Comics epic “Planet Hulk” – with much of the running time devoted to Thor’s exile on the planet Sakaar where he finds (and is at first pitted against in the gladiatorial arena by the Grandmaster, played wonderfully and exuberantly by the inimitable Jeff Goldblum) his ever angry green comrade.  Whilst this might devalue the central threat and the character arc possibilities for Hemsworth’s Thor, the inclusion of the Hulk is a welcome one – given the unlikelihood of a future solo outing of his own – and it’s pleasing to see some evolution for the character, this version more garrulous and playful than what has come before.

Whilst it would’ve been interesting to see a stronger and more focused exploration of Asgard’s fall and all that entails, there’s no arguing that Ragnarok is at its best whenever Thor and Hulk or Thor and Banner (and by extension, Valkyrie) are sharing the screen, all the more appealing given the sparky chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo.

Despite some of its missteps, Thor: Ragnarok is a highly enjoyable romp – wearing it’s influences with glee, it’s kitsch infusion of 80’s metal, Flash Gordon, Masters of the Universe and cult sword and sorcery making it all the more pleasing on the whole.  It may not be the best Marvel Studios effort nor is it necessarily the strongest ‘Thor’ centric-story but it’s a good time non-the-less.

The bottom line:  A fun, if at times overly silly comic book adventure, Thor: Ragnarok is a reliably entertaining offering from Marvel Studios.

Thor: Ragnarok is in cinemas across the UK now and opens worldwide from 3rd November.

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8 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

  1. Good review Chris, due to see the film this week and looking forward to it, especially as the director is a fellow Kiwi and “top bloke”!

  2. I had the feeling the comedy was going to be even more overzealous in this one based on that very first trailer they showed for it. Honestly, I don’t think Marvel plans on slowing down on the amount of comedy they want in their movies anymore. It’s as if they really want to make sure we see the difference between a Marvel and DC superhero movie… I think I’m probably going to have similar issues with the movie as you too, especially if the whole Ragnarok moment doesn’t manage to overshadow the underlying comedy that comes with the movie. I wonder how they’ll do Infinity War.. For some reason I’m starting to have a tough time imagining Thanos with any form of threat. Excellent review, Chris.

    • Thank you kind sir! I know from previous comments that we are on the same page regarding the humour in Marvel films. I like a good bit of levity here and there but it really needs to be balanced I feel. I enjoyed Ragnarok on the whole but the heavy slapstick was a bit too much for my liking. I saw it in a packed out IMAX screen and there were quite a few “funny” moments that were actually met with silence! I have similar concerns about Infinity War, I just hope that DC keep their films more balanced, like we saw in Wonder Woman.

      • Saw the movie yesterday… Man… I’m sort of saddened by the direction that Marvel is taking with their movies. I mean.. Black Panther doesn’t look like it’ll be as humourous as Thor, but Thor???? It has more jokes than Guardians of the Galaxy vol 1 and 2 combined. To be honest, I maybe thought 33% of it was funny, while the rest was forced/unusual/unnecessary. I really would’ve preferred seeing a darker twist to the Ragnarok storyline rather than this light-hearted and jolly story! Then again… I’ve come to see Marvel’s movies as pure entertainment (sort of like The Legends of Tomorrow). I guess I just prefer movies à la Dark Knight trilogy by Nolan and just the DCEU in general. Here’s to the release of Justice League!!!

      • Agreed, I’m not saying all super hero films should be super-dark and super-serious and I like the odd dash of humour but it has to be balanced – DC’s Wonder Woman struck the perfect tone (and keeping it in the MCU, the Captain America films) for me personally.

        I certainly hope Black Panther is treated more seriously, I honestly can’t see an overload of humour working in that!

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