Film Review| Thor: Ragnarok

Imprisoned, Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. The mighty Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization • 4/5

Buddies in the saddle: Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo go on an interdimensional adventure in this wacky and utterly joyful take on Marvel Comics lore
Buddies in the saddle: Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo go on an interdimensional adventure in this wacky and utterly joyful take on Marvel Comics lore

It’s finally here. The logical comeuppance of the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy films. James Gunn’s take on the once decidedly obscure space-pirates from Marvel Comics has enjoyed an unprecedented success worldwide ever since it first hit the big screen in 2014, and since then, the word has spread: comedy sells, especially in the realm of superheroes. 

So while DC Comics desperately re-arrange the PR of their grim-and-gritty superhero narratives by shoe-horning the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ into the trailer of the upcoming Justice League, Marvel have actually had the luxury of inviting New Zealand director Taika Waititi to direct Thor: Ragnarok – which sees the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) race against time to save his realm, Asgard, from the prophecy of Ragnarok – the death of Thor and all of the other gods in Marvel’s cod-Norse pantheon – by the hands of Hela (Cate Blanchett), a vindictive goddess with a link to Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who wants to destroy Asgard so as to refashion it into her own image. 

The quest has him scrambling through the universe, with an unlikely partner in his villanous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) sometimes in tow. Landing on the planet of Sakaar – a decadent world of haves-and-have-nots ruled over by the hedonistic Grandmaster (Jeff Goldlum) – Thor is glad to bump into Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and considers recruiting him as an ally for his mission. But first, he has to get over the fact that he’s meeting the Hulk in the ring... more specifically, in a gladiatorial contest organised by the Grandmaster...

Thor: Ragnarok is a pure blast of fun that is bound to transcend the boundaries of the superhero audience in the same way that Guardians of the Galaxy did... and then some. With the same deft skill at genre pastiche he displayed in vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi takes what works of the superhero milieu and adds a jolt of real, zany humour. He doesn’t lampoon the genre so much as breathe new life into it, using an approach that – really – makes perfect sense given the source material.

Hellzapoppin: Cate Blanchett
Hellzapoppin: Cate Blanchett

Because let’s not kid ourselves – this is a story about superpowered beings going on an interdimensional road-trip to save a magic planet, and most of them are inspired by that weirdest collection of sagas – the Norse myths. Playing a lot of it for laughs cuts away a lot of potential awkwardness from the proceedings, resulting with a more satisfying take on the material that will appeal to almost everyone, not just comic book diehards.

The comedy is laced through pretty much every frame, and Waititi is to be commended for achieving a perfect balance between huge blockbuster studio box-checking and being allowed to go crazy. However, in the figure of Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, he has found something of an extradimensional soulmate (or at least, spirit animal). Giving the beloved and mercurial actor leeway to improvise, together they create a character who could easily have popped out of What We Do in the Shadows – an over-the-top mix of vain, mercurial but irresistibly charming, Goldblum’s performance is a perfect metaphor for the film as a whole: an unapologetically colourful trickster delighting the audience while gods and monsters duke it out in the background. 

Perhaps the movie’s greatest triumph, though, is that it doesn’t skimp on the more basic pleasures of superhero cinema. I have my doubts as to how much of the nitty-gritty choreography was actually handled by Waititi himself – one imagines that kind of stuff to be passed on to the second unit – but both the much-advertised gladiatorial showdown between Thor and the Hulk and the final, multi-faceted climax are executed with aplomb and excitement, mercifully shorn of the CGI muddle done to perfunctory beats which we tend to see in this situation from other films of its ilk. But even if the actual kicks and punches were not drafted in there by Waititi himself, the quips and key details of the set pieces remain laced with his spirited humour, so that it all feels like part of a seamless, joyous whole. 

Thor: Ragnarok is living proof that the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy sub-franchise within the Marvel Studios empire is having an influence that stretches way beyond the confines of James Gunn’s quirky-and-heartwarming comedy space operas. By drafting Taika Waititi into their fold, Marvel have given an even zanier kick of humour to their superhero universe, one that audiences appear to be – thankfully – lapping up like there’s no tomorrow. But there will be a tomorrow for these films, and another one after that. Here’s hoping that Waititi will be at the helm on at least a fraction of those days.