Director: Taika Waititi.
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins, Taika Waititi.
|Thor Goes To The Tip was not the sequel fans were looking for.|
As time went by and more movies filled the MCU, The Avengers became the new normal - bigger casts, bigger set pieces, bigger universe. Everything bigger.
Then Guardians Of The Galaxy came along and the rulebook was re-written. Directors were given more freedom to try new and quirky things (but not too new or quirky, Edgar Wright). After the recent more humourous run Ant-Man and GOTG Vol 2 and Spider-man: Homecoming we have now arrived at a place where the MCU Powers That Be have no problem with laying on the laughs and the silly aliens and all manner of quirkiness.
Which brings us to Thor: Ragnarok, the quirkiest, silliest, and funniest MCU entry to date.
Storywise, it sees Thor (Hemsworth) going up against Hela (Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who is hellbent on taking over Asgard, having been banished from there many centuries ago by Odin (Hopkins). But after an initial skirmish with the goddess, Thor finds himself stranded on the distant planet of Sakaar, where he must compete in gladiatorial combat with an old friend in order to earn his freedom.
Much has been made of how funny this is, but you could almost argue Thor: Ragnarok is too funny. From its opening scene, the gags come thick and fast, to the point where it's almost jarring. Is this an MCU film? Is this Thor? I don't remember him being so quick with a quip.
Ragnarok really uses its sense of humour to immediately set itself apart from the previous 16 MCU entries, but once you settle into this rhythm and tone, the film is a blast.
A lot of this styling comes down to Waititi. In the same way James Gunn was able to put his signature all over Guardians Of The Galaxy, Waititi has put his idiosyncratic stamp on to Thor 3. Only much more so. It's a distinctly New Zealand approach to delivery and humour - far more Hunt For The Wilderpeople than Guardians Of The Galaxy - and it's wonderful.
Beyond a quippier Thor, the best examples of this NZ-isation of the MCU can be found in our first encounters with Karl Urban's Skurge, who proves to be a nicely rounded side character, and the CG rock monster Korg (voiced and mo-capped by Waititi). Korg is a Groot-like scene-stealer, reportedly based on Polynesian bouncers, and much like the film's humourous tone, hearing a thick Kiwi accent in the Marvel universe takes a bit of getting used to. Ditto for Mark Mothersbaugh's '80s-infused score, which is far more inventive and interesting than any score we've heard in the MCU to date.
Outside of his comedic strengths and voicework, Waititi does a great job of keeping things moving and staying focused. Only a cameo involving Dr Strange, which was set-up in the Dr Strange post-credits sequence, feels gratuitous and unnecessary. The rest of the film is on target and rockets along nicely, juggling the events on Sakaar and Asgard well. Waititi also handles the action with style. The highly anticipated showdown between Hulk and Thor is a highlight, and the climactic battles work well.
The cast is consistently excellent. Hemsworth and Hiddleston are old hands at this, while the additions of Goldblum, Blanchett, Urban and Thompson are more than welcome.
The only thing that's really missing is some heart. Thematically, the film is weak and the hero's journey is merely one of simple revenge (as Thor himself puts it). Compared to the richer themes, pathos and journeys we've seen recently in the Guardians Of The Galaxy films, Spider-man, and Dr Strange, Ragnarok is a little underdone in this regard.
But what it lacks in depth it makes up for in fun. It's funny, utterly enjoyable, and again shows Marvel's willingness to push its own envelope.