Monday 30 October 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

"Don't you understand? I'm not a queen, nor a monster. I'm the goddess of death." 

I must admit that I was lukewarm over the prospect of another ‘Thor’ instalment to the MCU, not that I’d regard the previous two as bad films but they’re also far from anyone’s favourite Marvel movies. However, the idea of a new Taika Waititi movie is something that greatly interests me, given that ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ and ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ have marked him out as one of the finest comedic directors working today. So could this be a match made in Valhalla?

Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, the mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), his former ally and fellow Avenger. Thor's quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela (Cate Blanchett) from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.

When I first heard the premise and title for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, I envisioned it as a more serious kind of Marvel movie, one that would raise the stakes and forever change the dynamic of the characters involved. So on that front I am a little disappointed that the end result leans more into comedy than anything else. But at the same time I shouldn’t have expected anything else from Waititi, as well as the fact that said comedy is hilarious as well as hugely entertaining. Make no mistake, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is a fun and immensely enjoyable movie that maintains the standards of quality we have come to expect from Marvel by now.

So while it’s not a radical departure from the usual Marvel routine, it delivers in what any fan of Waititi and the MCU as a whole could want. I was initially worried as the movie starts off feeling terribly muddled. The pacing and structure of its opening act are all over the place, throwing one narrative beat and revelation at the audience in quick succession without ever giving them time to sink in. I think this is due to Waititi’s comic sensibilities leading to him pacing his movie as one would for a comedy film. It’s a light and breezy opening which plays high on laughs but fails to establish an immediate connection to the plot as it begins to unfold.

Luckily though, once ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ sinks into its stride it rarely looks back from there. It interweaves its comedy and moments of high drama nicely as well as some fantastic action set pieces that are as inventive as they are humorous. I’ll admit that I was never glued to the edge of my seat but I was thoroughly invested in each set piece as they continued to escalate. The highlight is undoubtedly the Thor vs Hulk throw down but Waititi’s method of gradually building each scene in scale as the movie progresses allows them to never feel stale. Save for a few clunky moments when handling the tone and plot exposition it’s satisfying.

The characters also feel well utilised. Watching Thor interact with Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner as well as his big green alter ego makes for a brilliant dynamic, as does his pairing with Tessa Thompson’s hard drinking bounty hunter. As ever Tom Hiddlestone is immensely watchable as Loki and though it’s disappointing that he never goes full blown villain his presence is more than welcome and leads to some cathartic drama. Despite struggling to feel like a prevalent threat for a majority of the movie, Cate Blanchett is also great as the all-powerful goddess of death. She manages to chew the scenery without ever feeling like an overbearing addition.

The clever use of characters lends itself to the fact that the strongest aspect of ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is its superb cast. As I already said, each main player is bringing their all to the role and bounces off one another excellently. But all of this goes without mentioning the likes of Jeff Goldblum who I assume just acted as he would normally had he been at home, but here they just happened to catch it on film. The director himself also brings his always excellent comedic presence in an unexpected but hilarious role. Then there are the cameos which I won’t dare spoil as it probably stands as the single best cameo in the history of the MCU, and it’s not by Stan Lee would you believe it.

At the end of the day, the biggest complaint I can level at this movie is that of tonal consistency. Sometimes it does feel as Waititi’s priority was to bring forth the best performances from his cast rather than focus upon the movie as a piece of the MCU. The pieces that feel most jarring and out of place in its first act are those that are there to either tie up the continuity of the previous instalments or link it to other MCU properties. Even these scenes are still highly entertaining in their own right, but they don’t quite fit properly within this movie.

Despite a bumpy start, once ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ kicks into gear it’s a hugely entertaining spectacle of humour, heart and Hulk.

Result: 7/10

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