THOR: RAGNAROK – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Rush), Tom Hiddleston (Crimson Peak), Cate Blanchett (Carol), Idris Elba (Pacific Rim), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Tessa Thompson (Creed), Karl Urban (Dredd), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs)

Director: Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Writers: Eric Pearson (Agent Carter) and Craig Kyle (X-Men: Evolution) & Christopher L. Yost (Thor: The Dark World)

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes 

Release Date: 24 October (UK), 3 November (US)

Of all the mini-franchises going on within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Thor films so far have often seen as the weakest. The first film was a solid introduction to the God of Thunder, as well as to one of the franchises’ most beloved characters in Loki, but it’s otherwise a solid but formulaic superhero movie and its sequel The Dark World did almost nothing to move the character or the universe as a whole forward. A third film is really Thor’s last chance to prove himself as a mainstay character before being relegated to side-character status like Hulk. Ironically, teaming Thor and Hulk together did exactly the trick. Thor: Ragnarok is not only easily the best film in the series, but it’s Marvel Studios’ best movie this year and one of their finest in general.

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Picking up plot threads left dangling since The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ragnarok aims to shake up the franchise much in the same way as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Whilst it doesn’t do so in as shocking a way, it does breathe new life into familiar territory and revamps the series with a renewed energy and sense of self-deprecation. Gone is the cringe-worthy, fish out of water humour of the first two films, and instead it’s replaced with director Taika Waititi’s unique comedic flair. It often feels more like Guardians of the Galaxy than Thor at points, but the core foundations of the series remain and it ties back into the previous films in rewarding ways. The story itself is a rollicking adventure that gets going quickly and doesn’t let up from there, leading to an epic climax that leaves a portion of the MCU in a difficult place. It isn’t entirely without fault though. The film fumbles the ball a bit with a lot of the supporting characters from the first two films, abruptly writing off some whilst not even acknowledging others (Kat Dennings’ Darcy doesn’t even get mentioned, though I know plenty of audiences will be glad of that). The narrative also feels a little too compartmentalized, with the events on Sakaar rarely synching up with those on Asgard; the scenes back in Thor’s realm ultimately have no impact upon what’s happening on the other side of the story until the final act.

Chris Hemsworth’s career was made by the role of Thor, but as good as he’s been in the part he’s also been somewhat restrained by it, stuck in a similar character loop for all four of his major appearances; he’s tough and arrogant and doesn’t understand human customs. But in Ragnarok, not only do they manage to get a good character arc out of Thor, but they’ve managed to make him funny again. Hemsworth finally feels like he is able to use his surprisingly strong comedic muscles and delivers his best performance as the character, nailing all of the film’s humorous moments but also its surprisingly effective dramatic ones. Tom Hiddleston is great as Loki like you’d expect, his banter with Thor just as biting as ever, and finds new ways to develop their troublesome brotherhood. Mark Ruffalo spends far more time as Hulk than Bruce Banner here, but that’s certainly not a negative. The film gives the big green monster time to shine not just in action but also comedy, giving the relationship between him and Thor more depth than ever; these two should remain a combo forever. Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins are the only other two returning players with meaty roles as Heimdall and Odin, with Elba finally given a little more to do plotwise and Hopkins managing to wring a lot of emotional pathos with his few scenes; he’s never looked as invested in this series as he is here.

Where Ragnarok really shines is in its plethora of new characters. Cate Blanchett is deliciously evil as Hela, more than making up for the banality of Malekith in The Dark World. She doesn’t get as much screen time as you’d hope, especially with Thor himself, but her motivations and backstory are rich and Blanchett herself is clearly eating up the opportunity to be villainous. Watching Jeff Goldblum as the eccentric secondary antagonist The Grandmaster is probably not too different to watching Jeff Goldblum in his off hours, but he’s a hilarious delight to watch no matter what; please bring him back somehow, Marvel. Karl Urban manages to make a lot out his role too as Skurge, taking what could have been a one-note henchman character and making him complex, badass and funny all at once. Rachel House is a fun addition as Grandmaster’s head guard Topaz, and Waititi himself is a constant scene-stealer as Korg. But the real MVP here is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, who constantly upstages the rest of the cast with her confident personality and strong comedic timing; she’s what I wish Sif had been in the previous movies.

What the previous films did well more than anything was effectively bringing Jack Kirby’s designs to life without making it look silly. Ragnarok tempts fate more with the addition of the colourful dystopian planet that is Sakaar, but the film does more than just not making it look silly. This film looks absolutely badass in every frame, like a comic book truly come to life, with its vibrant visuals and cinematography that makes many moments look like they’ve leaped right off the panel. The sets and costumes are imaginatively designed, taking what could have been ludicrous and somehow turning it into something impressive. The music from Mark Mothersbaugh is also a delight, with the score’s 80s synth-pop vibes giving the film a wholly unique flavour. It at points made me think Waititi may have been a better choice to make a Flash Gordon movie than a Thor one, but he’s managed to transplant that aesthetic without at all making it look out of place.

Thor: Ragnarok is a delight from its opening moments to the very last post-credits scene. It works as a great culmination of the character’s story over his five appearances, but functions well enough as a standalone action sci-fi comedy in its own right. Taika Waititi has managed to make a film that is distinctly his own whilst still managing to work within the Marvel formula, and I hope the studio finds somewhere else for him to fit within the larger universe of movies; he’s too good to just have as a one-off. If Marvel decides to continue making solo Thor movies, they’d better be at least as good as this one, because I don’t think anyone will want to go back to the original recipe after having a taste of this flavoursome dessert of a movie.

FINAL VERDICT: 9/10

 

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Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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