Thor’s series of solo movies have always been seen as Marvel’s fifth wheel so to speak. His sweet – but slight – origin movie and his pun-filled role in The Avengers were promptly followed by a lacklustre sequel (surely Marvel’s weakest movie) and a convoluted sub-plot in Age Of Ultron. While the God Of Thunder’s “work buddies” were nailing their respective trilogies (Cap more than Iron Man if anyone’s counting) Thor was somehow still in the B squad and if we’re being honest, we all were starting to get a little bored. That included Chris Hemsworth himself, a man itching to flex his latent comedy muscles as much as those divine biceps he sports, who was fairly outspoken about eagerly wanting to tap into the cosmic lunacy seen in the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies. Well, now thanks to Taika Waititi, the New Zealand God Of Awkward Comedy, we can comfortably draw a thick fat line through that statement.
We rejoin Thor taking a quick time out from his quest to figure out this Infinity Stone malarkey by cooling his heels in in the fiery wastes of Hel. After a quick chinwag with demonic ruler Surtur, our blonde bombshell bounces back to his home in Asgard to take stock but experiences a spot of culture clash when he finally cotton on to all the plot twists left lying around since The Dark World. Thor’s dead-but-not-really half-brother Loki has ousted their father Odin from the throne and is ruling in his guise which sets off a chain reaction that leads to their sister, Hela, The Goddess Of Death and winner of Mad Hat Of the Year 2018, escaping imprisonment with the intent to rule Asgard. Thor and Loki are promptly waylaid on the distant planet of Sakaar, an entire planet that resembles a 1970’s council estate which is under the iron rule of the intergalactic bohemian maniac The Grand Master. Enslaved by the impressively alcoholic Valkyrie were he has to fight in an intergalactic area to gain his freedom, Thor realises that to escape and save his homeworld in time, he’s going to have to take out the Grand Master’s undefeated champion – but unbeknownst to the Odinson, this champion is very familiar, very green and loves to smash…
Finally dropping the crustiness of it’s previous instalment, yet remaining surprisingly true to the continuity left in it’s predecessors wake, Thor: Ragnarok proves to be the best outing yet for our returning characters and a great launching point for any newbies who oddly fancy starting a franchise with the third movie.
Chris Hemsworth, finally given free rein to soar like a comedic eagle and deploy his considerable talent for dropping laugh-bombs wherever and whenever he can, fantastically hamming up every single look and action he does marvelously; whether it’s skewering Thor’s own machismo by hysterically screaming at the thought of a haircut to gleefully pratfalling at the slightest drop of a hat, it’s a wonderful rebirth for a character that was in real danger of becoming staler than a discarded sandwich. The incredibly dependable Tom Hiddleson is still hissably snide as Loki and all the new characters make their mark – although some more than others. Jeff Goldblum smartly cast as Jeff Goldblum and proceeds to be as flamboyant as Jeff Goldblum can be before the screen inplodes as full time galactic despot/part time DJ The Grandmaster; Tessa Thompson as Valkarie is a drunken brawling treasure and the director himself pops up via mo-cap as Korg, a chilled out, stone, gladiator who relentlessly steals most of his scenes. Oh, and then there’s The Hulk…. Thor: Ragnarok’s no-so secret weapon is most likely his best appearance to date, his constant childish bickering with the Odinson almost making him MVP in immensely entertaining outing – call him Bruce Banter… but as the permanently freaked out Bruce Banner, trapped for two years inside The Hulk’s brain, Mark Ruffalo is also great as he dials up the levels of awkward dork to a steady 11. There’s even a sweet, extended cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch’s underused Doctor Strange which give’s Ragnarok a clean win in the game of “characters not seen in Civil War” bingo.
For Thor aficionados there is a huge wealth of material drawn directly from the comics as story points and designs from everyone from Jack Kirby to Walt Simonson to the Planet Hulk series is gleefully referenced to the delight of OCD comic nerds (i.e. me) everywhere. And the sheer craziness of the set design and the films whole willingness to embrace it’s Flash Gordon level of knowing camp silliness eclipses even Guardians Of The Galaxy.
If there’s any negative issues here, it’s with the Asgardian villains. There’s no actual problem with Cate Blanchett’s Hela, she gives great vamp, swanning around, sneering at virtually everything and gleefully leaking playful evil like a malevolent tap, but that’s all she does. It’s the same with Karl Urban’s Skurge, he’s perfectly serviceable and has some great lines, but again – hardly memorable. But the true star of the show is the utterly relentless procession of laughs the film pumps out, less of an action comedy than an actual comedy, the chuckles land at a dizzying rate. Anyone upset at Marvel’s habit of keeping things light isn’t gonna be happy here as everything is styled out in bright pop art colours (thank you Jack Kirby) and pretty much every scene ends with a massive belly laugh – even the sad ones.
Pesky complaints aside (is it really a problem if a comedy is too funny?) Thor: Ragnarok is immense fun and moves our beloved Thunder God and the whole Marvel Universe forward in delightfully unexpected ways.
Thor may have lost his hammer, but he’s gained his best film by far.