Directed by Taika Waititi Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson
Film Review by Kieran Freemantle
Thor is back and he is better than ever, getting a standalone adventure worthy of a God and is the MCU film of 2017.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to Asgard after stopping the enemies of his race uniting and causing the prophesied apocalypse known as Ragnarok. Upon his return Thor discovers Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has disguised himself as Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and when the brothers try to rescue their father on Earth they face Asgard’s greatest threat, Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett). After Hela defeats Thor he finds himself stranded on the planet Sakaar and forced to fight in gladiatorial contests.
Thor has had a mixed record on film: his first film was a solid origins story that had a deliberately smaller scale story, a theme line of Thor learning humility and a great villain in the form of Loki but suffered from underwhelming action scenes. Thor: The Dark World is, in my opinion, the weakest movie in the MCU because it was just a filler story despite the universe scale threat. Even in The Avengers Thor is sometimes the odd man out: in Avengers: Age of Ultron his subplot was significantly cut. He finally has the film he deserves, a grand space opera-fantasy hybrid.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a reputation for being comedic and light-hearted. This is certainly the case with the past three Marvel films, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and Spider-man: Homecoming. Thor: Ragnarok dials the comedy up to 11: it is better than many out-and-out comedies to come out this year. The jokey tone started with Thor having a relaxed attitude to being captured and it continues from there. The film is hilarious throughout, even if it does reuse a joke where a character does plans to do something noble or epic and they end up getting hurt.
When the movie trailers were released for Thor: Ragnarok it made the film look like it was copying the Guardians of the Galaxy and the third Thor adventure followed the 2014’s film style. Thor: Ragnarok was a gleefully colourful filled with an eclectic collection of aliens, bright production design and ‘80s style sync score by Mark Mothersbaugh, providing one of the most distinctive scores to an MCU film (my personal favourite track was during the vehicle chase over the skies of Sakaar). Sakaar is similar to Knowhere in Guardians of the Galaxy because Sakaar is a planet made of junk whilst people turned a large alien corpse into Knowhere. However, Thor: Ragnarok only used one song – Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”: and it is awesome!
Thor: Ragnarok also provides on the action front. This is director Taika Waititi’s first blockbuster and he clearly shows he is a talent to watch out for. Waititi confidently directs the set pieces, starting with a Thor fighting on a fiery planet and the camera follows Mjölnir as he does it and the action continues from there. There is a big gladiatorial fight between Thor and the Hulk, the chase above Sakaar and the final battle with Hela's forces. This offered a great amount of variety - giving fans a great combination of high fantasy and sci-fi.
Throughout his films, Thor has had a great character arc. In the first film he was an arrogant young warmonger who was forced onto Earth without his powers and learns he has to earn his powers and in the second film Thor is torn between his life on Earth and Asgard. In Thor: Ragnarok Thor faces his greatest threat in Hela - a goddess that could destroy his hammer and has to fight the Hulk in a sci-fi remake of Gladiator. Thor is weakened by not having his hammer but has to find the strength he always had was inside him and he states that he doesn't want to become king of Asgard but has to prevent someone unworthy taking the throne.
During pre-production of Thor: The Dark World Marvel wanted a Game of Thrones director, approaching Brian Kirk and hired Alan Taylor. Despite Thor: Ragnarok's cosmic setting the third Thor film had more in common with Game of Thrones than The Dark World ever did. There is a big dynastic struggle within Asgard, a prophecy about the doom of Asgard, more medieval and fantasy action in the Asgardian arena and there is a play at the beginning of the film that reminded me of the Westrosi play in Game of Thrones' fifth season. The film also highlighted Odin and Hela's past of conquest which had some of the film's most striking aspects and would make a prequel spin-off a very entertaining idea.
Thor: Ragnarok effortless walks the tightrope of being a standalone film and enhances the wider MCU. Because of space setting Thor: Ragnarok can act separately from the rest of the MCU and not affect the events on Earth, like the Guardians of the Galaxy series. The film also builds on Thor's character and plot points, namely Loki's usurpation of the throne and Thor's visions. The film even acknowledges some more controversial aspects of the MCU like the Bruce Banner/Black Widow relationship and Thor has learned from his experience with Loki. There are also some fun little callbacks to previous films - the best one being Loki's reactions during Thor's fight with Hulk.
Like other MCU films Thor: Ragnarok has a star-studded cast. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston have been playing their roles for six years so fans know what to expect from them and Anthony Hopkins gets to be both stoic and be able to lighten up as Loki pretending to be Odin. Idris Elba gets a bigger role as Heimdall, acting as the resistance leader in Asgard. But it is a shame that Jamie Alexander did not reprise her role as Lady Sif.
It's the newcomers that will get the most attention. Tessa Thompson was the best new actors being funny and badass as Valkyrie, a hard-drinking warrior who uses alcohol to dull her memories. There was a minor controversy because Valkyrie is traditionally portrayed as a Caucasian blonde woman and Thompson is African-American, but the film does have a get out because Valkyries were female Asgardian warriors so her name can be something different. It has also already been established that Asgardians come in many shapes, colors and shades.
Blanchett reviled in her role as Hela - oozing confidence and a deadpan humour. She walked with her hips and she had a badass moment fighting off the whole of the Asgardian army. Hela doesn't match the heights of Loki and the Red Skull in Marvel villainy but she is still one of the better villains in the MCU and 2017 has seen a marked improvement in their villains.
Jeff Goldblum and Karl Urban also play significant supporting characters. Goldblum basically played his usual onscreen persona and he had some witty lines and exchanges especially with Rachel House's Topaz. Urban continues to show his versatility as an actor as Skurge, a self-serving Asgardian. Urban was unrecognizable with his goatee and bald head and he is very different to some of his other big roles i.e. Judge Dredd and Leonard McCoy.
Thor: Ragnarok is a pure delight and the few criticizing against the film are minor. It was end-to-end entertainment, easily the best Thor film and it caps off a great year for superhero films.