Lately, I’ve been pulled towards entertainment fare that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Which is why I prefer the irreverent Z Nation over the unrelentingly grim The Walking Dead, and the heart-on-its-sleeve The Orville over the trying-too-hard Star Trek: Discovery.
Now we have Thor: Ragnarok which, from the very first teaser trailer, always presented itself as a fun, rocking ride. Guess what? The finished product delivers on that promise in bucketloads.
It is good to find that, in a place as rigorously policed as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a filmmaker can constantly take the mickey out of the main characters and still turn in a product that is faithful to the fans and the source material.
It’s one thing to go full-on cheeky with an unproven property like the Guardians of the Galaxy, but for Marvel Studios to step out on a ledge like this with MCU pillars Thor and the Hulk, well – bravo, I say, and keep it coming.
New Zealand-born helmer Taika Waititi directs this adventure with a respectful hand, keeping the serious bits deadly serious but infusing everything else with a neon-lit, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink vibe straight out of the 1980s, when filmmakers’ ambitions often exceeded their budgets and the available technology.
With Disney/Marvel’s bank account and state-of-the-art CGI, however, Waititi pulls off his zany vision with aplomb – and even gets to voice-act a supporting character in a way I never dreamed that person would act or sound.
And Waititi does it so well (the directing, I mean, though the voice acting bit is great too) and with such inventiveness that the film is a thumb in the eye to all those “serious” filmmakers who keep dissing the MCU and other shared universes like it for supposedly shackling their directors creatively.
He does not waste any time setting up the board, pulling in elements from both 1960s Thor comic-book spectaculars by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby as well as Walt Simonson’s amazing 1980s run.
All you need to know is that Hela (a sublimely, supremely wicked Cate Blanchett), goddess of death, escapes her eternal banishment by Odin (Anthony Hopkins), sending siblings Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on a very strange journey.
Thor’s path crosses with that of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) on the garish, savage world of Sakaar, a gathering place of cosmic rejects. Yes, comics aficionados, this movie also draws on the well-received Planet Hulk storyline from about 10 years back, and throws in one of the Marvel Universe’s Elders of the Universe, the Grandmaster – played by Jeff Goldblum as a distillation of every Jeff Goldblum role of the last 30 years or so.
With so much in here, is there room for anything else? We haven’t even gotten around to talking about Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown) the self-proclaimed ruin of Asgard, or Asgardian wannabe-warrior Skurge (Karl Urban), a collector of “stuff”. Or noting that Idris Elba’s bridge guardian Heimdall has more to do here than in both the previous Thor movies combined.
(Though my one big gripe about the film is its treatment of Thor’s comrades-in-arms the Warriors Three. Also, where the heck is Lady Sif?)
But that’s just supporting character overload.
It’s really Thor and Loki’s movie, even with the Hulk around, and the characters come to a milestone of sorts – just don’t expect a ceasefire – in their respective arcs.
Hemsworth in particular is at the top of his game here, not just in the action department but also in bringing both gravitas and hilarity to the part. His comic timing is simply great, as evidenced by his exchanges with the Hulk and Bruce Banner, and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) too.
This is certainly the best Thor film and also one of the best MCU efforts to date. We can go on and on about the great cast and Waititi’s old-is-fresh approach, but me? I knew this was going to rock the instant I saw how well they had crafted Hela’s awesome headdress from the imagination of Jack “King” Kirby. Excelsior!
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Jeff Goldblum, Benedict Cumberbatch