Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Marvel’s hunky hammer-throwing hair-bag gets a serious upgrade in this gloriously silly 80s arcade game of an adventure, guaranteed to pile on the laughs.

Calling Ragnarok the best Thor film ever made sounds like a whole lot more of a big deal than it actually is. The truth is, between the big guy’s first major box-office bow in 2011, and the seriously all-over-the-place Chris Eccleston-themed follow-up The Dark World a few years later, the Norse God of Thunder’s never really been given the same A+ standalone treatment as his other core Avenger buddies. But given the minor face-lift Marvel have managed more recently, putting their money where their mouth is by throwing huge budgets and batshit storylines at top class directors, it makes sense that only now the Mighty Thor really gets the sandbox space to fully come into his own.

Because Ragnarok is about as far from any of the other visions of the character to date; a soft reboot if you will, thrust – totally unapologetically – in the more wide-eyed, super-colourful direction James Gunn has been tuning up, with his cosmic spin-off series Guardians of the Galaxy. Everything from Chris Hemsworth’s now rather silly-looking muddy blonde mane, to the Shakespearean family drama and ultra-precious set design is all quite literally thrown on the trash heap, helicopter hammer included. In favour of plenty of intergalactic, Flash Gordon-esque visuals, and some of the best crude humour to hit the genre in forever.

New Zelander-turned-Marvel-newbie Taika Waititi brings a totally different Thor-some world to life; one bathed in improvised jokes and plastic-y excess. One powered by ludicrous cameos, scene-stealing rock monsters (played by Waititi himself I should add), and the Jeff Goldblumiest Jeff Goldblum performance imaginable, that very liberally riffs on the ageing wonders of Willy Wonka himself. A world that, at least after hopping a few largely unavoidable MCU-based hurdles in its opening act, is absolutely, unstoppably entertaining.

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Like an over-excited puppy on Christmas Day, where Thor really suffers in this one, is in just how uncontrollably excited he is to get playing with all his shiny new toys. Segueing carefully from Joss Whedon’s under-appreciated (though significantly more straight-faced) Age of Ultron, into such on-screen madness of this scale is certainly no easy task, and I’d really love to say that Waititi and co. really stick the landing, but annoyingly, they 100% don’t.

Crowd-pleasing prologue aside, the opening to this one is a bit of a cack-handed mess. An unnecessary trip Earth-bound to tie up some loose ends feels rushed through and massively out of place (not to mention a Doctor Strange cameo so pointless, even Benny C himself looks bored), and the finality it leads to with certain characters ends up feeling like more of a wasted opportunity than anything else. And although it does recover well and very, very quickly, such an MIA first-act does end up leaving a bit of a hole in the MCU-mythos moving forward.

On the up-side though, you almost certainly won’t be filling in the gaps until long after the credits roll, because from there on out, Waititi and his cast set a course for true galaxy-hopping madness and never once show any sign of slowing down. Hiddleston, Thompson, Blanchett, Ruffalo, hell, even Hemsworth himself is at the absolute top of his game here and it’s nigh-on impossible to pick a favourite from among the main players. Everyone gets an arc, from naked Hulk, to Tessa Thompson’s bottle-swigging badass Valkyrie (the sort of gun-toting heroine that would eat both Natalie Portman and the very phrase “love-interest” for breakfast).

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The pride of many of the film’s posters and trailers, Cate Blanchett’s Goddess of Death-turned-Asgardian-big-bad Hela certainly stands-aside from a lot of the usual Marvel villainy to date too. She’s still not quite as well-utilised as she could be, and probably spends a tad too long flinging tiny daggers at walls, but in Blanchett and Ragnarok, the MCU has finally found the sort of deliciously hammy level of mainline wickedness they’ve almost unintentionally been searching for since the very beginning.

Don’t get me wrong, giving someone with such a wonderfully wry sense of humour like Waititi, the literal keys to the Asgard kingdom will definitely be something of a fan divider. There’s things here that die hard Thor-devotees will almost without doubt hold against everyone involved for the rest of their very long, very angry lives. Proper pitchforks-at-dawn kind of stuff. But to the wider variety of superhero and blockbuster fans, this new-look thunder god (and all of his new super best-friends) is a real home-run for Marvel and the MCU moving forward.

It’s wild, a little off balance and unimaginably gimmicky, but Ragnarok finally finds the Mighty Thor firing on all cylinders without so much as a hint of pretension in sight. It stands as a giant leap towards a much funner and funnier direction for the superhero tentpole, and very easily lives up to the most earnest hopes and dreams of its 80s inspirations.

Thor: Ragnarok is out in UK cinemas 24th October.

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