Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok
Taika Waititi lights up the Thor franchise with his eccentric sense of humour
For a Hollywood franchise film, Thor: Ragnarok has a welcome amount of diversity in the accent department. Headlining for the third time as the hammer-wielding Thor (not counting his appearances in the Avengers movies), Chris Hemsworth’s Aussie twang is more pronounced. Cate Blanchett, master of dialects from German to Kate Hepburn, plays Thor’s evil sister, Hela, and also allows her Australian roots to inform her speech. There’s Jeff Goldblum doing his Jeff Goldblum thing. Anthony Hopkins (as Odin) and Tom Hiddleston (as Loki) sound like the Brits they are; so does Tessa Thompson, though she’s American. Best of all, there’s the light, bouncing Kiwi tones of director Taika Waititi, who supplies the voice for Korg, a surprisingly endearing walking pile of rocks.
Marvel makes good films and bad, but even the good ones give the feeling of having been designed by committee. Intriguingly—especially for one who hasn’t read the comics and is looking for signs of filmic personality in MCU films—Thor: Ragnarok carries the unmistakable stamp of its director. The New Zealand-born Waititi became famous after the release of his mockumentary-style vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows (2014). His Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) was similarly distinctive and warm. Now, he’s brought his eccentric sense of humour to enliven the Avenger franchise most in need of it.
Already saddled with one supervillain sibling (semi-villain now because of Loki’s popularity with MCU fans), Thor gains another with the appearance of the antler-sporting Hela (Blanchett), who’s been Norsing a grudge ever since Odin banished her years ago. Turns out she’s powerful enough to defeat Thor and Loki without stretching herself; they tumble off the grid into space, landing on the planet Sakaar. There, Thor is captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, thrilling), a former defender of Asgard, now a hard-drinking mercenary. He’s brought to The Grandmaster (Goldblum, in all his glorious weirdness), ruler of Sakaar, who orders him to fight his champion in a gladiator death match. This opponent turns out to be… but you’ve probably seen the trailers.
There’s a recognisably Waititi sense of humour that shines through on Thor: Ragnarok. This is true not just of the writing, but also of the whacky, day-glo look of the film. This might be the first comic book film in a long time that actually looks like a comic book. As I left the hall I heard a fan complain about how much they’d deviated from the general tone of the source material. But Waititi has achieved something special: he’s given hope that bright indie film directors snapped up by giant franchises might yet be able to inject their personality into tentpole studio releases.
Hemsworth has become looser with each successive film he’s played Thor in, and he’s never been more appealing than he is here, his long hair shorn, carrying on a lover’s tiff with Hulk/Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Blanchett has a blast as the melodramatic Hela and Hiddleston’s always a delight, though I must admit that after a point I had eyes only for Thompson, who has a most un-Marvel-like (that is to say, palpable) chemistry with both Banner and Thor. I know better than to ask for more comic book films than are already being slated, but I’d queue up for an intergalactic mercenary buddy flick with Valkyrie and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.
As with the non-MCU Deadpool and the second Guardians film, there’s a tendency here to use humour to undercut every emotional scene or big speech—a tactic the audience will eventually become wise to, like a horror film that uses a jump scare one time too many. There is one detail, though, that isn’t overwhelmed by the overall good cheer. Thor: Ragnarok is full of individuals stranded in foreign lands —Thor, Loki and Banner on Sakaar, Hela in a prison somewhere, and, eventually, an entire population without a home. You don’t expect a nod to the global refugee crisis in a film this entertaining, but there it is.