Thor: Ragnarok – movie review

by Russell Baillie / 05 November, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Thor: Ragnarok movie review

You don’t have to be a Marvel devotee to enjoy this cosmic romp.

Clearly, Taika Waititi didn’t get the memo – the one that says making superhero movies is a serious business. The New Zealand director’s fifth feature, Thor: Ragnarok, may be his entry into the Hollywood big-budget big-time after his brilliant run of home-grown hits.

It’s also the 17th entry in the ever-expanding and increasingly exhausting “Marvel Cinematic Universe” of connected superhero movies. Most of the previous 16 have conformed to a Marvel house style that has resulted in films that felt not so much directed as administered.

Ragnarok, however, has Waititi’s fingerprints and funny bone all over it. And his voice. He gives himself plenty of screen time as Korg, a scene-stealing CGI character resembling a pile of gravel. One whose Kiwi accent and laconic delivery bring light relief to a film that is already positively loopy.

For the most part, Ragnarok makes you forget you’re watching yet another instalment of the biggest film franchise of the 21st century. It’s quite a shift in tone from the grim, boring previous standalone Thor-flick, 2013’s The Dark World. It’s much nearer the space opera playfulness of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films.

Other than saving Thor (Chris Hemsworth in fine goofy form) from unintentional self-parody by making an intentional one, letting Waititi loose on Ragnarok and making it a DayGlo, 80s-influenced sci-fi fantasy comedy, rather than another earnest superhero slog, has some logic.

The punchlines provide a diversion from a script (by a team of Marvel house writers) that really doesn’t offer much of a story to sustain its two hours 10 minutes.

Despite some apocalyptic action and long gymnastic fight scenes, nothing too much feels at stake as Thor and his treacherous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) find they have a big sister, Hella (Cate Blanchett), who is intent on returning Asgard to its galaxy-conquering glory days.

Playing the spiky, slinky goddess of death is certainly a chance for Blanchett to give herself a break from all those years of elegantly restrained screen performances.

She’s a sort of anti-Galadriel in a movie that, possibly care of Lord of the Rings production designer Dan Hennah, certainly resembles Middle-earth in many of its Asgard sequences.

But the film is at its most entertaining on another planet, Sakaar, where it appears the wreckage from all those other Marvel movies ends up, mostly via a wormhole charmingly named “the Devil’s Anus”.

It’s on Sakaar that Thor reunites with the Hulk, who has become a gladiator in stadium games presided over by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, who has clearly been given the direction: could you be just a little more Jeff Goldblum?).

The pairing of Thor and the Hulk (and alter ego Bruce Banner played by Mark Ruffalo) brings its own spark to a film that is the best screen outing yet for both characters. But you don’t have to be a Marvel devotee to enjoy this cosmic romp. Waititi’s humour is the real superpower here.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

This article was first published in the November 4, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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