Janus Film Review Presents: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

as reviewed by Tom

Format Reviewed: Blu-ray/Marvel Studios (2018).

When I came out of the cinema having watched Thor: Ragnarok, I texted a friend these words: “Loved it. Loved the story. Loved the score. Loved the colours. Loved the jokes.” I was relieved. Thor and Thor: The Dark World, the first two Thor films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, suffered from being rather po-faced and a little bit bland. This is a shame as Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 Thor is aesthetically very close to its source material, the original comic books but, being only the fourth MCU film, it landed before the franchise had really hit its stride. Followed two years later by the lacklustre sequel, the Thor series needed a shot in the arm.

Enter Taika Waititi, New Zealand-born director of off-beat favourites like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. On paper, combining Waititi’s quirky, witty sensibilities with the world of Thor may seem like a mismatch. In reality, it’s a match made in Asgard. His first job seemed to have been to give Chris Hemsworth (the titular Thor) permission to loosen up and hammer home his funny bone. Hemsworth grabs the opportunity with both (extremely muscular) arms and proves you can be an immortal beefcake and be funny. According to Waititi, much of the film’s dialogue was improvised, and these ad-libbed moments are integrated a lot more successfully here than in other allegedly improvised ‘comedies’ that often come across as self-indulgent. There are occasions where Thor: Ragnarok is a little too pleased with itself, but the Marvel series has potentially earned the right to be a little self-referential by now. In truth, the vast majority of viewers have already climbed aboard the MCU juggernaut and have settled in for the ride, spotting the in-jokes and meticulously piecing together the ongoing narrative arc. After all, at the time of writing, we are ten years into the franchise and counting. But there is much to enjoy for the casual viewer too.

As Thor is left stranded on the junk planet of Sakaar, pitting him against the gleefully destructive Incredible Hulk in a gladiatorial bout is the work of a mad genius. They had butted heads before in previous films, but the extended fight sequence in the Contest of Champions gives rise to some wonderful interplay between the characters and some very amusing interjections from Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, turned up to ‘maximum Jeff’). Thor and Hulk have worked well amongst the camaraderie of the wider Avengers ensemble, but Thor: Ragnarok provides the characters with space and opportunity to shine on their own inimitable terms. Not only is it arguably the best Thor film, but it also serves as a remedial Hulk sequel after the disappointing Edward Norton vehicle, The Incredible Hulk in 2008.

Stylistically, the film feels like a graphic novel unfolding on the screen, with some breath-taking visuals helped by the superb production design of Dan Hennah. The bold and bright colour palette, accompanied by Mark Mothersbaugh’s score – which seamlessly merges the orchestral with the synthesised, alongside the occasional blast of some classic rock – gives the film the texture and anachronistic feel of a 1980s science fiction fantasy. Marvel meets Flash Gordon, in fact. As if to hammer this point home, the final battle on the Bifröst plays out like Expert level on Guitar Hero – ‘sparkles’ flying out of Thor’s fingers on a rainbow adorned bridge, all to the propulsive groove of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’. Rarely has Norse Mythology been this fun.

Some have criticised the more frivolous approach of Thor: Ragnarok, and there is little doubt that the universally well-received Guardians of the Galaxy films somewhat paved the way for the more comedic style. Two particular characters who set the tone are the charmingly optimistic rock monster Korg (played by director Taika Waititi) and the aforementioned vain and egocentric Grandmaster. The tone of the film means that the pathos associated with the Bruce Banner/Hulk character is lost to some degree, and in truth, the MCU has yet to explore this avenue fully. It is mainly played for laughs. But what laughs they are. In a film replete with visual jokes that pretty much hit the mark every time, the hilarious result of Banner’s decision to try and save the day without resorting to his indestructible alter ego is foolish, painful and worth the price of admission alone.

There are clichés aplenty in Thor: Ragnarok, notably the introduction of an even more formidable power than that of the God of Thunder himself. This appears in the guise of Thor and Loki’s sister Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett), who immediately asserts her dominance by destroying Thor’s hammer. There’s nothing like a bit of sibling rivalry to provide dramatic tension. However, these clichés are wrapped up in such a goofy and entertaining spectacle that they barely register as such. In my opinion, Thor: Ragnarok stands as the crowning achievement of the MCU thus far.

Loved it. Loved the story. Loved the score. Loved the colours. Loved the jokes.

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