Out of all of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Thor series have been the films I’ve been the most apprehensive about. Neither of the previous films were bad but the first film was a film of two halves, the scenes on Earth just being okay whilst the scenes on Asgard were excellent and made full use of Kenneth Branagh’s skill as a director, whilst Thor: The Dark World was a thoroughly average film, not bad but, outside of Loki, nothing memorable. With Thor: Ragnarok though, a great talent has been put behind the camera with Taika Waititi, and he uses the comic style he’s honed through films like Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do In the Shadows to create easily the most fun film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even including the Guardians of the Galaxy films.The film takes place a few years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron with Thor following on his search for the Infinity Stones, although he hasn’t found any. During the search, Thor has been filled with visions of Ragnarok, the destruction of Asgard, with his attention focused towards preventing it. This is complicated through the appearance of Hela, partially brought about due to the actions of Loki in Thor: The Dark World, who destroys Mjolnir and sends Thor and Loki to the planet Sakaar, where Loki falls in favour with the ruler, the Grandmaster, whilst Thor is captured by Valkyrie, a fellow Asgardian who ended up on Sakaar, and forced into Sakaar’s gladiatorial games, where he is forced to fight the Hulk, revealing where he went to after the events of Age of Ultron, with Thor needing to escape in order to stop Hela from taking over Asgard. Now from the description, there would be the expectation that this would be a more serious film and that’s what I thought the film would be, until Taika Waititi came on board. Waititi brings over his comedic styling to create probably the funniest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Every few minutes I just started roaring with laughter and the main way Waititi does this is by embracing all of the ridiculous elements inherent within Thor. By embracing the ridiculous, Waititi is able to create a version of Thor’s world that feels more compelling that in either of the previous films, which always felt a bit restrained by having scenes set on Earth, in many ways this owes more to Guardians of the Galaxy than the previous Thor films. This film is also a case where the MCU’s commitment to continuity allows for jokes and character development to pay off from elements set up in prior films, with good comedy coming from references to Doctor Strange and the Puny God scene in The Avengers, whilst the character development comes from building on the relationship between Hulk and Black Widow established in Age of Ultron, even if Black Widow isn’t in the film. If there is a criticism of this method it’s that the amazing parts of the film on Sakaar do take away from the scenes on Asgard. They are good scenes, but Hela is, unfortunately, another poorly developed MCU villain, given a solid backstory with elements about the erasure of history, but her actions in the film are generic, like most other villains in the MCU.
The performances add to the overall tone of the film as well. Chris Hemsworth has always been good at playing the more outlandish elements of Thor but in most cases he’s been more of a straight man for the other characters. Here though, Hemsworth is able to fully embrace his comedic side and makes this version of Thor a really fun person to spend time with, whilst also keeping a more serious side when needed, especially in relation to Loki and Odin. Tom Hiddleston meanwhile goes full ham as Loki, embracing the over the top nature of the film, again making all the scenes with Loki a lot of fun, along with creating a strong sibling bond between Loki and Thor, aided by the strong chemistry shared between Hemsworth and Hiddleston. For Mark Ruffalo meanwhile, this is the first time where he plays the Hulk more than he plays Bruce Banner, along with this being the first film where the Hulk says more than 1 sentence. Playing the Hulk, Ruffalo brings across the strength of the character well (aided by the CG team), along with showing how the Hulk has been able to thrive on Sakaar, it being the rare place where the Hulk feels at home. As Banner meanwhile, Ruffalo shows a fear of becoming the Hulk and is the right kind of out of place on Sakaar. Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie meanwhile gets one of the more compelling character arcs in the film, although to explain why would spoil the film, all I’ll say is that Thompson plays the darker elements of the character brilliantly, effectively showing someone haunted by guilt and using alcohol to numb the pain of what she’s experienced, whilst also being a adept at the physical comedy in the film and having this badass air to her throughout the film. Whilst Hela isn’t that interesting a villain, Cate Blanchett is able to give her an intimidating presence, providing Hela with more character than the script provided, along with clearly having a lot of fun in the role. Karl Urban as Skurge meanwhile gets some great comedic moments but is really able to shine in his dramatic moments, bringing across Skurge’s full character arc through subtle facial expressions. Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster meanwhile, is just Jeff Goldblum let loose, you know exactly what to expect from Jeff Goldblum in a film like this and he doesn’t disappoint, creating some of the best comedic moments in the film just through the way he holds himself in a scene. There’s also great comedy from Taika Waititi, showing his skill in front of the camera as well as behind the camera as Korg, his soft spoken, high pitched accent and mundane delivery of completely ridiculous dialogue creating some of the funniest moments in the film. There’s also a good air of intimidation from Clancy Brown as Surtur, Idris Elba remains a powerful presence as Heimdall and, in his brief scenes in the film, Anthony Hopkins gives Odin a powerful presence, along with some good comedy early on in the film.
On a technical level, this film is incredible, mainly in terms of the production design. Even more-so than Guardians of the Galaxy, this film embraces the comic book aesthetic, many elements of the set looking like they were lifted straight from Jack Kirby’s drawings. This gives the film a more unique look, setting it apart from the other MCU films, with this probably being the best film in the series on a purely visual level due to the strong direction, cinematography and production design. The costume design needs praise as well, a few character arcs being based on costumes and props, with the strong designs and solid colours featured in most costumes further adding to this feel. The use of music needs praise as well, both the score by Mark Mothersbaugh, creating a great feel of 1980s sci-fi films through its use of synthesisers, along with the use of established scenes adding to both the humour and the awesome elements of the film, I won’t spoil which songs are used, it’s best if you are surprised by them.
Overall, Thor: Ragnarok, whilst not the deepest of the MCU films, is easily the most fun I’ve had watching a MCU film. I wouldn’t class it as better than the Guardians of the Galaxy films, The Avengers or Captain America: Civil War due to the thematic weight of those films, but what Taika Waititi does is make one of the more relatively boring elements of the MCU one of the most exciting through embracing the inherent ridiculousness of Thor, I had a blast with this film and I highly recommend it as a good bit of fun.
My Rating: 5/5