Asgard, Cate Blanchett, Chris Hemsworth, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Jeff Goldblum, Marvel, Review, Sakaar, Sequel, Taika Waititi, The Grandmaster, Tom Hiddleston, Valkyrie
D: Taika Waititi / 130m
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taika Waititi, Rachel House, Clancy Brown
Ah, Thor, God of Thunder – where have ye been? And what have ye done? Is there anything we should know about? After seeing Thor: Ragnarok, you might be thinking, no, there isn’t, as Marvel’s latest attempt to spin an interesting solo movie out of the Son of Asgard throws punchline after one liner after humorous quip as it tries to draw the audience’s attention away from the fact that, once again, Marvel have very few ideas as to what to do with the character (or Loki, or Odin, or worse still, Bruce Banner/Hulk). By making this a de facto comedy, somewhere along the line they forgot to provide a compelling story. Sure, there’s drama in Hela, the Goddess of Death (Blanchett) coming to destroy Asgard, and yes, there’s further drama in Thor and Hulk both ending up on the same planet and needing to team up to save themselves and Asgard, but it’s all buried under a layer of humour that is often clumsy and intrusive.
The main problem is with Marvel’s decision to split the narrative in two. At the beginning we have the re-emergence of Hela and the threat to Asgard as we know it. Hela proves a formidable opponent to Thor and sends him spinning off through time and space where he ends up on the planet of Sakaar. This is where the movie becomes a little schizophrenic, hopping to and fro from Sakaar, where Thor finds himself prisoner of the Grandmaster (Goldblum), a futuristic Nero-in-waiting who organises gladiatorial games in the kind of overblown colosseum where the unlucky folks in the seats all the way at the top need to bring binoculars in order to see the duels properly, and Asgard, where Hela spends her time waiting for Thor to come back for the big showdown (sorry, that should read behaving nefariously and cruelly to the people of Asgard). Either of these stories could have made an effective single movie, but here they only serve to rub up against each other awkwardly, and as a result, neither are particularly effective.
While Hela misbehaves in Asgard, Thor discovers he’s not alone on Sakaar. Loki (Hiddleston) is also there, having suffered the same fate at the hands of Hela as his brother. Of course, Loki is just as conniving and deceitful as ever, but equally as ever he can still be persuaded to do the right thing when the need arises. Also on Sakaar is Bruce Banner (Ruffalo), still transformed into the Hulk from his last appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe towards the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Hulk is the Grandmaster’s champion gladiator, still indomitable, still fuelled by rage but also satisfied by not having returned to being his weaker alter ego. And then there’s a third “refugee”, Scrapper-142, otherwise known as Valkyrie (Thompson), an Asgardian whose presence (and age) aren’t fully explained in the script, but who has history with Hela. Together, Thor, Hulk, Loki and Valkyrie must team up to escape from Sakaar, head for Asgard, and defeat the waiting Hela (sorry, that should read defeat the nefarious and cruelly behaving Hela).
While all this takes place over a matter of days (presumably), it lacks for tension and suspense. We all know that Thor and his team of Revengers will escape from Sakaar, even if it is through the notorious Devil’s Anus (a spectacular wormhole that hovers conveniently over Sakaar), but half the problem is that it takes him so long to do so. And by the time everyone’s back in Asgard for the big showdown, it leaves the final battle feeling a little rushed. Along the way, Bruce relays his reluctance to return to being Hulk, Loki plays both sides to his own advantage, Valkyrie is convinced to help Thor, and the Grandmaster behaves in the kind of off-kilter, quirky, madcap kind of way that only Jeff Goldblum can manage. Meanwhile, Hela sits on the throne of Asgard, glowers a lot, dispenses with a horde of Asgardian warriors in quick fashion, makes an acolyte of Karl Urban’s opportunistic Skurge, and goes back to glowering and waiting for Thor to return (sorry, that should read glowering and plotting the end of Asgard – though you’d think that, having been banished for what seems a very long time, she would have a firm course of action in mind by now).
It’s all put together by Marvel newbie Waititi in bright, airy fashion and with huge dollops of the aforementioned humour to wash it all down with. Some of the humour does work – the already seen in the trailer, “he’s a friend from work”, a lovely mini-performance by Hopkins as Loki playing at being Odin, and Thor trying to break a window – but overall there are just too many moments where the humour is forced or feels like it’s there to carry the scene instead of being an integral part of it. It also comes perilously close to making Thor seem like an inveterate joker rather than the more serious God of Thunder. Even Hela gets a number of wry, pithy observations to put across, and while Blanchett is clearly having fun, having the main villain sounding like a bored straight man trying to get a laugh doesn’t help at all. Marvel seem to be experimenting with each new instalment in the MCU, and Thor: Ragnarok has all the hallmarks of a comedy script that’s been beefed up dramatically thanks to the inclusion of Hela.
That the movie is still a lot of fun despite all this is a tribute to the talent of Waititi and his directorial skills, and the Marvel brand itself, increasingly less homogeneous of late, but still sticking to a winning formula. But there’s very, very little here that adds to the twenty-two movie story arc that will culminate in Untitled Avengers Movie (2019), and if this movie didn’t exist it’s not entirely certain that anyone would be too concerned if Thor and Hulk didn’t show up on our screens until Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Thor himself does undergo some changes (and it’s not just the hair), but where they will ultimately take him if there are to be any further solo movies is open to debate. As for Bruce Banner and his jolly green alter ego, the greater problem of how to provide him with his own solo movie remains unsolved, as the movie keeps him in a supporting role and shows just how effective the character can be when he’s not the main focus. A pleasant diversion then before we delve into the world of Wakanda, but one that’s like a bowl of ice cream: memorable only while it’s being consumed.
Rating: 7/10 – despite the critical drubbing that Thor: The Dark World has taken since its release in 2013, and despite the infusion of a huge amount of comedy, Thor: Ragnarok is ultimately the least of the God of Thunder’s outings so far (though only just); with too many holes in the script, and too many occasions where the characters react and behave in service to the humour rather than the other way around, this is still entertaining stuff, just not as bold or as consistent as it could, or should, have been.