Movie review: Thor Ragnarok

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Thor: Ragnarok is, quite simply put, a hoot.

Yes, you heard me correctly, A … HOOT.

If this quirky little word promising a thousand idiosyncratic absurdities doesn’t sound like the kind of word you would normally associate with an earnest, sprawling Marvel film where good stands gravely against evil and triumphs, then all the better.

For in the hands of justly-venerated New Zealand director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Search for the Wilderpeople), whose eye for the hilariously visual and the ridiculously said is unparalleled, that is precisely what the third instalment in the Thor series is, and it is all the better for it.

There is a deadly serious underpinning, of course – Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) fighting off Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) as the End of Days aka Ragnarok threatens to annihilate Asgard and its people is hardly the stuff of a snappily diverting half hour of sitcom guffawing – but Thor: Ragnarok is, for all intents and purposes, a brilliantly funny, goofy as all get out comedy that happily struts its laugh-out-loud freak stuff for all to see.

The riotously mischievous dynamic kicks into high gear pretty much immediately with Thor, all quips and humourous asides, explaining how it is he came to be chained in a wooden cage dangling over a floor of lava and rocks in fire demon Surtur’s sweat-heavy cave of horrors.

Hardly the setting for a soul-restoring laugh right?

And yet as Surtur (Clancy Brown) gloats, his Bond villainry in full, glorious, madly camp portentous flow, Thor, released from the cage and dangling mere metres from a fiery death, constantly interrupts his captor’s tirade as he spins away from facing him, asking him to wait until they’re face-to-face again.

It’s followed by a full-blown action scene where dragons and fire sprites aplenty assail our mighty Hammer-augmented hero, but even then, the witty asides flow like the waterfall from Asgard, especially as Thor, in urgent, timely need of a Bifrost window opening is let down by a distracted Skurge (Karl Urban), more interested in impressing the ladies than rescuing Asgard’s prince.

 

 

It’s set the tone and feel for the entire taut, endeavour with a deliciously-entertaining mix of silly as a pork chop visual gags and dialogue bon mots, spectacular action which takes us to Surtur’s world and Sakaar where the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) rules in camp, dictaorial, bread-and-circuses splendour and some moments of piercingly intense, affecting emotional resonance.

This is comedy then with substance, a laugh-a-second fest that never forgets for one perfectly-realised second, that true humour, the kind that unsettles the soul and gets you really thinking, draws its potency from real life.

And Thor: Ragnarok is as real, for all its fantastical trappings and they are, if you recall, as fantastically opulent and wrapped in myth-sprung-to-life as they come, as it gets, as Hela systemically, enslaves, kills, raise an army of dead Asgardian soldiers as demon zombie warriors and wreaks vengeance upon the generally hapless people of Asgard.

The stakes are raised still higher as Thor finds himself trapped on Sakaar, the new, and decidedly unwilling participant in the Grandmaster’s latest arena spectacular fight to the death where is facing off against the Hulk who has been in his angry form for two years after escaping death and shows no sign of wanting to return to his more diminutive Bruce Banner form.

While this may seem like a needlessly side B narrative diversion from the real game in town, it provides Thor with a chance to expand his galactic horizons once again, reunite with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who’s up to his old mischievous tricks – he is the one, in ways that cannot be explained without a nebula full of spoilers, that sets Hela’s revenge-train of nasties in motion – and assemble a team (the Revengers?) including disillusioned Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and soft-spoken rock-man Korg (Taika Waititi) who gets some of the (many) best lines in the film and gives proceedings a humorously philosophical bent.

Goldblum is in fine form, as is frequent Waititi collaborator Rachel House as the Grandmaster’s deadpan funny bodyguard Topaz giving Thor and the gang plenty of opportunities to bounce off the “bad guys” and strategise their triumphant return to Asgard – which includes some classically funny pieces of visual silliness – where they realise, mid-battle that to save it they must let it fall.

 

 

That is as grave as any film can get, and is what grants Thor: Ragnarok, pleasingly full to the gills with Vaudevillian scenes, slapstick moments and punchy threads of quip-laden dialogue, its muscular narrative soul.

Rounding out this artfully and nitpicking-free array of cinematic storytelling at its finest, is a retro ’70s aesthetic that sees everything from the titles (rendered in panel van art) to the music (the use of “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin in the climactic fight scene is inspired brilliance as is the Jean-Michael Jarre-inspired music of Mark Mothersbaugh) to the use of the entry scene from 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (yes, really, and it is, as you guess, a hoot) as inspiration for Thor’s arrival in the Grandmaster’s court, coated in a delightfully camp, four decades-old patina that works perfectly with the film.

Waititi has said that he sees the film as “a cool bold, colorful cosmic adventure” (EW, August 2017) and everything about it confirms that he realised this vision in spades.

As with every adventure, it has a fiercely-determined hero who still finds time to have silly but not un-purposeful conversations with friends and enemies alike, a crew of like-minded souls happy to help him, an urgent goal that must be realised (saving your home world couldn’t be any more urgent), and a baddy who, for once, doesn’t disappoint and provides some actual, hard-fought opposition.

Thor: Ragnarok, quite simply has it all – comic book fabulousness writ large across the screen, epic scenes that are massively spectacular and make you feel as this is a comic come to life (which is as it should be but often isn’t), an endless stream of very silly but enormously clever humour, and the emotional glue, really moving emotional glue at times, to hold it all together in one exquitely well-poised package.

Been wondering of Marvel could just go for it, keep the formula ticking over but let it get its freak show on at the same time? Wonder no more as Thor: Ragnarok delivers in ways intimately small and bombastically, hilariously big, the very essence of what a grippingly good, superbly entertaining superhero movie should be, and then some.

Oh, and did I mention it’s a hoot? It is. A … HOOT.

 

 

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