Opening with an action sequence set to the pulsating beats of Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”, Thor: Ragnarok lays down its marker from the off. As Chris Hemsworth’s heroic God of Thunder tears through hordes of monsters, simultaneously wryly mocking his opponents, we intercut with some straight up comedy on Asgard from Karl Urban’s Skurge, before a rainbow of colour bursts across the screen as the pathway to Thor’s homeworld is opened. It’s high on energy, wonderfully vibrant and incredibly funny…and that’s just the first five minutes.
Barring a slightly shoehorned (yet nevertheless entertaining) cameo, some wonky CGI, and that there’s just not quite enough of Cate Blanchett’s excellently vampy villain, Hela, Ragnarok is top tier level in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Winter Soldier and Civil War may have the thrills, Avengers might have the spectacle, but this has something different altogether; a uniquely individual style. It sets itself apart from its predecessors, building a singular identity forged from wit, colour and action. It’s eccentric, to say the least.
Which can only be down to one man’s similarly eccentric filmmaking style; director Taika Waititi. He takes the heart of his last film Hunt for the Wilderpeople and combines it with the improvisational comedy of another of his efforts, What We Do in the Shadows. The result is remarkably effective. It’s a film that feels as though it could only have been made by Waititi, very personal to him in its storytelling approach and at the same time still as expansive and bombastic as you’d expect a superhero movie to be. There’s enough planet trotting and large-scale set pieces to make the first two Thor films look quaint in comparison. But never at the expense of Waititi’s distinct sense of humour.
There’s always been a level of absurdity in Thor’s headstrong self-confidence, something explored further in Ragnarok. While Chris Hemsworth stands out as one of the funnier parts of the ensemble, it’s the fact that he manages to be more absurd than ever whilst at the same time showcasing the character’s growing wiseness that marks this as his best performance in the role. Meanwhile, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is reliably slimy, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk develops further than he has done in an age, Tessa Thompson shines as the drunken Valkyrie, and Jeff Goldblum is about as Goldblum-ey as you could possibly imagine. The biggest surprise, however, is Waititi’s own performance as Korg, a Polynesian rock giant, who takes the vast majority of the films best jokes, of which there are many.
All of the humour would, of course, be for nought, if not for equally impressive character journeys. Thankfully, Hela provides an excellent foil for not only Thor but also Loki. Her presence raises the stakes and the resulting fallout of her reign of terror leaves game-changing, lasting effects on the lore of the film’s universe.
Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople was one of last year’s best. Ragnarok will surely rank near the top this time around too.
Rating (out of 5):