Taika Waititi brings humour and warmth to Marvel’s most boring character…
Apologies, this review is a little late, and I’ve not been very active for the past two weeks! In my defence, I’m lazy, and I had two pieces of coursework to finish, but anyway lets continue with the review.
I recently saw Thor Ragnarok and I feel compelled to talk about it here, because it is one of the best Marvel films I’ve seen in quite a while. I should mention that I’m not a subjective source for this, as I’ve been looking forward to this film ever since I found out Taika Waititi was directing. For those who don’t know, Waititi is a director and comedian from New Zealand, who has directed some of my favourite films, such as What We Do in the Shadows. His style of comedy and writing are extremely entertaining and so I had high hopes for Thor Ragnarok. Going into this movie, my biggest concern was that the studio had let Waititi do what he wanted, as Marvel have been known to get in the way of great directors’ creative vision; look at what happened to Edgar Wright. Fortunately, this film carries a lot of Waititi’s unique style and tone, and it is a joy to watch. Spoilers from hereon in.
The two previous Thor films have been less than amazing. They certainly weren’t bad films, they had competent directors and good cinematography. The acting was mostly fine, great in the case of Anthony Hopkins. Nonetheless, the first Thor is not very memorable. The story feels very by the numbers and it felt more like a film we needed to watch to get to the avengers, rather than a film I actually wanted to see. Then came Thor: The Dark World. I can think of no film in the Marvel roster that feels more like a waste of time. The villain is underdeveloped, none of the characters arcs feel fleshed out, and it has little to no impact on any future films. This one, you can skip. But now we come to the newest entry, and let me tell you, this film makes me wish that Taika Waititi had directed all three films and not just this one.
The first thing that strikes me about this film is the colour. The costume and visual design are much less restrained than in the previous films and I for one am relieved. The tone of the Thor films has always been silly. When you have a story about mythical Gods who join a superhero team, you need to keep your tongue firmly in your cheek, but the previous two films toned down the costumes, making it seem more like a generic fantasy film. Ragnarok embraces the ridiculousness in the series and runs with it. Want a white armoured Valkyrie with face paint and a dragon tooth sword? You got it. Want the hulk to be wearing gladiator armour made from scrap? You got it! Want Hela to wear a giant elk style headdress? You get the picture. The costume department clearly had a lot of fun, and the array of colours and styles is a visual feast.
The story has massively improved on the previous films too. This time around, Thor seems to have a proper story arc, and thanks to Waititi’s direction he is allowed to be funny. Chris Hemsworth has fantastic comic timing and it is a pleasure to see him finally apply this to Thor. Not that the character has changed, rather his exposure to earth has made him less uptight and naïve. Clearly allowing the cast to improvise much more has helped enormously. Each major character has a journey, but this is Thor’s story, and he finally feels like he has the focus. The removal of his hammer forces him to grow without it, and the destruction of Asgard feels like breath of fresh air, getting rid of all the stodgy tradition of the other films. It was also a very bold narrative decision, almost like killing off a character. This will force change in the MCU, which is always a good thing. The worst part of the MCU is when the films start to stagnate. The tone is also consistently funny, in fact often when a serious moment rears its head, the moment is interrupted. The best example of this is late in the film, when Bruce Banner prepares to change into the hulk. The moment is set up to be similar to a scene in the avengers when Banner transforms just in time to punch a huge monster. However in this film, he jumps out of a ship, and splats on the rainbow bridge. It takes a few moments before he actually transforms, but the way in which this dramatic moment is deflated is side-splitting.
The actors give brilliant performances, particularly Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, a slave owner who doesn’t like using the word slave. His performance reminds me strongly of Bill Lumbergh from Office Space oddly enough. Hemsworth is the best he’s ever been as Thor this time round, and Loki played by Tom Hiddleston is entertainingly indignant. Cate Blanchett as Hela is suitably intimidating, although not much is done with her character considering she is the elder sister of Thor. Tessa Thompson is great as Valkyrie, showing a tough exterior and hurt, vulnerable inner. Her drunken introduction is incredibly funny, and yet her badass moments are some of the highlights of the film, as she fights with no extra powers, just great skill. Two of the best characters are the Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo, and Korg the rock monster played by Waititi himself. Hulk finally has dialogue, and it is great to get his perspective. He is selfish and angry, sure, but then he has reason to be. After being hounded and hated on Earth he finally finds a place to accepted and he loves being champion. You can hardly blame him for not wanting to leave. Ruffalo does a great job performing the motion capture, and an equally great job performing a very confused Bruce Banner. But the best character is the softly spoken rock creature Korg, who is a standout character with some of the best lines. Waititi demonstrates once again how good he is at playing characters against their stereotypes. In What We Do in the Shadows he was a kind-hearted OCD vampire, and in this he is a polite and calm revolutionary.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the things I love about this film, the dialogue, the inversions of previous scenes from the avengers, such as when the hulk smashes Thor into the ground and Loki shouts out “You see how it feels?”. However I’m very conscious that this is turning into quite a long review, so I’m going to finish by saying that Thor Ragnarok is the most fun I’ve had in a Marvel movie in several years, and I hope that Marvel let Waititi direct a tonne more Thor films, because I will be the first to buy a ticket for each one.