Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok ★★★

Most definitely the funniest film thus far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Ragnarok has plenty of cracking jokes even if it offers almost nothing else worthwhile. It's fun and dumb, but a wasted opportunity.

The most instantly impressive thing about Thor: Ragnarok is the star-studded cast who all bring gusto to their fantastical, comedic characters. The main players (Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins) all commit to their comedic outbursts and generally perform well. Of particular note is Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster, in a scene-stealing performance that seems solely designed to showcase how weirdly charming the actor is. Two time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett is deliciously menacing as the main villain, making her one of the MCU's best villains (against limited competition, admittedly). Just a shame her entire arc seems like an afterthought. Probably the only disappointment is the usually capable Tessa Thompson who's somewhat lost amid the comedic material and uses an off-putting fake accent. The very expanded cast pushes a lot of Asgardians to the side (although Idris Elba gets a significant bump in screen time and plot importance) and Anthony Hopkins is let down by his very underwhelming final scene. Beyond Goldblum however, the most enjoyable character is most definitely Korg, a minor role played by director Taika Waititi who has by far the funniest lines in the film. Joining Waititi in the long list of actors with minor roles are Tadanobu Asano, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Stan Lee, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel House, Sam Neill, Luke Hemsworth, and Matt Damon. Seriously, this cast list is ridiculous.

However, despite the fact that at least 15 semi-recognisable actors appear in this film, the most intriguing part of Thor: Ragnarok is the directing credit: Taika Waititi. Unfortunately, despite Waititi's strong vision, the MCU has claimed yet another auteur scalp. Similar to others like Shane Black, Edgar Wright, Kenneth Branagh, and Joss Whedon, Waititi has produced some of his weakest work whilst working for Marvel (not his very worst though because he was directly involved in the dumpster fire that was the US Inbetweeners). Thor: Ragnarok certainly feels auteurist in some sense because it's among the MCU's most distinctive films, but what drags it down is its obligations to Marvel's house style. Waititi wants to make a comedy, but he's bogged down by action scenes that are indistinguishably bland, constant plotting to explain away how all the characters are different to previous movies, and a need to interconnect the universe. I'm happy Taika Waititi finally got one of his films to be seen by a wide audience, but it just feels like yet another example of the system crushing a visionary director. I will say this though, Thor: Ragnarok is easily the MCU film most easy to associate with one director's particular style.

Interestingly, Thor: Ragnarok cuts loose entirely with the previous two Thor movies. The humour and style massively deviates and all the characters and plot threads from previous entries are tied up within the first act. It's a shame to not get proper closure to those storylines (especially the Thor and Jane romance), but it's probably wise as the Thor series has always been one of the MCU's weakest assets. However, despite basically ignoring previous films, Thor: Ragnarok is one of the most heavily universe-referencing entries in the MCU. Key concepts from Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Doctor Strange play important parts in the narrative, and there's easter eggs from all over the movie series. There's also a fan-theory destroying reference to the Infinity Gauntlet.

Thor: Ragnarok may mostly be an enjoyable ride but it's also a complete mess. The plot is so dense and fast that the first act is just ridiculously nonsensical. Luckily, the film improves massively in the second act (basically the second Goldblum turns up). There's also other problems like a few unfunny jokes, some forced MCU callbacks, and constantly subpar action scenes. On a technical level, some of the CGI seems obvious (so many backgrounds feel too fake) and plenty of the framing and editing seems a little off. This may be to do with the large amount of improvisation, but that's still no excuse.

Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is an okay movie but one that fails to utilise the potential offered by the choice of director. Taika Waititi delivers on what he's known for (comedy), disappoints in areas he's previously nailed (drama), and completely flounders when faced with new stuff (action). It's not disappointing as an ending to the weakest trilogy thus far in the MCU, but it's a real shame that a change in approach to the Thor films didn't yield a change in quality.

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