Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok ★★★½

Thor has long been the one character the Marvel Movie Universe has struggled with. He's a Norse God who is a hot-head and has to learn important lessons at the cost of family and loved ones; but he's also a bit of an egotistical dolt who (literally and metaphorically) looks down on all humans in Midgard.

So in working out how to redress the many, many flaws of Thor: The Dark World (in particular), Marvel boss Kevin Feige and his crew of top notch producers made a bold decision: Give the new Thor film to a quirky, comedy director out of New Zealand named Taika Waititi.

And what do you know, it turned out to be a pretty damn good decision.

The story is typical Marvel: Big bad comes to destroy everything, Hero loses about the same (his family, his people, his hammer, and his entitlement), Hero fights back (with the aid of a bunch of friends, some familiar, some new), and a climatic battle ensues. Some of the criticisms of Marvel remain relevant here - Hella as the villain is extremely one note, even if Cate Blanchett does make her best of limited opportunities, and the film is overly long, especially through its bloated second act which tends toward being too fan servicey. But many of the criticisms do not.

For one, Jeff Goldblum is the perfect choice to play the secondary, but far more memorable villain, The Grandmaster. For two, there are some real game changing events going on within this film, at least for the Asgardians. For three, Iron Man does not appear and attempt to dominate proceedings with his natural charm and rapier wit. This is one Marvel film that stands solidly on its own two feet without having to blow the budget by another $10 mill to get Robert Downey Jnr to appear for two weeks worth of shoots.

Chris Hemsworth gets to let go of some of Thor's narcissistic pathos and instead engage the comedy chops which were best on display in last year's Ghostbusters reboot. The Hulk talks his way through this one (which is a bit weird given what's come before, but okay), allowing for the two of them to (sometimes literally) bounce off each other well. And then there is the introduction of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who takes a long time to do anything other to drunkenly swagger through scenes, but when she finally accepts her role in the new troop of heroes, she brings some fantastic moves and impressive feats with her. But let's not forget about the little character who almost steals the show: Taika Waititi himself voicing and providing the mo-capture for Korg. Never has a bunch of rocks been more entertaining on screen. He gets some hilarious lines and has more screen time than you might imagine upon meeting him.

The real star here, though, is the director himself. Aside from some padding in the second act largely brought about by an uneven back and forth between the two major storylines, and a fairly weak flying ship chase that involves characters leaping ridiculously (even for a superhero movie) from one moving vehicle to another, Waititi has injected a much needed sense of fun back into this world. Not all of the jokes land, but more do then don't, and there wasn't a five minute stretch of Ragnarok in which the audience wasn't chuckling or laughing out loud.

He also nails the visual style of the film, with some of the shots looking like they're straight from the cover of a '70s hard rock album. Speaking of, his musical choices were inspired, with Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song being used TWICE to perfection. Then add in that the much hyped arena fight between Thor and The Hulk is impressively constructed before being blown out of the water by a fantastic final battle back in Asgard, and the conclusion is this is a director to be excited by...

In summary, Taika Waititi is a comedy genius with fantastic visual flair and Marvel (largely) let him off the leash here, resulting in Thor: Ragnarok easily being the lightest and most fun Marvel film since Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, it might even be "funner".

3.5 "Strongest Avengers" for Thor: Ragnarok.

Is discussed in more detail on Episode 135 of The Countdown: Movie and TV Reviews podcast.

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