Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taika Waititi, Rachel House, Clancy Brown, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Sam Neill, Luke Hemsworth, Matt Damon, Shari Sebbens.
The 17th feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the third film in the Thor series is lighter in tone and lots of fun. For those who have grown a little tired on the usual formula and destructive set pieces of Marvel this will be a refreshing change. This may suggest that there is a change in direction for Marvel. The subversive humour that permeates Thor: Ragnarok is probably due to the influence of New Zealand director Taika Waititi, who brings to the material the same deadpan sense of humour that he deployed so effectively in last year’s surprise box office hit, the crowd pleasing Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Marvel have often taken chances on choosing the directors for their big budget special effects driven movies, and risks have paid off with huge dividends with hits like Guardians Of The Galaxy, which was helmed by James Gunn, a filmmaker who cut his teeth on low budget horror films.
Thor: Ragnarok begins two years after the events of Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Thor returns home to Asgard to find that his mischievous stepbrother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has banished his father to a nursing home on Earth and usurped the throne. With the death of Odin (Anthony Hopkins farewelling the character he has played in the two previous Thor films) Thor’s exiled evil sister Hela (played by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, returns to Asgard intent on vengeance and seeking to take her place as the rightful ruler of the kingdom. Blanchett is almost unrecognisable here, but she is clearly having fun as she chews the scenery with relish, and she exudes a scorching sexuality as well.
Meanwhile Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been taken prisoner on the planet of Sakaar, a junkyard of a place ruled over by the despotic Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, clearly having a lot of fun). He holds a series of gladiatorial contests in which warriors from all over the galaxy are forced to fight his unbeaten champion, who turns out to be the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, whose performance is largely delivered via the wonders of motion capture technology). Thor firstly must beat Hulk in the arena and then somehow escape from the planet, return to Asgard and liberate its people from the evil clutches of Hela and prevent the destructive apocalyptic battle that will destroy his home.
The film has been written by a trio of scriptwriters who are all veterans of the Marvel family. Eric Pearson (the tv series Agent Carter), Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost (the animated series Iron Man: Armoured Adventures, etc) bring an irreverent tone to this third Thor outing and there is plenty of humour, lots of clever in-jokes and self-referential gags that work without undermining the central plot. And there are a couple of surprise cameos early in the film.
Hemsworth relishes the role of Thor here, bringing a cheeky, self-effacing humour and laid-back charm to the character, playing him more as a clueless himbo type. And his impressive pecs get a serious work out here. He also develops a wonderful odd couple dynamic with Ruffalo, who brings a more complex and sensitive take on the volatile green giant.
Tom Hiddleston reprises his role as the untrustworthy half-brother Loki, and brings a mischievous quality to the role this time, making him more of a complex character. Karl Urban brings a gruff quality to his role as Skurge, an Asgard warrior who becomes Hela’s chief executioner. The ubiquitous Idris Elba reprises his role as Heimdall, Asgard’s gatekeeper. Tessa Thompson (from Creed, etc) is strong as the warrior goddess Valkyrie, and she brings a feisty and hard-bitten quality to her performance. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a cheeky cameo as the time changing Doctor Strange and engages in some humorous byplay with Thor and Loki. Director Waititi himself brings droll humour to his role as a rock monster creature named Korg, another character realised via motion capture technology.
The film was largely shot at the Queensland studios of Village Roadshow. There is some impressive production design from Dan Hennah and Raj Vincent with some large-scale sets. Unintimidated by the scale of the production, Waititi apparently encouraged a lot of adlibbing on the set which adds to the looseness of the playful dialogue. But he still delivers the spectacle. As with most Marvel films, the film is heavily reliant on CGI and special effects. Here the film overdoses on CGI at times, with fiery demons, a giant wolf, a zombie army, and some striking visuals. Led Zeppelin’s driving Immigrant Song adds energy during two key battle sequences.
Thor: Ragnarok is a vast improvement on the previous film in the franchise Thor: The Dark World and it takes the character in a different direction while remaining faithful to the mythology of the series.