Directed by Taika Waititi
Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, & Christopher Yost
Cool people don’t make interesting movie heroes and villains; those who have their shit together just aren’t that fun to watch onscreen. This trait is what can make Superman seem so dull and Indiana Jones feel so alive. There is something about a flawed character that we can all relate to, and with his latest picture, Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi goes out of his way to show us how flawed these heroes are, and the film is better off for it.
When Ragnarok begins, we’re treated to a monologue by Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who explains where he’s been since we last saw him in Avengers: Age of Ultron. His mission to track down the Infinity Gems was interrupted by recurring visions of Ragnarok — Norse mythology’s version of the apocalypse. Thor’s quest leads him back to his homeworld of Asgard, where his evil brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is impersonating their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who Loki banished to Earth.
Odin’s absence creates an opportunity for Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, to return to Asgard. Hela is Odin’s first-born child, and she draws her strength from Asgard, making her more powerful than Thor and Loki. Upon their first encounter, Hela destroys Thor’s mythical hammer, Mjolnir, and in a failed attempt to escape back to Asgard, Thor ends up stranded on a junk-collecting planet at the far end of the cosmos. Stranded without his legendary weapon and forced into a fight-to-the-death tournament, Thor must survive as a gladiator long enough to make allies who can help him return to Asgard and stop Hela.
The live-action Thor character has evolved since he made his MCU debut, and the writers have pivoted away from depicting him as the arrogant warrior/fish out of water. The days of mining humour from placing Thor, a Shakespearean archetype, into modern settings are long gone. Waititi’s version of the character is more of a “bro” who isn’t the smooth operator he thinks he is. Thor clearly possesses the physical tools to be a stud, but he’s usually thwarted by his own bumbling. Now Thor is the sort of guy who tries to seduce a woman by running his hand through her hair, only to get his rings tangled up in the curly locks. Hemsworth’s deft comedic timing earns plenty of laughs, but his perfect mashup of self-deprecating bravado makes the character pop. He’s officially no longer the least interesting Avenger.
Ragnarok is loaded with supporting characters who could carry their own films. Previous Avengers movies gave us generous helpings of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and short bursts of Hulk, but Ragnarok flips that trend, serving up a Hulk that hasn’t turned back into Banner in two years. This version of Hulk is practically a chatterbox, has a stronger personality, and busts out his share of funny quips. Ruffalo does great work as both Banner and the Hulk, and Ragnarok leaves me yearning for Marvel and Universal to collaborate on a feature-length Hulk movie.
We’re introduced to a charming character named Korg (Taika Waititi), who looks like The Fantastic Four’s Thing, and he practically steals the movie. He delivers many of the films funniest jokes, and very much feels like a Taika Waititi creation. As to be expected, Jeff Goldblum delivers peak-Goldblum as a douchey, turn-table spinning overlord named Grandmaster. Blanchette is fun but shallow as the horn-headed villainess, Hela. She looks bad ass, unloads a few solid quips, and kicks all kinds of ass. Despite all the mugging for the camera, she is the coolest character in the movie — and you know how I feel about cool. I would enjoy seeing her return to the MCU, but written with more depth.
Aside from Korg, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is Ragnarok‘s breakout character. She’s a tough-as-nails former warrior who runs from her past by bounty hunting for Grandmaster and drinking herself into oblivion — usually simultaneously. She can out-drink Don Draper, kick The Rock’s ass in a street fight, and deliver a cutting one-liner with the best of them. It looks like we’ll see plenty more of her in upcoming Marvel movies, and don’t be surprised if she becomes a popular new choice for cos-players.
Ragnarok is visually dazzling, but doesn’t pop like Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel’s flat color palette buffs out some of the films lustre, but it remains stylistically extravagant. The frames are packed with strange alien architecture, weird weapons, and bizarre costumes; it’s a film you can return to just to pour over all the exotic details. While I would rank Ragnarok behind GOTG visually, there are individual shots of ocular splendour that top Guardians, and Waititi wants you to know it. These moments slow down time to a crawl, and allow us to soak up every sumptuous detail. One sequence depicts the battle of the Valkyries, and has the look of a heavy metal album cover painted onto a velvet canvas while bathed in the warm glow of Christmas lights.
I’m only scratching the surface of everything Ragnarok has to offer. I could dive into cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe’s striking compositions and the effective implementation of 3D, I could go on about the integration of African American, Asian, and M?ori actors into Thor’s Norse mythology, and if I wanted, I could ramble on about the anti-colonial subtext that courses through the story, but this review has run on long enough.
Ragnarok is a middle-finger to those who insist that every entry into the MCU feels the same. More importantly, it proves Marvel Studios’ system doesn’t muzzle filmmakers with distinct voices. Guardians of the Galaxy feels like a James Gunn movie, Thor: Ragnarok feels distinctly Waititi, and I’m willing to bet Black Panther will have Ryan Coogler’s signature all over it. Just like the comics these films are based on, Marvel movies can tell any story that we can imagine, and these films will only improve by giving a diverse group of filmmakers room to let their creative vision flourish, and their characters stumble.