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Film review: Thor - Ragnarok

Film

What happens when you inject Taika Waititi’s quirky humour and eccentric visual aesthetic into the Marvel Cinematic Universe? You get the unlikely result of the third Thor film being hands-down the best of the trilogy.

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The two previous Thor films (Thor and Thor: The Dark World) have worn the unfortunate mantle of being the least satisfying of the overarching Marvel Avengers storyline.

Enter Waititi, New Zealand’s superstar director of Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows fame. As a fan of this director since his 2007 film Eagle vs Shark and an MCU devotee, I had very high hopes for this film and happily I was far from disappointed.

From the opening scene, with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) being held captive by the fire demon Surtur in his underworld lair, the dialogue is hilarious.  Gone is Thor’s quaint Asgardian turn of phrase and reliance on “fish out of water” situational humour. Waititi and writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost have developed a script bursting with comedic potential and the entire cast has taken gleeful advantage.

Set four years after Thor: The Dark World and two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the film sees Thor return to Asgard to find his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the throne and his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) exiled to Midgard/Earth.

The death of Odin unexpectedly releases the goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), and sets in motion the coming of Ragnarök, the Asgardian version of the end of the world.

Flung into intergalactic space while battling Hela, Thor finds himself held captive on Sakaar, a planet that seems to act as the landfill of the cosmos. The planet is controlled by sleazy sensualist Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, in his element) and Thor ends up pitted in gladiatorial combat against his old ally, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), whom he must defeat in order to return to Asgard and halt the destruction of his home world.

Despite loving the mind-candy of a good superhero flick, I’m aware that they can take themselves a little too seriously. This cannot be said of Thor: Ragnarok. Waititi injects humour, colour and quirk into every aspect of this film, all the while delivering the action and spectacle that fans love about the genre.

Cameos abound, the highlight being Waititi himself in the hilarious role of warrior and failed revolutionary, Korg.

I’m also very pleased to report that the female characters are far from peripheral, a problem bedeviling many a superhero film. These women are significant, impressive and steal every scene in which they appear. Cate Blanchett makes a thoroughly sinister evil goddess and newcomer Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) is brilliant as a tough, hard-drinking Asgardian warrior turned bounty hunter.

The music perfectly matches the aesthetics with an idiosyncratic, synth-heavy score by Mark Mothersbaugh. Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” is put to powerful use in terms of both driving beat and lyrical meaning.  To say more would be a spoiler.

This film lays to rest the mystery of Thor and Hulk/Bruce Banner’s whereabouts since the Battle of Sokovia in the Avengers narrative, but if you are a specialist in Norse mythology I’d advise relaxing about the details and being ready for a rollicking storyline that plays fast and loose with Norse lore.

Thor: Ragnarok gives the genre a much-needed injection of humour and eccentric flair and I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that Taika Waititi has saved a superhero.

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