Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is back and he’s got quite a lot going on. His adopted brother (Tom Hiddleston) is on the throne of Asgard pretending to be his dad, his dad is exiled somewhere, and now the Hela the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) has made her way back to Asgard looking to cause some trouble. Thor ends getting himself thrown out of Asgard, this is a very exile-heavy film, and ends up in the fighting pits on Sakaar where he serves at the pleasure of The Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum). Thankfully, Thor does run into a friend from work.
The Thor films have been quite hit and miss. The first film is a lot of fun and gives a really good introduction to the character, the follow up (Thor: The Dark World) does have its moment but it’s really nowhere near as much fun. Marvel actually have quite a good track record with the third film in a trilogy. Iron Man 3 is great, Captain America: Civil War is tremendous fun (although not quite as good as Winter Soldier, the high watermark of Marvel movies) and so can Thor carry on the trend? I have to say that I think that Thor: Ragnarok is the most enjoyable film in the Thor trilogy, and also one of the most fun films Marvel has produced to date.
The Guardians of the Galaxy was a bit of a tipping point for Marvel, this was the film where they started to really deviate from the superhero template and embraced the more fantastical side of the source material. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 might have tried to continue that trend but it’s really Thor: Ragnarok that has benefited the most – this is probably the biggest deviation from the normal Marvel template to date.
One of the biggest driving factors in the change in tone is the appointment of director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople). Normally when you go to see a Marvel film you know that you are going to get a decent action film with some funny moments, but in the hands of Waititi things are definitely reversed as Thor: Ragnarok is overtly a comedy that just happens to have some action scenes thrown in there. It doesn’t stop there either, this is not just a funny film it is absolutely bonkers in places. The introduction to The Grand Master, is absurd but in a good way. I must admit I didn’t imagine I’d ever hear Pure Imagination, from Charlie and the Chocolate factory, in a Marvel movie. There is no doubting that this is the funniest Marvel movie to date, but also one of the most consistently funny comedies of the year. That’s not to say that the action suffers, in fact the humour often helps to bring out some of the action scenes.
Chris Hemsworth seems to have really grown into the role of Thor and looks like he’s having a lot of fun this time around. Gone is the stilted ‘Shakespeare in the park’ style delivery, and instead we’ve got a much more relaxed and confident performance. It’s kind galling that on top of everything else it turns out Hemsworth is actually a really good comic actor as well. There are some great gags and callbacks to earlier films (the moment proceeding ‘damn it Stark’ being a personal favourite). The decision to pair Thor up with Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is inspired, they work really well together and I kind of wished that this had taken more of focus of the film. In fact I’d have happily sacrificed the entire Hela plot just for more Hulk/Thor adventures in space. Cate Blanchett is almost unrecognisable as Hela, and while she does a good job she does struggle to transcend the typical Marvel villain who wants to destroy everything just because they can.
I think where the film might suffer a touch is that the focus on comedy and action means that some of the emotional beats don’t land quite as well as they should. There are some notable changes to the Marvel landscape and they don’t really feel like they get the weight that they deserve. I’m not quite sure how it would have been possible to juggle the comedy, action and emotion. All that being said I am happy with the compromise, if nothing else it means we get to see something different.
I think I was always going to love Thor: Ragnarok, I’m condemned to love pretty much every Marvel film, but I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed it. Marvel took a huge gamble on Waititi, despite him producing some great films they’re not typical Marvel fare. It really paid off, and in a year so heavily dominated by very good superhero movies (Logan, Guardian of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman) I think it’s high praise to say that Thor: Ragnarok is up with the best of them.