Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok might have an unbalanced plot and way too many characters sharing the screen, but that hardly matters as excellent performances and a hilarious script make this one of the best Marvel films in a while.

The proudly Kiwi Taika Waititi, director and sometimes co-writer and co-star of Eagle Vs. Shark, Boy, What We Do In The Shadows and the NZ-box-office-biggie Hunt For The Wilderpeople, seemed an unlikely choice as director of this, the third Marvel Thor epic. It’s exactly the kind of gargantuan, surely soulless production that his previous pics most definitely are not.

However, Taika brings the whole somewhat sprawling and Queensland-shot thing together, coaxes delightful work from all the stars, and surprisingly plays up the anything-goes, apparently at times improvisational comedy of it all, which is a relief, given that Thor is really one of the silliest of all silly superheroes. And his inter-dimensional home of Asgard is even sillier, being equal parts Olympus, Emerald City, Narnia, Middle Earth and ‘70s prog-rock album cover.

A rather episodic first act has Chris Hemsworth’s buffer-than-buff Thor battling the Lucifer-like Surtur (voiced by genre fave Clancy Brown) and his cool dragon as we hear Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, nipping back to Asgard to tangle with still-untrustworthy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), taking in an apparent final bow from Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and being bemused by a cameo by another Marvel sort (you can probably guess who). Then it’s time for the first appearance of Hela, goddess of death, and she’s played with great glee by Cate Blanchett, who alternates between a sneering emo look and a sort of S+M get-up with a head-dress covered in most impractical fake antlers.

Thor then winds up in another realm lorded over by the Grandmaster, and he’s, of course, portrayed by Jeff Goldblum, who’s a serious hoot as he swans about all the gaudy, ’80s-coloured backdrops as Mark (Devo) Mothersbaugh’s soundtrack starts turning into a synth-ish computer game. You just know that film fanboy Taika didn’t bother casting anyone else other than Goldblum, and Jeff is certainly in his element pitting Thor against ‘The Incredible Hulk’ in gladiatorial combat.

There are probably too many characters here, although they’re all pretty damn good, including Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, Karl Urban as turncoat Skurge and, eventually, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, who’s hilariously bewildered amid jokes about which is the best Avenger. It’s also, perhaps, a little lop-sided plot-wise, meaning that there’s so much going on in the land of the Grandmaster that we don’t see enough of Cate’s Hela as she brings down Ragnarok, a Norse and Asgardian apocalypse, and obviously borne out of her vengeful need to pay back her brothers big-time. Sibling rivalry indeed!

That said, this is so gloriously funny that all that hardly matters, and it amply demonstrates that (it must be said!) these Marvel sagas are insurmountably better than the relentlessly po-faced, self-important, chaotic and cruel DC movies.

Finally, there are the expected final sequences and stingers during and after the end credits, as any true Marvel fan knows, so anyone who leaps out of their seats and runs out of the cinema to validate their parking or get home in time to catch The Bachelorette deserves a good hammering.

Rated M. Thor: Ragnarok is in cinemas now.

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