ON IN CINEMAS
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) starring Chris Hemsworth
The legendary Norse superheroes return
Thor: Ragnarok starts with a huge set piece as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) battles the satanic Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown) and his minions. He finally manages to defeat the beast and return to Asgard to as Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to lock his skull safely away in storage. However, it turns out that what appears to be Odin is, in fact, the eternally mischievous Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
The rather cross Thor demands that Loki takes him to the real Odin. With some help from Doctor Strange (a Benedict Cumberbatch cameo), they finally locate him - looking out over the sea from the coast of Norway. Odin is dying and warns that when he passes away their megalomaniacal sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) will appear. Sure enough, when he passes away Hela immediately pops up to claim her place of the throne of Asgard with the intent to start a new - and rather megalomaniacal - regime.
During their attempts to stop her she smashes Thor’s hammer and both end up being stranded on a planet called Sakaar, which is run by another despotic type known as The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). While Loki manages to worm his way into the ruler’s favour, Thor is captured by a former Asgardian named Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and forced by The Grandmaster to participate in a gladiatorial contest which he uses to placate the planet’s populace. He is pitted against a mysterious opponent who, according to fellow prisoner Korg (voiced by Taika Waititi) has never been defeated.
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Comedic talent from Down Under
New Zealand director Taika Waititi has made two of the most entertaining films of recent years: What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016). As a result, I was hoping that his contribution to what is becoming a rather overpopulated series of Marvel Comics Universe movies might be the breath of fresh air it really needs. After all, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, while not entirely unentertaining, felt somewhat flabby and lacking in a central drive. Thankfully, I’m glad to report that Thor: Ragnarok maintains the same cheeky and inventive sense of fun - along with the same charming, yet dry and black humour - that Waititi’s previous films had.
The action and special effects are largely fantastic (as they usually are with MCU movie). They feel a bit like a “best of compilation” of sequences from other films in the series, albeit in the best possible sense of the phrase. There’s some of that trippy and flippy Doctor Strange stuff going on during the early stages. There’s a are some outrageously over-the-top fight sequences with characters being hurled mind-boggling distances. The planet of Sakaar, meanwhile, is a colourfully vast location (a kind of kitschy personal Las Vegas for the ludicrously campy Grandmaster) that would comfortably find a place in a Guardians of the Galaxy movie - as would a later frantic space battle above its surface.
An emphasis on fun
While everything on the visual side of things is hunky dory, it’s the sense of fun and character interaction that’s the main thing. This is something that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 aimed for but only intermittently succeeded in. Thor: Ragnarok feels much tighter and seems to fly by a lot more quickly than that film despite the fact that the runtime (at 130 minutes) is only slightly less. One reason is that it maintains a better sense of plot momentum as it shifts back and forth between Hera’s occupation of Asgard and Thor/Loki’s adventures on Sakaar. However, there’s something more on-point and effortlessly effective about Waititi’s brand of wit that lifts it to another level.
Hemsworth and Hiddleston are fantastic together on screen. They have such a bouncy and brotherly chemistry that no moment of their eternal love-hate relationship feels like anything less than a hilarious pleasure. Cate Blanchett relishes playing her megalomaniacal villain, maintaining a considerable screen presence without ever overdoing it. Jeff Goldblum has fun as chirpy and smirking character who would seem to be incredibly affable until you witness his despotic actions. It’s a mix of character traits that, on paper, seems jarring - but Goldblum and director Waititi manage to make it work. Waititi himself almost steals the show by providing the voice action for the stone-skinned CGI alien Korg. Think one of those matey New Zealand types in the form of a hulking creature and you’ve nailed it.
Thor: Ragnarok isn’t perfect. As with some of the other MCU movies there are too many stars playing too many characters, some of which don’t make much impact. Tessa Thompson was great in Justin Simien’s Dear While People but here she just seems to be stuck in a one-note rut playing a gruff, tough female ass-kicker. The Hulk appears later on and while he’s great fun in his giant green form, when he’s in his Bruce Banner incarnation Mark Ruffalo just feels comes across as rather useless and faffing in the face of the colourful carnival of alien insanity. Karl Urban as Skurge and Idris Elba as Heimdall are given even less to do. What a waste of two fantastic actors!
You could also complain that the opening and closing sequences are a bit “meh”, involving huge showdowns with the kinds of glowing demons we seem to see in nearly every film of this ilk these days. The central thread involving Hela’s takeover of Asgard is also a rather standard “power-hungry” villain plot which has been done about a million times before. However, all of these complaints are, quite frankly, rather minor in comparison to the unadulterated riot of entertainment the whole package provides. I’d argue that it’s the best MCU entry since Guardians of the Galaxy - and that it certainly gives Logan a run for its money in the “superhero movie of 2017” stakes.
Runtime: 130 mins
Dir: Taika Waititi
Script: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, based on the Marvel comics
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taika Waititi (voice), Rachel House, Clancy Brown (voice)
Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?
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