The Third Thor Film Soars. Get Ready to Ragna-Rock!!!
DIRECTED BY TAIKA WAITITI/2017
JIM TUDOR: The God of Thunder is back, and apparently he’s been to comedy school. Opening with Thor narrating his present precarious situation (imprisoned in a cage by an angry giant balrog monster), the first minutes of this, the third film in the series, are as glaringly out of established character as they are comedically amusing. One imagines that the combination of star Chris Hemsworth’s show-stealing funny turn in the Ghostbusters remake coupled with the major success and adoration of space-comedy Guardians of the Galaxy moved Marvel top brass to rethink their stoic Nordic hero.
It’s no matter, really. Filmmaker Taika Waititi, a curiously bold directorial choice for whom Marvel to hand the keys to, quickly settles into a fine rhythm of action/adventure once he establishes that this outing will in fact be a lighter dose of action/adventure. With color, color everywhere, and visually bright even with 3D glasses on, we’ve clearly left The Dark World (the least of all Marvel movies) in the distant rearview mirror of this intergalactic road trip.
Did we mention that it’s the end of the world? No? For those not up on their legendary Nordic minutia, that’s what the verbally challenging title of the film is referring to: The Asgardian apocalypse. An extremely powerful evil woman, Hela, has at long last made her way back to Thor’s home world, and she’s brought Ragnarok with her! Hela, played with full-on gusto by the non-aging Cate Blanchett, shows up in crazy war-antlers, scary eye makeup, and a green skintight leotard. In short, she’s impossible to ignore, and hela frightening. With Asgard’s ruler, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) out languishing by the sea in a beige sport coat, the new villainess has no trouble immediately taking over the vacated throne of the kingdom.
But wait – despite all that, the real villain of the piece is… Jeff Goldblum??
ERIK YATES: I for one was pumped about this new incarnation of Thor due to the fact that Taika Waititi was directing. After What We Do In the Shadows, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, I was hoping that he’d bring his unique humor to this series, and Thor: Ragnarok does not disappoint. While it was out of character compared to the first two films, I believe that this film, with its humor and Stranger Things meets Flash Gordon 80’s-inspired soundtrack from Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, have helped to establish a Thor that will stand out in this Marvel Universe. The last two Thor films, while fine, weren’t very memorable. With new characters like Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Black Panther, showing up since the last Thor solo outing, and with more to come, Thor seemed to be blending into the background a bit, especially after he and the Hulk sat out the massive Captain America: Civil War.
With Ragnarok, Thor ditches his relationship with Jane (Natalie Portman in the previous films), picks back up with his complicated relationship with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), gives Idris Elba’s Heimdall a much bigger role, and adds in a new female character with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). The film’s plot about how to prevent Ragnarok and Hela (which I won’t spoil here) seems to be the map Waititi used in their approach to this third Thor film before it faced its own end of days with the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War ready to lower the curtain on Marvel’s “Phase Three”.
The highlights are of course the banter between Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and as you mentioned the true villain, Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster who is running a form of gladiator games to exert control over his city by keeping the people pacified with entertainment. He is, of course, entertaining all by himself, as Goldblum plays this role completely over-the-top in a way that only he can get away with. There are other great moments involving a stage play that serves as Asgard’s tribute to Loki, as well as Waititi’s own role as Korg. If you have seen Waititi’s previous films, you can have fun spotting all of the actors he has worked with in other projects as they pop up here. Simply put, I actually had a lot of fun watching Thor in a way that I never could in the previous Thor films, and I applaud Marvel for letting Taika Waititi bring his unique vision to a pretty established character and storyline and take it in a completely new and fresh direction.
JIM TUDOR: Waititi is a truly inspired choice to make a movie like this, completely unexpected, honestly. I’m with you, Erik, on the observation that Thor, of all characters, was indeed seeming a little tapped out lately. This despite the fact that we really haven’t seen much of him in a while. This movie is an extreme shot of adrenaline; something different, yet not out of step with the Grander Scheme it is a part of. (The whole “Phase Three” thing.)
Waititi’s appointment is the latest in Marvel Studio’s string of inspired directorial hires, putting the Australian up-and-comer in the pool with Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, James Gunn, Scott Derrickson, and the Russo brothers – all of whom have managed to maintain a respectable semblance of personal artistic style while also being the necessary team players in service of the unprecedented franchise machine. While one hopes that they resist becoming completely absorbed by their success in the Marvel sandbox, it’s great to see what they do there.
Bottom line, this is a wonderfully spirited movie. A grand, Jack Kirby-esque scope and vibrance, with tons of action. (Maybe too much at times.) But with it’s impactful yet fun rhythmic editing to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” (carrying over from the film’s great trailer. Kudos to whoever scored that licensing!), Ragnarok emerges as the closest thing to an Edgar Wright Marvel movie that we’re likely to ever likely to get. Bright, alive, and bit unpredictable, Ragnarok is the Marvel film I’d most like to hang out with. At least for a while. Apparently a Norse god whose boned up on his sense of humor isn’t such a far-fetched thing after all.