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Taika Waititi Gives Thor: Ragnarok a Dose of Fun

The Thor movies have never been one of Marvel’s highlights. Granted, the first Kenneth Branagh-directed film in 2011 was alright, but the second was pretty dreadful and diminished any interest in a follow-up. However Thor: Ragnarok, coming four years after the character’s last solo outing, chose New Zealander Taika Waititi, director of cult hits What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, to take the reigns for this instalment. As a result, Thor: Ragnarok is vastly different from either previous film, but in a really good way.
Returning to Asgard to find his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) masquerading as their father on the throne, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes him to Earth where Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is dying. His passing allows his secret first-born Hela (Cate Blanchett), with whom he’d conquered the Nine Realms, to escape her imprisonment. More powerful than Thor or Loki, she casts them off and begins a despotic rule of Asgard. Thor meanwhile winds up on another planet run by a being called the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), and there is forced to become a gladiator. Running into his old friend Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and an Asgardian warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), he strives to escape this world and stop Hela.
This movie is a huge departure from its predecessors most notably in the absence of Thor’s human crew on Earth. It drops Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, and Kat Dennings for a much more entertaining and colourful cast of characters. Thor has a more rounded personality in this film, being played with a lot more comedy than in any film up to this point. Yet he still retains that nobility and sense of responsibility he’s always had. Chris Hemsworth is very good and charismatic as this character, and Tom Hiddleston is refreshingly downplayed as Loki this time around. He’s still there for a lot of the movie and his chemistry with Hemsworth remains, but he doesn’t hog the limelight away from the films’ central villain the way he did last time. I also like this version of Loki: the schemer whom Thor doesn’t trust but still has to work with. It ties a lot better into his origins as the God of Mischief rather than an outright villain. That role here is Cate Blanchett’s, and she’s having a lot of fun with an equally entertaining Karl Urban by her side. Jeff Goldblum is naturally the best part of every scene he’s in, one of the most quirky tyrannical hedonists I’ve ever seen. It’s nice to see Ruffalo again as Hulk/Bruce Banner, and it makes sense to team up Thor and Hulk in this movie considering they were the only Avengers left out of Civil War. It also makes for an interesting pairing within the Avengers that hasn’t had a lot of screen-time before. Thompson is good, as is Idris Elba back as Heimdall. There’s also a comic relief alien played by Waititi himself and a minor appearance by another significant character in the Marvel universe; not to mention a few surprising cameos in a scene early on in the movie.
The subtitle for the movie comes from the end-days event in Norse mythology, which is being built to throughout as Asgard falls deeper under Hela’s sway. The way Ragnarok effects the story is tied into it ultimately being about Thor’s sense of duty. Here he truly comes into his own and feels like the God of Thunder, needed to save his people, and in doing so is forced to make some tough decisions. That kind of drama doesn’t prevent the movie from being really funny though. Waititi’s a comedian after all, and so there’s a lot of great humour, slapstick, clever jokes both specific to the MCU and general. Everything surrounding the Grandmaster’s world is played with some degree of comedy. There are times where it does get a little too much though, transitioning between these fun antics and Hela murdering a lot of people in Asgard. And they play a lot of the same kind of joke too where a seemingly dramatic dialogue, camera, or musical cue is interrupted by a gag. This is not Joss Whedon or James Gunn material.
But Thor: Ragnarok is still a very entertaining movie. The psychedelic visual aesthetic and action set-pieces are really exhilarating. And it proves there’s no better anthem to set an action scene to than Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. It goes without saying that this is the best of the Thor movies. It’s not all that special or different for the MCU and isn’t going to be one of their best films. But all it needed to be was really fun, and in that it completely delivered.

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