27 October 2017

Thor: Ragnarok review

Up until now, has anyone really cared about the Thor films all that much? Even as a pretty big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they're two of the movies I'm least likely to revisit - not because they're outright bad (they aren't), but because they're rarely anything more or less than just purely functional, coming across as uninspired and uninspiring in a way that makes them stick out like a sore thumb when compared to the rest of this franchise. When Marvel Studios first announced the slate of films that would make up Phase 3 of the MCU, no-one seemed particularly interested in whatever the fairly blandly titled Thor: Ragnarok would be, leaving the studio with just pressing one question: how do you solve a problem like the Thor films?

The answer, as it turns out, is to bring What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople director Taika Waititi on board. With Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi has taken all that didn't work about the previous films (so, almost everything other than the relationship between Thor and Loki) and thrown it straight in the garbage, clearing the table for him to completely reinvent the franchise and making a damn good movie in the process.

We rejoin the titular God of Thunder two years after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which time he has been travelling around the universe in an attempt to learn as much about the Infinity Stones as possible. After finding out that it is Loki, not Odin, who sits on the throne of Asgard following the events of Thor: The Dark World, Thor confronts his brother and travels with him to Earth in order to find Odin and return him to the throne - but ends up accidentally gets himself stranded on the junk planet Sakaar in the process, leaving Asgard vulnerable to attack from Hela, the Goddess of Death.

Really though, the plot is only ever of so much importance in Thor: Ragnarok, which is both the films greatest strength and its biggest weakness. On the one hand, by pushing the plot to the background for much of its running time, Waititi is able to more cleanly focus on the bits of the film he's actually interested in, such as the characters and their interactions with one another. On the other, it also means that the drama of Thor: Ragnarok is only ever serviceable at best - good enough if you're digging what the rest of the film has to offer, but not if you're not. There's a balancing act going on here that I don't think Waititi quite nails, meaning that how much you enjoy Thor: Ragnarok is ultimately going to depend far more on if you like what Waititi is doing with the characters and the world than how good the actual story is.

Fortunately, I really enjoyed what Waititi is doing here, and I think most people will too. While Thor: Ragnarok undoubtedly lacks the emotional resonance of his previous films (most likely a by-product of this being the first of his movies that he hasn't also written), his unique voice still manages to shine through thanks to the amount of creative freedom he's clearly been given around the studio-mandated story beats. It's a genuinely laugh out loud hilarious movie thanks to the irreverent, naturalistic, quasi-improvisational sense of humour that made Waititi a director worth keeping an eye on in the first place, and that imbues the film with the kind of energy and originality that the other Thor films have sorely lacked. Take Korg for example, the passive and unassuming rock monster that Waititi himself voices - he perfectly exemplifies the idiosyncratic sensibilities of Thor: Ragnarok, as well as being so funny that even if Waititi doesn't end up directing any more films for Marvel Studios (and I really, really hope he does, especially if he has a greater hand in the script next time), I'm praying he at least agrees to reprise the role in future.

And Korg is far from the only character worth mentioning. Everyone from Jeff Goldblum's deeply odd Grandmaster to Tessa Thompson's hard-ass Valkyrie to returning characters like Loki and Bruce Banner get their moments to shine - but ultimately, it's Thor himself that I most enjoyed here, which I certainly didn't expect going in. While it's taken far too long, I'm thrilled to see that someone has finally noticed what Marvel Studios have in Chris Hemsworth - not a traditional, brooding leading man, but a great comedic character actor with a ton of heart, and Waititi knows exactly how to make the most of him. This is quite easily the most likeable and interesting that the God of Thunder has ever been, to the point where any complaints one could have about a small but still perceptible shift in personality aren't really worth raising - yes, Thor seems at least somewhat different to the person he was when we last saw him, but if that's the cost of these films being led by a funny, imperfect, fascinating and relatable character instead of the occasionally interesting but mostly wooden protagonist of the previous films, it's a cost I'm more than willing to pay.

Are there criticisms to be made of Thor: Ragnarok? Of course there are - it's not going to persuade anyone that Marvel Studios has managed to fix the oft-talked about "villian problem", with both Cate Blanchett's Hela and Karl Urban's Skurge being victims of Waititi's aforementioned lack of interest in the actual plot of the movie, and frustratingly, the CGI seems cheaper here than it did five years ago in Avengers Assemble, which naturally takes you out of the moment from time to time. More subtly, the aforementioned friction between the plot and the bits that Waititi actually cares about means it ends up being more a Waititi-flavoured Marvel Studios film than a Marvel Studios-flavoured Watiti film - but in fairness, I think at this point we just need to accept that as being the trade-off for the shared universe deal and move on, especially when it can still result in movies as enjoyable as this.

And ultimately, that's exactly what Thor: Ragnarok is - enjoyable, rarely more and rarely less and quite possibly to a fault if you're expecting differently or don't dig Waititi's sense of humour. But as someone who was laughing throughout, I found Thor: Ragnarok to be amongst the better Marvel Studios films released in recent years, and while it probably isn't going to end up being one of my very favourite MCU movies, it certainly isn't too far outside the top 5 either. Between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and now Thor: Ragnarok, this has been the best year for Marvel Studios since 2014 - here's hoping to the same kind of success in 2018 too.

4 stars

No comments :

Post a Comment