Ridiculously entertaining addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Taika Waititi
Employing Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song' as his rousing anthem, cult Kiwi director Taika Waititi boldly brings his own voice to a monolithic media franchise; taking the helm of the third in the Thor series, he places a firm focus on fun. A Marvel film with a sense of humour is nothing new, but the director of What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople tips the balance in favour of out-and-out comedy – and far from the conventional kind – as the indie filmmaker's idiosyncrasies survive the transfer to the big leagues.
Set two years after the events of Age of Ultron, Ragnarok reunites Thor with his duplicitous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). The pair join forces to battle Hela, Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) – who, after being restored to her full potency, returns to claim the throne of Asgard, with dastardly plans for its future. In a digression that turns out to be far more entertaining, Thor and Loki find themselves trapped on Sakaar, a junk planet presided over by the Grandmaster (a marvellously bratty, flamboyantly attired Jeff Goldblum). Entered unwillingly into gladiatorial tournament the Contest of Champions, Thor is reunited with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
While Idris Elba's Heimdall herds a group of over and under-emoting extras around Asgard in an effort to shelter these ordinary folk from Hela's wrath, Blanchett – paired with Karl Urban's morally ambivalent Skurge – camps it up at the palace. Smokey of eye, and vengeful of nature, this Medusa-alike spits her lines and slays armies solo. Perhaps it's a bit panto for the great Blanchett but she gives producers their money's worth. Chris Hemsworth, meanwhile, delivers his most confident and comedic performance to date. With the character increasingly vain, petty and clumsy, the actor is emboldened by the effervescent material, sending himself up with aplomb and bouncing brilliantly off Ruffalo.
The now-familiar gargantuan spectacle is delivered with enough razzamatazz and there are cameos aplenty, but it's the low-key moments and retro overhaul that make this pop. Tron, Masters of the Universe and Flash Gordon are apparent reference points; add in the synth-heavy score and the influence of the 80s is all over the shop. The scrappiness of Sakaar – part run-down arcade, part trash heap – is a welcome counter to the sterility of Asgard. Rubbish British accents are everywhere (including from bad-ass newbie Tessa Thompson) yet it all contributes to the hodgepodge charm. And the threat of the titular Ragnarok – the end of Asgardian civilisation – might hang over proceedings, but narrative pomposity is pricked at every turn.
Although the screenplay is credited to Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, the vast majority of the dialogue was reportedly improvised, peppering proceedings with a loose, offbeat flavour consistent with the director's previous work. Waititi also sneakily steals the show with his motion-capture performance as rock monster Korg, whose nervous, adolescent ramblings are pure joy.
Askew, irreverent and wonderfully idiotic, if the Thor films have been a bit 'meh' thus far, by allowing Waititi room to do his genuinely eccentric thing, the 17th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe might just be its best.
General release from Tue 24 Oct.