What it's about:
Thor and Loki join forces with unexpected allies against a new foe that has arisen unexpectedly out of the ashes of tragedy; a foe who intends to fulfil the Ragnarok prophecy and bring ruin and destruction down on Asgard and the other realms of the multiverse: their sister and Odin's first-born, Hella.
What we thought:
By this point, it has become rather cliché to state that the latest Marvel movie is the quirkiest and funniest yet. After solidifying their formula with their so-called “First Wave” that culminated in The Avengers, Joss Whedon's excellent game-changer that made it clear just how much Marvel's “shared universe” works on the big screen, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn't so much abandoned its winning formula as it has stretched it and played with it to create increasingly quirky and creative superhero spectaculars.
From the joke-filled space opera of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies to the mind-bending mystical mayhem of Dr Strange to the latest Spider-man film finally doing true justice to Marvel's flagship character by effectively being a John Hughes movie with superpowers, the last half dozen (at least) Marvel films have managed the not-unimpressive feat of being both comfortably familiar and constantly surprising.
Thor: Ragnarok is arguably the greatest example of that particular balancing act yet. Working off a script by a trio of old hands at Marvel, Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost – the latter two of whom co-created X-23 and have worked together on a number of Marvel comics too – director Taika Waititi is possibly the most inspired and unexpected director to work on a Marvel film to date – and this from a company who have hired directors who were once almost entirely known for directing sitcoms, cult TV shows and schlocky b-movies.
Waititi has made a name for himself on extremely quirky, indie-comedies with genre leanings in his native New Zealand – What We Saw in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, specifically – and however much those films quickly became indie darlings and cult favourites, they were still under-seen, tiny-budgeted and supremely quirky little passion projects from the other end of the world.
It's true, Waititi's meteoric rise is not too dissimilar to that of fellow New-Zealander, Peter Jackson, who also made the jump from indie-filmmaker to superstar director when he took the reins on the Lord of the Rings movies but there is one crucial difference. While Jackson spent a good dozen-odd years slowly working his way up from squishy horror flicks and intimate dramas to more mainstream Hollywood pictures before being given the keys to what was then one of the biggest franchises in the world, Waititi has done the equivalent of jumping straight from Heavenly Creatures to Lord of the Rings in a matter of a few short months.
And yet, Marvel being Marvel, this seemingly insane gamble has worked brilliantly. While the film is grounded in a very straightforward baddie-tries-to-destroy-the-world-for-reasons plot and in the by now very well established MCU, Waititi has been given just enough leeway to bring his own stamp to one of Marvel's signature characters.
From its wonderfully anachronistic synth score to its garish, very Jack-Kirby-esque designs (funny, that), Thor: Ragnarok is a quirky delight on every level. It effortlessly combines Lee, Lieber and Kirby's hammy take on Norse mythology with terrifically memorable (and unfailingly funny) characters, a knockabout sense of humour and plenty of visually delightful, epic superhero spectacle to create something that is both recognisably Marvel and a somewhat demented, off-kilter treat by a true Hollywood outsider.
It also helps that Waititi has such a great cast to work with, as there is absolutely no sense whatsoever that any of our old favourites have gotten bored of this universe; clearly relishing the chance to delve into the comedy and general lunacy of the most unhinged Thor adventure yet. Chris Hemsworth's natural comedic chops and endless personal charm are on full display here, ensuring that he never once becomes the bland straight-man that he could so easily have been, while Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo return once again as Loki and the Hulk respectively to steal every scene they're in – and the revelation that the two characters are, at heart, incredibly similar is one of the film's many neat little character touches. Even Idris Elba as Heimdall gets a chance to stretch his legs as Moses-like saviour figure – with added ass kicking, of course!
Not to be outdone, the new faces this time include Jeff Goldblum at his most Goldblum-y (which is always the best Goldblum) as the deliciously camp, but actually really, really evil, Grandmaster; Tessa Thompson doing her best drunken Han Solo as renegade Asgardian, Valkyrie, and even Taiko Waititi himself puts in a heavily made-up appearance as an awkward Ben-Grimm-like alien with a super-thick New Zealand accent. Back on Asgard, the seriously great Karl Urban gives some heft to the a character with the ironically rather-on-the-nose name of Skurge and the even greater Cate Blanchett is clearly having the time of her life playing no less than the God of Death.
Unfortunately, it is with the latter two that the film stumbles somewhat. The actors are great and the characters are fun but even with the great visuals and strong action set pieces, there really is no getting past it: in comparison to the gleefully mad sequences set primarily on Sakaar, a world that is part garbage dump and part opulent pleasure-palace, the straightforward plot-heavy bits set on Asgard just come across as stale in comparison. Things pick up when the two worlds (figuratively) meet in the final third for a suitably cataclysmic climax but it's very clear Thor Ragnarok works best when it lets its freak flag fly.
Quibbles aside, though, Thor: Ragnarok is another terrifically entertaining and relatively inventive entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that apparently is a crucial step towards the events of The Avengers: Infinity War but, more importantly, is both a top-notch standalone scifi/ fantasy flick and the best Thor film to date.