Warner Bros. has long touted their approach as hiring great directors and letting them stamp their own style on the DC movies.
Marvel has been doing that since Jon Favreau directed Iron Man – and they’ve done it again with Thor: Ragnarok. No one but Taika Waititi could have made this delightfully oddball comedy of a superhero movie.
Thor: Ragnarok opens with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) chained and suspended from the ceiling of a hellish cavern, where the fire giant Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown, Highlander, Sleepy Hollow) is preparing to invade and destroy AsgardAs Thor spins slowly around, he keeps interrupting Surtur’s monologuing so that the fire giant only speaks when Thor is looking at him. It’s a funny bit that’s set up with a bit of seeming narration by our hero.
It’s not only an introduction to Waititi’s wit and sense of style, it also produces the film’s first action set piece.
When Thor returns to Asgard afterward, he finds Loki (Anthony Hopkins, then Tom Hiddleston) running things – and enjoying a play based on his personal take on the events of Thor: The Dark World (with brother Luke Hemsworth playing Thor).
Unfortunately, while Loki has been running things – not badly, by the way – he soon learns that Odin (Anthony Hopkins) was more fully aware of dangers to the realm. He learns this when Hela (Cate Blanchett, Carol, Cinderella), Odin’s firstborn and goddess of death appears.
After she destroys Thor’s hammer, he and Loki flee to Midgard (Earth) to find their father and gain his aid. They discover they’re about thismuch too late.
In a second attempt to thwart Hela, they are both sent spinning through the cosmos – landing on the planet Sakaar – a world surrounded by gates to other realms that supply its ruler, Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day, The Grand Budapest Hotel), with fighters for his amusement.
Thor is captured by an alcoholic Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, Creed, Westworld) and finds himself facing his fellow Avenger, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Avengers films, Now You See M films). This where we get the ‘He’s a friend from work’ line that helped make the trailers such a joy.
Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Hela enlists the aid of a volunteer (who clearly has great instincts of self-preservation), Skurge (Karl Urban, Dredd, the rebooted Star Trek films). She makes him her executioner.
Also, the peasants are revolting. (I always wanted to say that in a review – though it’s more than just Asgardian peasants – they have at least one god on their side.)
While the Planet Hulk storyline is full of wit and verve and comedy with dashes of drama, the Hela/Asgard arc is more drama with flashes of dark humor (Hela even gets a few good lines).
What’s interesting about the way these arcs are edited is that the transition from the humor heavy arc to the drama heavy arc (and vice-versa) never seems unduly jarring – something Waititi has shown he does well in his more intimate films like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, or What We Do in the Shadows).
Despite the warnings from Valkyrie and fellow fighter (more of a warm-up act, really) Korg (voiced with unexpected cheerfulness by Waititi), a pile of anthropomorphic blue rocks, he figures out a way to escape and puts together a makeshift team to try to take Asgard back.
When both storylines come together in the end, Waititi brings enough gravitas to deal with the Asgard situation without totally foregoing the wit and humor that we’ve seen in the Planet Hulk arc.
The cinematography here is spectacular largely because Waititi has taken the time to allow his nations of visual artists to give their CGI and practical effects the same kind of weight and substance.
Hemsworth is spectacular here (as long-time readers will recall, I referred to him as the Christopher Reeve of the MCU – he can handle the heavy lifting, but he’s also got terrific comic timing and delivery).
He’s matched by Thompson and, especially Goldblum (in his Goldbummiest of roles) for the humor – and matched Blanchett note for note when things get dramatic (though he does keep shelling her with wit and sarcasm).
The only real bummer is that Hela dispatches three fan favorite characters in her first sally into Asgard – and it’s done so quickly it barely registers.
Thor: Ragnarok also, finally, notes that Thor is not the god of hammers – a key bit of knowledge that pays off in spades.
Thor: Ragnarok is a wild ride – both in its comedy aspects and the dramatic ones. Waititi’s direction keeps the film rollicking along at a good pace (you will miss a few lines because you, or the folks around you, are laughing so hard).
The cast is they should be up for ensemble at the SAG Awards.
Thor: Ragnarok should be seen in IMAX 3D. You can’t say that about a lot of movies.
Final Grade: A+