27 Oct 2017
With Marvel properties, as with Betelgeuse, third time’s always the charm. Each hero starts with a carefully pitched origin story; then comes a sequel to jack up the stakes. It’s not until part three that a series is given free rein to cut loose, let its hair down and be a little reckless. Cap set the MCU high-water mark battering his friends in Civil War, while Marvel found its most personal — and subversive — story in Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. But even Black’s most left-field contribution, the delightfully stupid Trevor Slattery, seems earnest next to the bonkers escapade that is Taika Waititi’s Thor The Third.
The most outrageously fun film Marvel has yet produced.
Marvel’s most unorthodox hire to date, the director of What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople was never going to deliver a standard cape-and-tights yarn. But the extent to which he’s been allowed to push the longboat out — sailing right through the bay of humorous asides and deep into the straits of absurdity — is nothing short of extraordinary. For the first time in 17 (count them) movies, Marvel has delivered something that isn’t an action movie leavened with humour, but a full-bore comedy using blockbuster spectacle as a backdrop for gags.
Waititi sets out his irreverent stall from the get-go, bouncing from a laugh-heavy prologue — in which a dangling Thor continually interrupts demon Surtur’s (Clancy Brown) gloating monologue — into a gleefully silly showdown with Loki-as-Odin (Tom Hiddleston) that kickstarts the story proper. And the plot is in no way slight. Anchored in genocide, slavery and the literal end of days, this is as weighty an adventure as any the hammered one has undertaken. But Waititi’s feather-light touch imbues the whole affair with effervescent jollity, caring not a wit whether it’s dealing with mass impalements or a priceless reaction to the sight of Hulk’s giant green penis.
Hurled from the Bifrost mid-fracas and stranded on junk-strewn Sakaar, Thor is trapped, trussed and — after a VR induction video to the tune of Willy Wonka’s Pure Imagination — delivered into the custody of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum at his Goldblumiest). Riffing on 2006 comic storyline Planet Hulk, Thor is forced into gladiatorial servitude alongside the gamma-green monster, creating an odd couple for the ages. More emotive (and articulate) than ever, Hulk delivers a knockout combination of gags as he fights (verbally and physically) with his former colleague. But Ruffalo delights equally as Bruce Banner: an inspired straight man in too-tight trousers, delivering such lines as, “Guys, we’re coming up on the Devil’s Anus!” without so much as a stutter.
Hemsworth himself has never been more comfortable in the Odinson’s skin, Shakespearean hamminess having exited the stage with Alan Taylor’s stodgy sequel. His time on Ghostbusters and Vacation (however ill-advised) has clearly paid off, lending him a practised feel for comedy as he leans into the silliness with unerring skill.
And silly it most certainly is. Ragnarok’s humour is as broad as it is eccentric, preserving Waititi’s sensibility while delivering consistent belly laughs at every turn. There are wank jokes, arse puns, vampire gags, pratfalls, in-jokes, snarky asides and buffoonery to suit every palate. The director himself is the comedy standout, though. As rock-hewn gladiator Korg, Waititi claims the champion’s share of killer lines, stealing every scene he’s in with softly spoken Kiwi commentary.
If there’s a weak link in the line-up it’s Blanchett’s Hela. While undeniably striking as Alice Cooper’s stroppy sister, she’s one-note and outshone by Ragnarok’s other major new character, Tessa Thompson’s surly Valkyrie, at every turn. Hela’s scenes, while essential to the plot, feel an unwelcome distraction, leaving us, like Mjolnir, aching for a return to the Thunder God’s side.
Meanwhile, joyous though its clowning is, the film occasionally feels too glib. Heavier emotional beats, including wide-scale slaughter and the loss of a major character, are all but swept away in a format ill-equipped to deal with sobriety. But in a film that manages to pack fire demons, zombies, a giant wolf, a dragon, a goddess of death and the Sorcerer Supreme, it’s hard to feel too short-changed by an occasional lack of gravity.
Like a cosmic fever dream, Ragnarok is a disorientating cocktail of riotous colour and batty antics that seem almost unreal after the fact. Try to fit it into an established mould at your peril, but roll with this and you’ll discover not only a top-tier addition to the MCU, but one of the most flat-out enjoyable comedies of the year.
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