One need look no further than the colourful bus ads plastered all over the city to see that Thor: Ragnarok is going to be different from the Thor films that preceded it. Gone is the stoic, self-serious mythological figure, in his place we get something a little closer to more popular Marvel characters like Star-Lord and Tony Stark. There were hints of this Thor in previous film, but Ragnarok feels like a radical yet welcomed departure from what was established in the first two (mostly forgettable) films.
Not long after loveable Kiwi Taika Waititi (Flight of the Concords, What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) was brought on to direct, we began to get ‘Team Thor’ web shorts showing the God of Thunder living a somewhat mundane life with an office job and flat mate, while Iron Man and Captain America were coming to blows over the events in Civil War. This was the first indicator that Waititi would be bringing his unique brand of humour to the project, fortunately that seems to have remained intact in the final product, which is as fun as any Marvel film to date.
Hemsworth’s comic abilities were teased in previous Marvel films, but they’ve never been exploited to this level (even in Ghostbusters which tried so hard for every laugh it could get). Waititi has cited John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China as a touchstone he referenced while making the film, which is an excellent adventure-comedy to model a superhero film after. In this scenario, Thor is Jack Burton, who just wants to get his truck (hammer) back. Like Carpenter, Waitii revels in the nerdy ridiculousness of it all.
The details of the plot are relatively inconsequential. Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) passes away, making way for his sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), aka the Goddess of Death, to resurface and burn all in her path – starting with Asgard. The cocky Thor is easily bested by Hela in their first encounter, so he’s forced to flee and regroup. He forms his own team (dubbed “The Revengers”) which includes familiar faces such as Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), as well new faces like Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (a big rock monster played by Waititi in a mo-cap suit). Rounding out the cast is the always fun Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, who’s his own thing.
While the story of Ragnarok mostly stands on its own, the film also effectively forms a (Bifrost) bridge between the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, which should make it feel a little less jarring when they all meet in Infinity War next year. In fact, with its supporting cast of weird aliens, otherworldly locations, quipping characters, and classic rock soundtrack, Ragnarok feels more like a Guardians of the Galaxy film than a Thor or Avengers film. Using Led Zeppelin’s thumping Immigrant Song in several scenes (and in the trailer) works as well as any musical cue in a Guardians film. The fact that its lyrics happen to have Nordic themes is a cute touch. Ragnarok also has the most playful Marvel score to date, courtesy of Mark Mothersbaugh whose music acts as another throwback to 80s adventures.
With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and now Thor: Ragnarok, 2017 marks the first time Marvel has released three films in a single calendar year, and there’s few arguments to be made against any of these movies. Kevin Feige and whoever else is in charge quality assurance for this ongoing relay race/ marathon are doing an admirable job at keeping DC safely in their rearview mirror.