Saturday 28 October 2017

Film Review: Thor - Ragnarok

Filled with laughs, bursting with action and popping with colour, Thor's threequel sees the burly Asgardian move into funnier, wackier territory.

Two years is a long time in Marvel's cinematic universe; since the last time we saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Avengers have split, the Guardians of the Galaxy have added to their ranks and Spider-man has celebrated homecoming. And yet, as the curtain opens on Thor: Ragnarok, it feels like the burly Asgardian and his slimy brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) have never left.

With Kiwi legend Taika Waititi at the helm, Thor: Ragnarok wastes no time embarking on adventure; without his hefty hammer and soundtracked by Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, Thor's third solo film sees him ricochet from Earth, Asgard and a colourful wasteland planet called Sakaar as he tries to put a stop to Hela (Cate Blanchett), a goddess who has returned to conquer the Nine Realms, and Ragnarok, a foretold apocalypse that will wipe the slate clean.

Rapidly approaching its tenth anniversary and 20th entry, Marvel has wisely chosen to pivot in direction for Ragnarok. With Waititi behind the camera, this latest film is an absolute riot. It's a colourful fever dream that sees the Kiwi indisputably put his stamp on proceedings, splashing every inch of the screen with dazzling sci-fi visuals, kinetic action beats and goofy Antipodean humour.

While the laughs are evenly spread, Waititi saves the biggest chuckles for a mild-mannered rock monster called Korg, which he voices himself. Whether its Korg's inability to start a revolution (he didn't print enough pamphlets) or a dim-witted Asgardian called Skurge (Karl Urban) wielding two machine guns called Des and Troy (because they destroy), Ragnarok is a delightful throwback to the offbeat and zany humour of Monty Python. If you don't walk out of this film with your cheeks sore from laughter, you're probably dead inside.

Hemsworth gets ample opportunity to flex both his bulging biceps and his comedy chops here. Riffing on his family's absurd Shakespearian influences and with plenty of in-jokes to his Avengers friends, Thor also gets to grow as a hero and a leader across the film.

Stranded at the far flung reaches of the universe, Thor is forced into a gladiatorial bout against an equally stranded Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), an odd pairing that works wonders. He also crosses paths with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a wayward warrior who smoulders, swaggers and easily steals the show. The charismatic Thompson makes an empathic case for her own solo film, that's for sure.

Hiddleston is up to his usual tricks as Loki, although I found his arc in this film to be a little muddled. In his fourth outing as the trickster, Hiddleston has definitely got the snark and sliminess down pat, even if the film isn't sure where his character should go.

Anthony Hopkins returns as Odin, as does Idris Elba as Heimdall. Both are underused somewhat, but neither as forgotten as Jaime Alexander's Sif (not present) and the Warriors Three (Tadanobu Asano, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi), once integral characters who have been firmly backgrounded.

Not that you'll care that much; instead you'll be having way too much fun as Thor's new crew (dubbed the 'Revengers') plan to mount an assault on Asgard, which is under the thumb of Blanchett's tyrannical Hela, an antagonist that fits the Marvel mould in a good way and a bad way.

Even though it's a lot of fun and won't leave you looking at your watch, Ragnarok races along so fast that it forgets to flesh out its villain (par for the course in a Marvel film) and also doesn't pack as much of an emotional punch as you'd like.

As fearsome and stunning as she is, Blanchett doesn't get to do an awful lot other than stride around and act like every wicked witch you've seen in fantasy cinema before. A first act farewell to one character is over in the blink of an eye. In fact, the entire first act is a bit of a shambles; it scrambles around trying to resolve the plot strands from The Dark World and Age of Ultron, meaning Waititi doesn't hit his stride until Thor crashes on Sakaar.

It all comes good in the end; the final act is a satisfying smash that ties everything together and ends on a surprisingly powerful note. New friendships are formed, enemies vanquished and allies lost; Ragnarok doesn't uphold the status quo and leaves us in a very different place than we started.

The Verdict: 8/10

Fun and frenetic, Thor: Ragnarok dishes out lashings of laughs and will make your head spin. Just a smidge over two hours, you'll leave clutching your sides and hungry to take it in all over again. What it lacks (room to breathe, a memorable villain) it more than makes up for through sheer hilarity and energy, bouncing around like a hyperactive child that can't sit still. Hemsworth, Thompson, Ruffalo and Waititi shine; the score and cinematography are great too. Shame out the patchy plot and Blanchett's underwritten villain.

Thor: Ragnarok is in cinemas across Australia now. It opens in the United States on November 3.

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