Published Oct 30, 2017Exiting the showing of Thor: Ragnarok, one question came to mind: Taika Waititi, where have you been all our lives?
The eccentric New Zealand director (Eagle vs. Shark, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) has lifted up the Marvel monolith, placed a whoopee cushion underneath and run off with the studio's (formerly) dullest franchise tucked in his pocket. He returns with a new Thor film that resembles the product of an orgy between Star Wars, Shrek, Guardians of the Galaxy and Flight of the Conchords — and what a weird, wonderful baby it is.
Chris Hemsworth's Thor, son of Odin, God of Thunder, Lord of Ponytails, etc., is in quite a pickle this time around. His home realm of Asgard is threatened with 'Ragnarok' — total destruction — brought about by a prophecy, a significant death and the sudden return of his vengeful older sister Hela (vampy Cate Blanchett in a killer wig) from a long imprisonment. Why was she locked up, you ask? Why, for growing more powerful and ambitious than her father! Despite her murderous streak you may find yourself Sheryl Sandberg-ing out in the audience, urging Hela to forget her lunkhead brothers and Lean In already.
This power play between royal siblings warrants a movie all its own, but Hela fades into the background while various other threads are pursued — and to be fair, most of these digressions are a blast. Some could've been dropped (I suggest the redemptive arc of Hela's henchman Skurg, as played by the perpetually constipated-looking Karl Urban) but an extended detour into a dystopian disco planet ruled over by Jeff Goldblum's campy Grandmaster makes up for any loss of narrative cohesion. I'm still confused over why Loki is repeatedly kidnapped and thrown around like a lanky hot potato, but no matter.
Tom Hiddleston's god of mischief has consistently overshadowed Thor with a knowing, Machiavellian swagger that launched thousands of "Lusting for Loki" Tumblr pages throughout the years, but the Loki of Ragnarok is, by contrast, a letdown. Hiddleston has checked out of the Oomph Hotel and wanders aimlessly through the film with a dazed look — perhaps the effect of the 'Hiddleswift' media blitz during filming? Either way, it's a shame. Anthony Hopkins is equally droopy, and appears to be reading his lines from a cue card just off camera.
This slack is picked up by Hemsworth's breezy comedic timing and by Tessa Thompson's angry, booze-swilling Valkyrie, who joins Thor in revenge against Hela and inevitably steals his heart. Thompson (Creed, Dear White People) is one of those actors just simmering with potential, and hopefully will soon be given a less crowded showcase for her talents.
Another standout is Waititi himself as the voice of Korg, a mild-mannered humanoid made of rocks who befriends Thor in captivity. Korg is the embodiment of irreverent, deadpan New Zealand humour, excusing his failed revolution by explaining "I didn't print enough pamphlets," and probing a flustered Thor on the logistics of riding around on a hammer.
Beyond the battles and complicated family dynamics, Ragnarok is pure goofiness. Grand entrances are spoiled by drunken face plants, noble jawlines are mushed unattractively up against spaceship windshields and clever parting lines are deflated with unnecessary follow-up questions. In knocking Thor off its pedestal of dull nobility, Waititi has brought life back into a soggy franchise, given us a group of heroes worth spending time with — and produced one of Marvel's best films yet.