Film reviews

Thor: Ragnarok – Film Review

Note: While this review does not contain plot spoilers, there will be mention of character appearances, both old and new. If this isn’t going to be to your liking before watching Thor: Ragnarok, there are plenty of other articles at Set The Tape to keep you occupied until you’re back from the cinema.

Still here? Fantastic stuff…

“You must finish what you’ve started. […] Your ancestors called it magic and you call it science. Well, I come from a place where they’re one and the same thing…”

~Thor, 2011.

While nothing is ever truly certain in this world, it would be fairly safe to say that 17 movies into a series that’s less than a decade old, Marvel Studios have turned the magic into a consistent, repeatable science. Even the weakest entries are still pretty good, and the Phase Three behemoth continues its strong form with Thor: Ragnarok, the third standalone entry for the god of thunder.

It’s slightly ironic that 2013’s Thor: The Dark World initially cued up the planet-hopping ethos which James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy perfected, while falling slightly short of the finishing post itself. Because Ragnarok evokes the best of Gunn’s work, while owing a debt to 2016’s Doctor Strange for successfully introducing actual sorcery into a cause-and-effect universe. The Thor of the third-coming rides the wave of its siblings, all with a heavy dose of dry humour. There are spaceships, there are spells; there are battleaxes and there are guffaws at every turn.

With Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople) at the helm and a screenplay from Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost (all of whom have previously worked on Marvel properties), the film is in safe and loving hands from the outset. But that’s not to say that the characters are wrapped in narrative cotton wool. The events in Ragnarok have lasting consequences for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe…

Chris Hemsworth is well in his stride as the eponymous hero of course, as is Tom Hiddleston as his antagonistic brother Loki. Anthony Hopkins’ Odin is back with minimal scenery-chewing, while Idris Elba’s Heimdall plays a key role this time, even if he feels shortchanged in terms of screen-time. Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk makes a long-overdue return, playing the role in the way he’s made it his own; furious, petulant and thoroughly endearing.

The Warriors Three have a fleeting reappearance, while the post-credits scene from Doctor Strange is given some fleshing out in its own full sequence. New to the cast and thrust centre-stage is Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, a hands-on role for a great performer (even if her character setup becomes lost in the overall noise of the movie).

The most anticipated name on the roster, though, is that of Cate Blanchett as Hela, the goddess of death. An actress who rarely disappoints, she plays true to form here, but never quite manages the true malice her role requires. ‘Revenge’ is a staple motivation for comic-book villains, but it’s really the only card in Hela’s deck, and Cate can’t seem to get past the theatrical posturing of her character and down to business. While it’s certainly an improvement on Christopher Ecclestone’s Malekith from The Dark World, it seems that Marvel haven’t quite solved their villain-problem yet.

But one thing which is in plentiful supply is charismatic supporting players. At one point where Thor awakens strapped into a chair being conveyed to meet ‘Grandmaster’, a silhouette intro-montage plays on the walls behind him. Suddenly, a lone figure strikes a pose which is held in unmistakable freeze-frame; Jeff Goldblum has entered the screenplay. Every line, every gesture, every mid-sentence pause of Goldblum’s deftly steals the scene it’s in. Luckily for the film he’s used with restraint, but Grandmaster is an absolute joy to behold.

Coming a very close second place in the attention-grabbing stakes is the mo-cap and voice turn from the director as Korg, arguably the Drax of Ragnarok, with Waititi’s native Kiwi-twang offsetting his fearsome rock-like appearance in deadpan observational comedy.

Mark Mothersbaugh is on scoring duties, and while the soundtrack makes the right noises in the right places, it’s not as thematically strong as previous entries from the likes of Michael Giacchino or Brian Tyler. In fact, other than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it snippet, none of Tyler’s work from The Dark World makes a return – especially odd given how much time the film spends on Asgard and in the company of characters we’ve met there before. On a first-pass, the most standout musical moments seem to be where Led Zeppelin are inserted into the mix, which is fair enough.

And since you’re here, it’s no spoiler to say that yes, there’s a Stan Lee cameo; yes, there’s a mid-credits scene; yes, there’s a post-credits scene, so stick around.

All in all, Thor: Ragnarok is Marvel Studios rounding off 2017 with the A-game they’ve brought throughout. Fun, exciting battles and bickering, in exotic locations and with lasting character development. Fantastic stuff.

The battle at the end of the universe took place in Screen 5 of my local cinema, and Taika Waititi finished what Kenneth Branagh started. Marvel’s marketing department call it magic and and their effects crews call it science. But from where I sat tonight? They’re one and the same thing…

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