Movie Monday: Thor – Ragnarok (2017)

So much funnier than the end of the world should be

Thor: Ragnarok

Once in a while on Monday, TMINE will review the select few movies it’s had time to watch when it’s not been watching TV. The film reviews A-Z lists every film ever reviewed here

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a varied one. It has the James Bond-style adventures of an African King in Black Panther, the West Coast techno-adventures of Iron Man, the outer space comedy of Guardians of the Galaxy and the magical, reality-warping drama of Doctor Strange. Even within individual franchises, there’s diversity. Captain America was a Rocketeer-styled World War 2 period drama, for example, while Captain America 2 was more of a gritty Parallax View piece of spying.

So you never know what you’re going to get with any given Marvel movie. Thor began as a romance, in which geeky scientist Natalie Portman discovers that the buff bloke she met on a New Mexico road is really Thor, the Norse god of Thunder, exiled from Asgard and looking for redemption, if only his mischievous brother Loki will let him return home.

Thor 2: Dark World was a little bit funnier, but a little bit more of the same, as Thor helps protect the Earth from some Dark Elves who are after Portman. No one really liked it, particularly since there’s literally no way to get the Northern Line from Charing Cross to Greenwich, certainly not in the middle of a battle.

Thor: Ragnarok

Now we have Thor: Ragnarok. Fans of Norse myth will of course know that Ragnarok is the prophesied end of the gods, when giant wolves, serpents and the like come to kill the gods, so expectations were naturally for something a bit sombre, particularly since the Marvel franchises come in packs of at most three movies (eg Iron Man, Captain America) so this was also set to be the last of the Thor movies. Then, of course, there’s Cate Blanchett playing Hella, the Norse goddess of Death. Again, a move that didn’t suggest laughs a minute.

Certainly, watching Thor: Ragnarok, there is an underlying sadness to proceedings, when favourite character after favourite character from previous movies meets a quick and untimely death. But in the hands of director Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark, What We Do in the Shadows), it’s fair to say that Thor: Ragnarok is also the funniest Marvel movie to date. Seriously, it makes Guardians of the Galaxy look like a Ken Loach movie at times.

That’s despite Thor losing his mighty hammer Mjölnir, splitting up from Portman and landing up on a planet where he has to fight to the death for Jeff Goldblum against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Laugh a minute

There are virtually no moments of Thor: Ragnarok where none of the cast, the script or the director have decided there’s no particular need for a joke or a laugh. If the script looks like it’s going to fail to deliver, the cast nudge it in the right direction, often through improvised dialogue. If the cast are too busy fighting and being dramatic, Waititi will roll out a pratfall, a humorous supporting character, a reference to a 70s or 80s sci-fi movie (Logan’s Run and The Running Man getting the most head nods) or a piece of 70s rock that Guardians of the Galaxy somehow forgot to include – although Led Zepplin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ could surely only have appeared in a Thor movie (“We come from the land of the ice and snow, From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow, The hammer of the gods, We’ll drive our ships to new lands, To fight the horde, and sing and cry, Valhalla, I am coming!”)

Even if that starts to fail, there’s a series of cameos, mainly by Australians and New Zealanders such as Sam Neill, Karl Urban and Liam Hemsworth, as well as the likes of Matt Damon, to liven things up.

And it all works brilliantly. My wife found the movie so funny, we had to stop it several times to allow her to recover her breath. We’ve now rewatched it four times in the past weeks and I only have to say the word ‘scissors’ for her to be laughing again for another five minutes, wherever we are.

Karl Urban as Scourge and Cate Blanchett as Hella
Karl Urban as Scourge and Cate Blanchett as Hella

Too funny?

But it works almost too brilliantly as a comedy. Because watching Thor: Ragnarok, it’s very hard to take much seriously. Everyone’s dying, Thor’s somehow wandered into the Planet Hulk comic strip, yet he’s more concerned about having a haircut and is terrified by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory‘s ‘Pure Imagination’.

Waititi is, after all, a New Zealander and the essence of The Almighty Johnsons seems to be in that country’s genes. Just as it couldn’t quite cope with the idea of godly Norse gods so undercut them at all turns, Thor: Ragnarok is all about making everyone a little bit less impressive and a little more human and flawed. This even applies to new goddess on the block Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who takes over from Lady Sif and Portman as the joint love interest and kick ass lady of the piece. She’s as marginally more competent than the gods as the goddesses of The Almighty Johnsons were, but she’s still a failure who nurses her misery with copious alcohol and sometimes can’t walk a straight line.

Sure no one could think that Jeff Goldblum would have been anything other than a source of hilarity. But Loki? Not so terrifying this time round and seemingly wanting just to be loved now. Heimdall? Off in the woods somewhere complaining about an infestation of zombie warriors. The Hulk? Surprisingly chatty and more like an overgrown child than a hulk. Even guest MCU crossover character Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets to have his house messed up by Thor’s hammer, rather than worry about perils from other dimensions. And since this is a comedy, genre conventions require everyone to maybe not take things as seriously – or work as hard at that ‘acting’ thing.

Thor and Hulk
Thor and Hulk

Mish-mash

Thor: Ragnarok is one of the funniest movie comedies for some time, with some hugely memorable scenes. Oddly, it also manages to be simultaneously more authentic to Norse myth than any of its predecessors, without ramming that fact home. Yet it has also its moments of sadness and spells the end for a lot of the ‘Thorverse’ as well. Blanchett is a terrifying adversary and Chris Hemsworth has far more comedic talent than you might have suspected. Mark Ruffalo is the same as always, but he’s very good at being Ruffalo-hulk, so let’s not knock that.

Still, if you can cope with this slightly jarring switch of genres and everybody maybe having a little too much fun, Thor: Ragnarok is a worthy addition to the MCU and also Waititi’s calling card to the rest of the world that he’s a name to be taken seriously – even if his movies aren’t.

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