“Another day, another Doug…”
With this, the 17th Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, one thing is very, very clear – Marvel’s films are at their best when they pick established directors with a clear vision and they leave those directors to get on with it. Iron Man 3 (Shane Black), Captain America: Winter Soldier (Russo Brothers), both Guardians Of The Galaxy (James Gunn) – all excellent movies because they have a clear tone and voice. Less memorable contributions to the franchise were less memorable because of this factor. Simply put, they did not have a clear and unique style of storytelling.
Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi already has an established and cult-like following thanks to some truly wonderful films – Eagle vs Shark, Boy, What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople. A shorthand adjective for describing his back catalogue would be quirky, but that’s only fitting to some extent. His films are hilarious, packed with sweetly-told emotion along with memorable oddball characters.
Thankfully his promotion to the big leagues, being appointed to helm a Marvel movie, hasn’t stopped this being first and foremost a Waititi movie. Having seen it twice – once in 2d and once at the 4dx cinema in Wandsworth – I can confirm that tonally, script-wise and even visually this is an auteur movie. The Thor short he directed earlier in the year, explaining Thor’s absence from Civil War (a must-see, watch it here if you’re yet to do so) showed any naysayers just how funny Chris Hemsworth could be. Since his first outing in 2011’s Thor, the eponymous Norse god always appeared to be vying for the award of most serious Avenger. Six years on and he – both Hemsworth and his character – prove themselves to be utterly hilarious. Both slapstick and knowing dialogue are nailed masterfully as Thor has shed his arrogant layer for someone more humble, slightly awkward yet ultimately rather dashing.
Previously cinematic Thor seemed fated to fall victim to the Superman effect, a character so skilled, blessed with almighty powers and supremely good looks – how could he be a likeable hero? The answer, pairing him up with a succession of odd-ball characters, may not have seemed the most obvious choice but it’s one that works completely. Whilst the man is still an undeniable heartthrob (be still my own beating heart!) here he finally gets the chance to poke fun at that status (which we got a taste of with last year’s underappreciated Ghostbusters – click here for my review).
The Ragnarock element of things – aka the destruction of the entire universe – is essentially secondary to the character side of things. Certainly it’s their motivation, but it’s not ours when watching. Instead we get to see Thor undertake a variety of successive road trips with some truly memorable characters. A reunion with brother Loki (Hiddelston), a brief stay with scene-stealing Korg (voiced by Waititi himself), a longer stay with ‘friend from work’ Hulk (Ruffalo) and then the incredible inebriated mercenary Valkyrie (Thompson). On top of that you’ve got the man, the myth, the legend that is Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban as caretaker Skurge (his bit about his ‘stuff’ is straight out of What We Do In The Shadows both in delivery and framing), Cate Blanchett is perfectly pitched as baddie Hela and there’s more than enough cameos along the way to keep you on your toes.
All of this storytelling is littered with deadpan dialogue, tight pacing, visuals that seem striking simillar to looking through a kaleidoscope and all of it is electric with energy. There’s more than enough memorable moments, more than I could list here and even then I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun for you. All I will say, and with this I will leave you, Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song has never sounded, or looked, as good as it does here…