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Categories: Movie Reviews

Taika Waititi’s franchise threequel is brimming with colour, and his trademark exuberance, but is it enough to shake off the corporate fatigue?

Of all of Marvel Studios’ intersecting franchises, the Thor series has been perhaps its most interesting. Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean aplomb added a dimension to the performances that Marvel Studios is only rarely ever capable of recapturing and Alan Taylor’s spritely space opera sequel formed the basis of the companies’ balancing act with darkness and levity.

Thor: Ragnarok is 2017’s third Marvel Studios film and its second large-scale, over-the-top, sci-fi comedy blockbuster. It positions itself between the last Avengers film in 2015 and the next one in 2018 while continuing plot threads left from Doctor Strange in 2016 and the previous actual instalment in the Thor saga in 2013. It’s quite the mess.

Tying it all together is new-age comedy icon Taika Waititi and it’s safe to say that, despite Marvel Studios’ aversion to authorial control outside of the boardroom, there is just enough of his DNA in here to call it a Taika Waititi film. His refreshingly left-field, laid back, sense of humour permeates into the film and he brings a few fan favourite cast members along for the ride as well (not to mention some truly stellar cameos that are too good to be spoiled); the majority of screenplay duty however still clearly fell to veteran Marvel writers, which is perhaps for the best primarily because of screenwriter Christopher L. Yost who co-wrote the previous Thor chapter.

Thor: Ragnarok is fun, and very often visually exciting, but its crowning achievement is its understanding in what constitutes the real beating heart of the film: the inexplicable, and inescapable, screen chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.  

The first Thor film effectively made both actors’ careers in Hollywood and, as comic book films often do, catapulted them into the realm of global sex symbols; particularly Hiddleston. The two have sought success elsewhere as leading men, and sometimes found it, but realistically neither has fully outgrown their roles. Funnily enough, Hiddleston actually auditioned for the part of Thor before settling for the role of the likable villain, something that has served him far more well. Screen chemistry is an elusive kind of alchemy that can’t really be planned for. When something works it just works and it’s hard to see anyone else doing a better job in each of their roles.

Unfortunately this only serves to make Mark Ruffalo’s inclusion as The Hulk all the more superfluous. Marvel Studios films rarely ever sync up in as smooth a way as you’d hope, and their rough planning may be what’s secured their success, but it’s also one of the most irksome things about it to anyone who has a fully developed attention span. Bruce Banner’s inclusion in the story is never really explained and it’s never really essential.

Head honcho Kevin Feige has been trying to figure out just what the do with The Hulk, an iconic but difficult character, for nearly 15 years now and his appearance here feels a tad shoehorned. Ruffalo himself, put under strict contract about 6 years ago, is beginning to reach that Jeremy Renner stage of “what exactly is it that I’m doing here other than a lot of really demanding press tours?” and mostly looks a little annoyed that he’s in the film at all.

Similarly, Thor: Ragnarok brings an uncharacteristically abrupt end to many a character from the series which is, relatively speaking, refreshing but undeniably a little bit of a waste for a few good actors who never even get a word in. Idris Elba has even less to do this time around than usual, which is saying something, and it’s hard to tell if Anthony Hopkins is being poignant or if he was just really bored. Again, sad because his thespian-pro ad libs were some of the best parts of the other films. This isn’t even going into how insignificant Benedict Cumberbatch is. Not that you’d really need to. Because he’s insignificant. That’s it.

That being said, Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum are as electric as ever and Karl Urban shines in a terrifically odd, but ultimately satisfying, supporting role. The humour is the film’s main selling point so it’s good that the runtime was brought up from 100 minutes to accommodate more jokes being put back into the final cut but it does make the film drag in spots during its 2 hour plus runtime; ultimately leading to what may be the film’s biggest, and most unavoidable, fault which is that Thor films are usually thought of as being placeholders.

Thor: Ragnarok is certainly not Marvel Studios’ worst but neither is it its best. It crams an awful lot into its story, and it progresses the most key elements of its character’s arcs in a very satisfying way, but it is, as they say, all over the shop. To some, this will guarantee a steady stream of entertainment, which may be all you want, but to others it will leave the film feeling a little incomplete, as latter day Marvel Studios sequels have a tendency to do, and smack a little of trying too hard. Get ready to laugh, and occasionally feel, just not to think too much.

Thor: Ragnarok is out now in cinemas.  

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, and lifelong cinephile, who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University of London. You can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

Posted on Nov 4, 2017

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