Imagine someone telling you that, after the cinematic debut of Thor: The Dark World, the third Thor film would be an out-and-out comedy, and it would be as funny as hell – you would not believe them because it would sound bonkers. Well, now you have to apologise to this fictional person I’ve just invented for not saying that to you in the first place, because this is the world we live in. Thor: Ragnarok is a straight-up comedy, with some action sequences, and I’m still grinning just thinking about it.
At the end of Thor: The Dark World, Loki had disguised himself as Odin and was in charge of Asgard. Your natural reaction would be, ‘OK, the third film will be about Thor sorting this out’. Nope. After an opening scene with Thor and Surtur, the Loki plotline is dealt with in minutes (with some hilarious cameos in a play about the noble sacrifice of Loki in the second Thor film), we get the Doctor Strange cameo and finding Odin, and then we’re on to the new villain before you have time to recover from the whiplash. Hela (played with delicious campness by Cate Blanchett), goddess of death, is back and she wants Asgard, and she has the power as she demonstrates when she destroys Mjolnir. In trying to save the day, Thor and Loki end up elsewhere after problems on the Bifrost, where they meet the Hulk, a Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and the Jeff Goldblum, I mean, the Grandmaster played by Jeff Goldblum as Jeff Goldblum. And then things get really crazy …
I thought that Galaxy of the Guardians 2 was the most fun in the MCU, but not any more. Thor: Ragnarok is funnier, crazier, more over the top, more preposterous and more enjoyable. The main reason is Taika Waititi, bringing a light, lively, cheeky, bright energy to this corner of the Marvel universe, where nothing is too crazy. He also allows Chris Hemsworth to have a ball and play Thor as a much looser, more relaxed and funnier version than previous iterations. Hemsworth showed his comic touch in Ghostbusters but he’s even better here as the lead, displaying innate funny bones in perfectly timed comic lines, hilarious pratfalls and charming awkwardness (such as trying to be ‘woke’ with Valkyrie). He’s the film’s MVP and he has a blast as the funny Thor. Waititi has talked about allowing improvisation and letting the actors play with things (particularly in regard to Goldblum, who is at his most Goldblummiest), which created a fertile environment for comedy.
This elevation of comedy as the dominant force to the detriment of everything else (plot, logic) does require a willing suspense of disbelief in the logic of the world this has been created in. For example, a wonderful reaction by Hemsworth to some disgustingness has him exclaim, ‘Oh my god!’, which is not something a person who has been calling himself ‘god of thunder’ would say after living with ‘gods’ for so long. Similarly, the ‘Get help!’ ploy is a nice little joke (apparently Hemsworth’s idea), but it doesn’t work when Loki is the god of mischief and deception and therefore makes the entire ploy completely redundant – the joke doesn’t work if you think about it. But you don’t care – you’re having far too much fun to mind.
An aside: this film is hilarious from the outset, with Thor making jokes as he is hanging from chains in Muspelheim, and my partner and I were laughing uproariously from the beginning, but the rest of the audience in the cinema wasn’t. It was like they expected a certain amount of gravitas and action before the comedic moments in a Marvel film, so weren’t quite ready for the level of gags in the film. Fortunately, they eventually caught up with the two of us …
It’s not just Hemsworth who provide the laughs and the fun. All the actors, old and new, get to join in and share in the entertainment. Hiddleston is on fine form as Loki (‘YES! That’s what it feels like!’), and he doesn’t have to worry about being main source of levity in a Thor film. Mark Ruffalo is great as the Hulk but even better as Bruce Banner (‘Tony’s pants are too tight’), charming and funny and vulnerable – the Thor/Banner double act is something I could watch all day. Karl Urban brings the right mix of despicable and noble to Skurge (and, as a huge fan of Walt Simonson’s run on Thor, it was beautiful to see THAT scene transferred to the big screen). Idris Elba gets to be a badass version of Heimdall, which was cool. Goldblum is, well, Goldblum so that’s delightful. Waititi himself is hilarious as Korg, a giant rock-based alien with an unexpectedly light voice. The standout is probably Thompson as the unnamed Valkyrie (she’s called Scrapper 142 in the film) – from falling out of her spaceship drunk before shooting a whole bunch of people, to seeing her in her costume kicking seven hells out of people, she’s a fantastic character with depth and pain and no reliance on anybody; add my name to the list of people who want a solo Valkyrie film.
In addition to the humour, the film’s strength is in making major changes to the status quo and including serious, moving moments in the film but maintaining a sense of levity at the same time. This is a tricky balance to achieve but Waititi has shown he could do it on a small scale with Hunt for the Wilderpeople, so it’s great that he was able to do it on such a large scale. He doesn’t seem to show any nerves in being handed the reins to the latest film in the most reliable cinema franchise around, and he does it with aplomb. Apart from a line from Hela about the Infinity Gauntlet in Asgard’s treasure chamber, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo and the Doctor Strange appearance, the film doesn’t really bother with the rest of the ongoing saga of the MCU, with the exception of one of the two post-credits sequences setting things up for the future; the film is more than happy just to have a blast and tell its own story and entertain you. (Although there are some nice nods to Simonson’s run – there’s a giant Beta Ray Bill bust and a mention of Thor being turned into a frog.) Thor: Ragnarok is easily the best of the Thor films, a film where anything goes and makes you happy to hear a Led Zeppelin song play (twice) – it’s an absolute blast.