In Norse Mythology, Ragnarök – the twilight of the Gods – isn’t the end of all things, but rather, a chance for the world to begin anew. It’s an apt title for Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, which takes the director’s boisterous energy and invigorates one of Marvel’s weakest franchises.
The flagbearers of the modern Marvel film are Iron Man and Captain America – humans with extraordinary powers. Thor, the God of Thunder, exists outside this spectrum, as a God where the foibles and pitfalls of humanity are seemingly non-existent. You may see a flicker of humanity in Thor, but at the end of the day, he’s a God and trying to humanise his problems has been jarring.
This has kept Thor (Chris Hemsworth) from being someone that you can genuinely identify with and it has made the first two Thor films dull slogs.
But that pedigree makes Thor: Ragnarok feel like a fever-dream of colour and devilish genius. It’s out-of-place in the best way and Waititi’s fingerprints are all over it.
For the uninitiated, Ragnarok sees the rise of Hela (Cate Blanchett), Odin’s daughter and thus Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor’s long lost sister, return to destroy Asgard. She quickly shows her power over Thor by destroying his hammer and casts him out into the universe, where he lands on Sakkar, an industrial, rainbow-coloured city run by the Grandmaster.
Hammer-less and trapped far from home, Thor has to fight in the Grandmaster’s tournament, which eventually sees him teaming up with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to take back Asgard. Yes, that plot is standard superhero-movie-fare, and in any other hands I feel like Ragnarok could have been a bogus journey. In Waititi’s, it’s an excellent adventure.
The difference between medicine and poison is the dose. Waititi’s cheek and chaotic vigour are what separates the film from its predecessors, but there’s also a sense of control to it. Instead of going over the top with laughs, the film grounds itself in intra-family drama and personal struggles. Valkyrie is an alcoholic trying to cope with loss and both Loki and Thor struggle with their place in this universe – who are they supposed to be now?
It’s timing that is key – Hemsworth has always had an impeccable sense of comedic timing and coupled with Waititi’s directorial flair, the jokes land (almost) every time. Waititi also takes on the role of Korg, a rock-man with an Auckland-bouncer-accent trying to start a revolution in the Sakkar coliseum. I don’t want to understate this so I’ll just say it: Korg is the best part of this film.
From the opening stanza, where the high-pitched “ahhhh-ahhh-ahhh’s” of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ punctuate a battle between Thor and the fire-bodied Surtr, to the film’s climactic battle on the Bifröst Bridge, Ragnarok is constantly thrilling. Even the unexpected presence of the stern, unflinching Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is highlighted by whimsical moments of wit and Hela’s snark and sass really demonstrate that this film doesn’t take itself seriously.
Why should it? It’s a film about a God-superhero from a mythical place at the edges of the universe who has a hammer that he uses to fly around and smash things.
Just when it felt like we we’re reaching saturation point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – hell – when we’re reaching saturation point for the ‘superhero movie’ in general, along comes the New Zealander of the Year to start his own personal Ragnarok and begin things anew.
Thor: Ragnarok releases next Thursday, October 26 in Australia.
Disclosure: Jackson is an employee of the Walt Disney Company Australia but he also thinks the first two Thor films are markedly average so.