New Zealand directing sensation Taika Waititi swings the hammer of the gods with fury as be takes Marvel’s godly avenger Thor on one crazy adventure in the much anticipated Thor: Ragnarok.
After his actions lead to the rise of the goddess of death Hela (Cate Blanchett), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the absent minder of Asgard finds himself lost on the alien world of Sakaar. Placed into the world of gladiatorial combat, Thor has a run in with The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the two of them form a pack to escape Sakaar and return to save Asgard from the impending apocalypse of Ragnarok.
Marvel has redefined the notion of what scale means in the blockbuster business and as far as blockbusters go they don’t get bigger or bolder than Thor: Ragnarok. And then there’s the fact that Thor: Ragnarok is so much fun!
As Earth’s mightiest avenger Chris Hemsworth has his power pushed to the limit and his heroism tested as he finds himself scattered to the farthest corners of the universe with his very purpose stripped from him. Of all the Marvel characters Hemsworth’s role as Thor has been the character that most aligns to the notion of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth or what is commonly referred to as The Heroes Journey. And while Hemsworth as Thor had already completed this roundabout cycle in the previous Thor films, Waititi essentially gives audiences the post-script of what comes next. The director puts his hero in an uncomfortable position by essentially removing Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer, from our hero and forcing him to rediscover his inner character and strength as a result. It’s an action that forces our hero to rise to the occasion and leads to plenty of amazing discoveries on Thor’s part.
But while Thor still might be his essential stoic self, this time Hemsworth gets to tap into his brilliant comedic timing, and the jokes come flying. This focus on comedy is of course part of Waititi’s influence on the film, but it also makes for something that is different and fresh for a long time Marvel audiences. While I can’t go too much into Thor’s journey for Ragnarok without heading into spoiler territory I can say that Hemsworth’s embrace of the lighter side of himself leads to a stronger character and many unexpected laughs.
Thor: Ragnarok could essentially be described as the ‘odd couple’ movie as Thor finds himself in the company of Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk on the alien planet of Sakaar. Waititi borrows material from the critically acclaimed ‘Planet Hulk’ storyline for this part of the film, and the coupling of Thor and Hulk is awesome to see up on screen. We get both equal moments of comedy and drama with these two, and Mark Ruffalo brings a sense of both misspent time and a deep sense of loss as the dishevelled Bruce Banner. Watching both he and Hemsworth’s relationship up on screen took me back to classic memories of film’s such as Midnight Run and Lethal Weapon, buddy film’s where the action and emphasis was on each character and their unique interaction’s with one another.
However it’s not a Thor film without the appearance of Thor’s treacherous half-brother Loki, and once again British thespian Tom Hiddleston shows up bearing gifts. While we’ve grown to know Loki as a scheming, Machiavellian force, here he’s dropped that facade in order to be a far more casual and fun-loving type of dude. Essentially Loki got what he wanted at the end of Thor: The Dark World, and that’s essentially made him a far more sloth-like character. This is party boy Loki, and when his big brother does turn up he’s non-to pleased at having all of his fun taken away from him. While there’s still the usual love/hate moments between the two brothers here the comedic stylings of Taika Waititi take that to the next level, and with it I say bring on more Loki!
Every hero needs a villain to test them, and Thor finds his in the visage of death herself thanks to Cate Blanchett’s performance as Hela, The Goddess of Death. As the first ever female big bad in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Blanchett had plenty of responsibility resting on her shoulders…and she completely owns it. Hela is one mean girl who would reduce Regina George to tear’s and this goth princess recoils in her pleasure to unfurl death upon Asgard and pound the snot out of bickering princes Thor and Loki. What I loved about Blanchett’s performance was that she clearly placed herself above the two of them and was interested in making Asgard her own personal playground. As death incarnate Hela is also unstoppable and Blanchett throws out plenty of sick fight moves that she picked up from New Zealand’s first lady of the stunt world Zoe Bell.
But if I have to name a scene stealer then it’s definitely Jeff Goldblum as the eccentrically kooky Grandmaster. This immortal of the universe, who is the brother to Benicio del Toro’s sinister Collector, is a benevolent entertainer and ruler of the planet of Sakaar. Here this galactic style Emporer stages mighty gladiatorial games…along with mixing his own solid turntable beats. Goldblum was born to play this role and Marvel fans will revel in the extremeness of his character. All of it fits perfectly in the world of Thor: Ragnarok and as an audience member, you’ll find yourself demanding more of The Grandmaster. The Grandmaster also introduces audiences to two distinctively Kiwi characters. The first is his right-hand woman Topaz played to dry comedic perfection by Rachel House, while Waititi himself joins in on the action with his performance as the softly-spoken rock giant Korg who is essentially a Maori bouncer in space and who will have you in fits of laughter with his laugh-out-loud dialogue.
Thor: Ragnarok succeeds as the grand entertainment that it is thanks to the vision of the great Taika Waititi. The world of Thor and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a giant play chest for Waititi and he undoubtedly is a kid in a candy store with this grand canvas. From the film’s pascal colouring to it’s synthesized score, every part of this film is imbued with Waititi’s sense of child-like wonder. As far as reference points go the 1980s definitely plays a part here and I can just feel that Waititi’s aesthetic choices were inspired by his admiration for 80s pop culture such as Flash Gordon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Thundercats. The director has a large canvas with Thor: Ragnarok and he absolutely fills every part of it with spectacle and then of-course there’s the comedy. If ever a Marvel movie called for comedy it was Thor: Ragnarok and with Taika at the helm, the laughs come pretty easily.
As a New Zealander myself I can also say that I could really feel the distinctive Kiwi vibe that Taika and his crew were going for with Thor. It’s great to see this in something as big and grand as a Marvel movie, and it really put a smile on my face.
Waititi is also a champ when it comes to handling the film’s epic action sequences. While I don’t want to reveal too much the film’s impressive gladiatorial main event had all the calling cards of the coolest WWF matches, and Hulk clearly lived up to his name with plenty of throwbacks to the actions of cult wrestling icons such as Randy ‘The Macho Man’ Savage, The Ultimate Warrior and off-course the one and only Hulk Hogan! Banging combat doesn’t get much better than this, and in 3D it’s one AWESOME spectacle.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a playground for diverse directors with voice and vision. Taika Waititi is one of those directors. Just like James Gunn and The Russo Brothers, Waititi has his own way of doing things and this defined sense of who he is as a director leads the way for an extraordinary film experience. After watching Thor: Ragnarok all I want is more Marvel film’s made by Taika Waititi and judging by the reactions of those who were lucky enough to see Ragnarok early I feel that we’ll see him back in the director’s chair very shortly.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures