Thor: Ragnarok 'n Roll
Review by Aaron Haughton
Taika Waititi steps up to the helm of the Thor franchise to bring his awkward New Zealand comedic charm to the superhero blockbuster series. The result is somewhat of a breath of fresh air. The film tells a story we've seen before, but when you sprinkle the cutesy Waititi charisma over top the fun superhero action Marvel is known for, the franchise begins to crinkle with a bit of crisp freshness again, despite it being the 17th effort. However, the thing that really keeps the film afloat over its 160 minute runtime is its strong, steady heartbeat that undulates underneath its fairly simplistic storyline, akin to James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, which should prove to be just endearing enough to overcome any of its low points or missteps.
Thor: Ragnarok finds our titular hero imprisoned on the other side of the universe without his trusty hammer (or Mjölnir, if you wanna be an uber nerd about is). In a race against time, Thor hustles to get back to Asgard to stop Ragnarok — the destruction of his homeworld and the end of Asgardian civilization — at the hands of an all-powerful new threat, the ruthless Hela (played by Cate Blanchett). However, before he can return home, he first must survive a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against his former ally and fellow Avenger, The Incredible Hulk.
The thing that's intriguing about Ragnarok is its ability to tell a small story in a grand way. Essentially, it's the same old fish-out-of-water narrative that's become ingrained with Thor's character throughout the franchise, but Ragnorak's approach is that of an indie road film, which opens up the story for Thor to encounter and interact with strange and interesting characters from all across the galaxy — and, Ragnarok has no shortage of quirky characters. Chief among the list of cameos is Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, who plays the role with an eclectic eccentricity that only he's capable of pulling off.
Unfortunately, the film gets too wrapped up in its own MCU trajectory to invest the time to truly get to know any of these quirky inductees, which honestly could've filled out an entire film. MCU agenda aside, Waititi and company still manage to offer a good mix of the weird with the fanboy familiar, but overall Ragnarok just doesn't stray too far from the Mavel norm, never venturing quite far enough into the unexpected to be wholly gratifying. But, hey, you get see Thor and Hulk fight one-on-one in a giant gladiator dome — a concept pulled straight out of the Planet Hulk comic storyline — and that should be enough for most popcorn stuffers.
Blanchett does a really nice job as the villainess Hela, and her character is stylized enough to be one of the more memorable bad guys throughout the massive MCU line up. However, Hela introduction comes at a somewhat stale time, with the Disney roll out of Maleficent not quite out of memory, Hela's antlers and black outfit feel somewhat derivative. Although, Hela's ability to transform from hair down to antlers just by slicking her hair back was, admittedly, pretty badass.
Still, it's the little things that elevate this popcorn piece above the rest, like the film's very oddball story for Marvel film (thank the gods the studio is finally willing to roll the dice a bit more) to the movies score. Sure, there are still big orchestral scores in Ragnarok, but Mark Mothersbaugh (known for his work in Devo, as well as the Rugrats TV show soundtrack) fills out the film with moments of pulsing 80s synth score that feels closer to Daft Punk's driving score Tron: Legacy than anything a little more subdued like the scores Carpenter is known for. Mothersbaugh gives the film some much needed life with this 80s throwback revival that helps glue the scenes together more neatly.
There's a lot to love here, but the film wears out its welcome, bogged down by a third act whose only concern is to wrap everything in a nice neat bow, which weakens Thor's big transformative moment because the audience is beginning to tire and grow restless. The comedy can be a bit dry and hit or miss at times, but it's equally counterbalanced by Ragnarok's many action scenes. I'll go out on a limb and say that it's Marvel's best film since Guardians Vol. 1. It's still everything you'd expect out of a Marvel film, with a few oddities, some much needed quirk, and more visual flair than usual, which may service fans while simultaneously luring in newcomers. I'd give it a chance, if you haven't already.
Rating: 3.5 "friends from work" outta 5.
What did you think? Do you think the Ragnorok is the freshest the Thor franchise has ever been? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!