★★★ out of 5
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson Director: Taika Waititi
Duration: 2 h 10 m
In Norse mythology, “Ragnarok” refers to an end-of-days cataclysm, like Armageddon, doomsday or Zac Efron films. But in the Marvel universe it may mean something akin to embarrassment or humiliation. In this movie, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) gets tied up, locked up, teleported, electric-shocked, captured, dumped, Hulked and forcibly barbered. He even loses his hammer, leaving him looking like a traveller whose Uber app just failed.
But somehow, he comes out of it all with a sense of humour, which is even more amazing when you recall that he didn’t go in with one. In other stand-alone outings, 2011’s Thor and 2013’s The Dark World, as well as various ensemble pictures, he’s the least jolly Avenger. Now he quips like he’s been taking lessons from Iron Man.
It’s hard to know which writer to praise for this — Ragnarok has three, as well as the various “based on the comics by” credits — so I’m going to suggest we all hail Taika Waititi, the New Zealand director of such fun low-budget buffoonery as Eagle vs. Shark, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Not only has Waititi made an impressive leap into the almost giga-dollar budget range (those other movies were made for about $5 million, combined), but he also appears as Korg, the deferential dungeon master on planet Sakaar, where the de-hammered Thor is taken to participate in gladiatorial games. Running the show there is Jeff Goldblum. He calls himself Grandmaster, though I don’t think he has the mental chops for chess. In fact, his greatest skill seems to be that of trailing off in mid-sentence, a talent he takes to new …
Anyway, Ragnarok is just the latest in 2017’s bumper crop of superhero flicks, which includes Marvel’s Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming; DC’s Wonder Woman and the upcoming Justice League. Not to mention (do we have to?) the underwhelming Dark Universe curtain-raiser that was The Mummy.
And while I know these movies are planned out years in advance, it feels like Thor’s newest has lifted a page from Wonder Woman’s playbook, with the inclusion of Tessa Thompson as SR-142, a hard-drinking Valkyrie from Thor’s home world. Not only that, but Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, used in two separate battle sequences, sounds a lot like a certain Amazonian princess’s theme music.
Ragnarok also introduces that Marvel rarity, a female villain, although Cate Blanchett’s Hela looks to have built her wardrobe and decorating choices on those of Angelina Jolie in Maleficent — same basic costume with a bigger rack of antlers. She’s Thor’s twisted sister, but can’t really compete with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, back from the dead and proving once again that if duplicity were a sport he would somehow both win and lose while cheating, playing by the rules and also making up his own.
Hela is the main plot driver, arriving on Thor’s planet and threatening to take over, even as another more computer-generated baddie prepares to destroy the whole place. Thor has to get home and stop them.
All this and I haven’t even gotten to Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Hulk, who like Thor gets to be more loquacious and wittier within Ragnarok’s shambolic buddy-picture framework.
He does not, alas, get to say: “Hulk more loquacious and wittier!”
Waititi snags most of the best lines for his own character, including a naughty joke that will sail over the heads of any youngsters not versed in New Zealand or British sexual slang, and this lovely little axiom: “The only thing here that makes sense is that nothing makes sense.” That’s Ragnarok in a nutshell. Put your brain in neutral and enjoy!