As the incredible success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has shot through the roof since their first big hit in 2008’s Iron Man, there is this notion that the studio has had a flawless filmography ever since. Especially considering the perceived failure (The Dark Universe – though it is very early days) and mixed success (The DCEU) of other aspiring movie universes, that have had a harder time next to mighty Marvel and their forward planning, constant critical praise and box office displays. However, this is not necessarily the case, despite all the brilliant films the MCU has spawned (and there have been a great many), there have been a couple of missteps like Age of Ultron, Iron Man 3 and – for many – the Thor films have been a point of contention.
Starting with Kenneth Branagah’s first film in 2011 and following with 2013’s The Dark World, many fans have ranked the Thor movies as the inferior Avengers solo outings…until now. Based on a quite treasured comic book arc, including the “Planet Hulk” storyline, Thor: Ragnarok is a film Marvel fans can be proud of and a crowdpleasing funky blockbuster that aims to entertain and succeeds wholeheartedly. Personally, this writer has never had a huge problem with the Thor films (I see the Iron Man outings as far more hit-and-miss) but Ragnarok is without doubt the hammer swinging hero’s best tale yet and is exactly the film the trailers promised.
Now, for some viewers, the fact the trailer was perfectly indicative of the final product may be jubilatory news or cause for alarm. Superhero movies have gone from cotton candy to an elegant dinner in recent years, being filled with meaning and being dissected by humongous fanbases and Marvel’s fun first formula has spelled triumph but, as we enter the middle of Phase Three of their movie universe, many are beginning to wonder when the gravitas will set in and Ragnarok does lack a tad in this department. Played far more for laughs than Drama, this is Guardians of the Galaxy with gods and considering the dark tones of some of the source material, some may put some off by that fact. It really boils down to how you take to the MCU’s direction, if you enjoy it (as I do) then you’ll relish this exciting, colourful and hilarious film, if you don’t, you may be left pondering what all the media hoopla is all about (as many did with last year’s Doctor Strange – another immensely enjoyable film I thought).
Whatever the case though, even the most discerning of viewers would be hard pressed not to raise a smile during this fun adventure. There is no question of how well Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows) has taken to the MCU. His mischievous knack for embracing inherent silliness and turning it into excitably delivered genius is well capitalised upon here. Ragnarok is one of the studios most unashamedly fun(ny) films. The laughs are near non-stop, even taking priority over the plot beats at times but Waititi has clearly aimed to take the Asgardian hero on a near hallucinogenic, stylish and comical ride and he succeeds mightily in his set goals.
The story leapfrogs from place to place at a frantic rate but never is incoherent, sticking admirably to its chosen tone and offering ridiculous levels of enjoyment in the process. The dramatic punch may not linger but the sharply penned dialogue and planet sized charisma levels of its characters certainly will. This is just really fun stuff, sure to electrify a mass audience and lovingly give fans some fist in the air moments of comic-obsessed action and comic panache (see the arena battle between the films two heroic titans).
The cast are clearly having a good time, with Chris Hemsworth really defining this character by now and slowly but surely becoming one of the most joyous of the Avengers troupe. Meanwhile Tom Hiddleston’s return as Loki is equally welcome and his bickering connection with any and every co-star never fails to impress. Another welcome return is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk, whose role in the film really expands the part of the big guy beyond smashing and crashing. Meanwhile Cate Blanchett is having a ball as the film’s villain Hela, who is a better baddie than many others in the MCU (after this year’s unfortunate trend of forgettable MCU baddies broke with Michael Keaton’s brilliant turn as The Vulture). However the real showstealers are firstly a deliciously deadpan Jeff Goldblum who is an absolute hoot as off-the-wall The Grand Master and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, the hard drinking warrior who steals a fair few scenes and gifts this comical film with a character to cherish and crave more from in future MCU films. There are also a few cameos that are fantastic and worth keeping an eye open for (including a rib-achingly funny turn from Waititi himself in a mo-cap role).
Overall, this is a triumphant offering for the MCU, which continues to offer riveting movies for its feverishly growing fanbase. The film is witty, hilarious and while perhaps not as fresh in its approach as Spider-Man: Homecoming or as idealogically deep as Captain America: Civil War, it is still among the universes most outrageous and fun capers, with hyperactive comic book infused enjoyment, alongside a groovy score by Mark Mothersbaugh, not to mention the best use of Led Zeppelin onscreen in years!