Thor: Ragnarok is different in tone to most other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (a mere 27 of these now, if you include slated 2018 releases.) Writers Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, and Eric Pearson have taken the Avengers canon and somehow wrangled it to sit squarely in a Zucker Abrahams Zucker version of the Norse universe – there is an authentic tone to the gods and demigods despite the absurdity. The dialogue and the screenplay both feel like 90s team-written comedy, from before Friends got lazy, and the sight gags and cartoon comedy are straight out of Naked Gun. (None of this writing team were involved in the Guardians films, which have the tone but deliberate B-movie B-grade authenticity.) There are even jokes in the film about mixing canon from Thor and Avengers.
It is relentlessly entertaining – director Taika Waititi has paced it perfectly, and 130 minutes flies by. The onslaught begins almost immediately with a brilliant example of physical comedy, where Thor (Chris Hemsworth) attempts a serious Confrontation With Evil whilst dangling in mid-air chained up and slowly rotating, as if Inspector Clouseau had achieved the godhead.
The plot is unashamedly thin – it’s strictly a vehicle for the comedy – but it’s not weak. Like all good Norse myths, it revolves around Odin’s many rival siblings competing for the kingdom of Asgard. On this occasion Thor is the goody, his sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) is the baddie – a good gig for the Goddess of Death – and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is generally mischievous. “Mischief” is not quite “evil,” and Hiddleston plays Loki as a low-rent Crowley, which really works and adds to a general air of light farce. Hela stages a coup, there is (of course) a sleeping army, duly woken, and away we go for the remaining two hours of hilarious consequences. The obligatory twist, callback, and wrap-up at the end of the film is neatly done, and it never gets bogged down in lengthy action sequences, with even the final battle broken up into short exchanges interspersed with more knockabout gags.
The visual effects and production design are not subtle, but nonetheless provide a setting rather than shouting – after all, this is Valhalla, and it’s a movie of a comic, so it all works perfectly for this brand of world-building. How do you make Bifrost, a mythical rainbow bridge, convincing? Ask Waititi.
The whole thing is peppered with shoutouts throughout. There is a brief joke about putting the Father of Asgard in a care home, surely an explicit reference to the Douglas Adams Thor, and travel between Earth and the astral plane bears a suspicious resemblance to Kubrick’s Star Gate.
All of the ensemble cast are superb. Jeff Goldblum camps it up as “Grand Master” in what will now be the reference example for Grand Vizers everywhere. He captures Thor, and Thor must enter gladiatorial combat to survive – this fight is one of many engaging action sequences in the film. The antechamber before the arena introduces Waititi himself playing Korg with fabulous delivery and a perfectly off-kilter exaggeration of his natural speaking voice. Thor later teams up with the Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who pulls off a great natural supernatural, and provides excellent comic chemistry between the two of them.
In short, this film is enormous fun – and the Stan Lee cameo drew applause from an English cinema audience. Watch it, even if you never see the other twenty-six.
Written by: Craig Kyle (screenplay), Christopher Yost, Eric Pearson
Directed By: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson
Thor: Ragnarok is in UK cinemas from Tuesday 24th of October.