When it comes to the MCU’s solo superhero movies, Thor isn’t the strongest Avenger. Yes, his first outing has its fans, but the sequel is almost universally hated and neither can really match the might of the Iron Man films. With Thor: Ragnarok, though, it feels like the God of Thunder has found his groove thanks to director Taika Waititi. His tendency to find the fun in everything lends itself well to a superhero, which - let’s be honest - is a bit ridiculous, abandoning the seriousness of previous Thors and instead embracing what’s fun about the character. All this means that we have another hit MCU movie on our hands, and certainly the best Thor film yet. With mild spoilers to follow, here are my thoughts on Thor 3.
Thor: Ragnarok starts with the buffest of the deities cracking jokes and battling a massive fire dragon, and never really lets up. The plot focuses around Ragnarok - an apocalyptic event in Norse mythology - and the appearance of Thor's sister, Hela, but snaps you away to the industrial, Crayola bright planet of Sakaar along the way. There Jeff Goldblum gets to revel in the role of the billionaire showman the Grandmaster, we meet Valkyrie, and the Hulk and his rumpled everyman alterego make an appearance.
The wild ride of a plot is a joy, primarily because you never have to wait more than five minutes for a joke or well-placed wisecrack. Anytime there's a danger of someone giving a cliched, worthy speech about power and responsibility there's a one liner delivered like a slap to the back of the head. It's the same self-awareness that made Taika Waititi's skewering of vampire movie - What We Do in the Shadows - such a cult hit, and it works perfectly on Marvel's puffed up superhero set.
Cate Blanchett is so deliciously twisted as Hela, playing her as a sort of embittered ‘80s fashion editor and raging about Asgard's own version of fake news and alternative facts, that she almost makes her male co-stars seem like pretty set dressing. There's a reason she's front and center of all the trailers, you can't take her eyes off her for a single second when she's on screen. Your popcorn could spontaneously combust in your lap and you'd just casually waft away the groin smoke in case it obscured your view. If anything you just want more Hela. (Start the petition for Hela: The High School years now, someone.) The women of Thor: Ragnarok are the real drivers of the plot, whether they're bringing the physical comedy, flashes of genuine loss or, you know, giant freaking wolves.
Her gusto is matched by Tessa Thompson, who is a human molotov of whiskey fumes and badassery as Valkyrie. You'll probably recognize her from Westworld, but here she's less of a sinister executive and more of a warrior, serving up an impressive side of emotion with her meaty action scenes. Her hard drinking and scrapper lifestyle make her more relatable and fun than, may the sisterhood forgive me, the goody two-shoes Wonder Woman. At least I know who I'd rather go for a round of Old Fashioneds with.
If anyone feels a little flat it's some of the male side pieces. Poor old Karl Urban is Scourge, whose character arc you can see coming from a mile off. He's not bad, he was just at the end of the queue when they were handing out the pithy one-liners. Idris Elba never joined the queue at all, apparently, he doesn't get to do much except look handsome and worried. He does that well, but it feels like a bit of a waste.
The core gang of Loki, Thor, and Hulk/Banner do better, delivering lines about "safe passage through the devil's anus" with an infectious relish and playing off the relationships they've built through the Avenger's movies. It feels as though Hemsworth was grown in a lab just to play the Asgardian axe monkey, and there's a new confidence to his comedy with this movie that bumps him up the Marvel hero power rankings.
We get to see a new Hulk too, a Hulk who has been through a lot since we last saw him. If the last time we saw Big Green he was an oversized tantruming toddler, now he's advanced to the surly teenager stage. His vocabulary has expanded, he's got a fan following that would make Justin Bieber jealous and, surprisingly, a pretty sweet bachelor pad. Ruffalo's Hulk might never has his own movie, thanks to boring rights issues, but it feels like we're finally getting closer to the center layers of the big green Hulk onion.
All of the above comes presented on a vaguely hallucinogenic visual platter. Sakaar in particular is an intoxicating cocktail of influences, from synth music to video games to the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Waititi knows when to hold back too, which is a much harder skill to master. For instance, in the original comics Jeff Goldblum's character the Grandmaster is blue, here he just rocks a hint of teal eyeshadow. While it might make a few Marvel purists clutch their pearls it's a change that allows Goldblum to channel all the outrageousness into the performance.
The final fight scene, played out to the strains of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song and against a burning Asgard, doesn't hold back. It's so exciting you'd be forgiven for getting physically aroused. This is a Marvel movie that knows when to embrace the ridiculous and when to puncture any pomposity, and it's a delight from start to big finish. And yes, you do need to stay to the very very end of the credits.