Thor’s wild and weird adventures
Somebody was licking hallucinogenic frogs while putting together Thor: Ragnarok, a film so nutty it easily surpasses the Guardians of the Galaxy films as the screwiest offering in the Marvel Universe.
This is what happens when you hand the keys to the Thor franchise to someone like Taika Waititi, the New Zealand comic actor/director responsible for the hilarious vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows and the funny family drama Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Borrowing from a host of Marvel comics (including the famed “Planet Hulk” storyline from the Incredible Hulk series), the hallucinogenic plot drops Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on a crazy garbage planet bent on round-the-clock violent entertainment and led by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, finally getting a worthy high-profile role outside of a Wes Anderson film). The Grandmaster shaves Thor’s head, dresses him in gladiator gear, and throws him into the ring for a bout with his prized competitor. That would be the Hulk, held captive on the planet for the past couple of years. He’s been nothing but the Hulk the whole time, with alter ego Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) trapped inside. Thor and Hulk have a battle royale for the ages, followed by some great scenes where the Hulk actually speaks.
There’s a whole other, apocalyptic subplot going on, where Thor’s long-lost sister Hela (a striking and devilish Cate Blanchett decked out in black) is causing major havoc on his home planet of Asgard. Blanchett immediately sets herself high in the ranking of Marvel movie villains. She’s played a baddie before, but never this entertainingly.
Thor’s mischievous adopted brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), makes it into the mix, begrudgingly siding with Thor in the war for Asgard, but he’s still not 100 percent trustworthy. Waititi wisely plays upon the more comic notes from Loki’s past Avengers film participation and makes him more or less a clown in this movie. It works beautifully.
The great Tessa Thompson plays Valkyrie, a former Asgardian turned trapper for the Grandmaster with a slight drinking problem. Karl Urban gets perhaps his best role outside of Star Trek as Skurge, an Asgardian who becomes Hela’s right-hand man and boasts a collection of stuff that includes an infamous Earthly exercising tool.
To say the result of all this is trippy is an understatement. The movie looks like Thor meets Boogie Nights (minus the porn) meets The Lord of the Rings. It scores high marks in the fantasy genre realm while being one of the year’s funniest movies, and that’s high praise. Most of the cast gets to demonstrate equal parts comedic and action chops, and the film never feels off-balance. Goldblum, thankfully, gets to riff most of his dialogue Goldblum-style. It all feels very improvised and loose.
As far as moving the stories of Thor and Hulk forward, the movie sort of spins its wheels. Ragnarok is mostly a standalone, expensive, silly curio that looks great and distinguishes itself without worrying about connecting to plot threads in other films. I mean, it does do that (stay for the post-credits scene), but it does so without being too obvious.
These are comic book movies, and sometimes (like with Avengers: Age of Ultron) they can take themselves a little too seriously. Ragnarok embraces its insanity and takes it to highly entertaining, WTF? levels.