Somebody was smoking some laced wild shit and licking frogs when they put together Thor: Ragnarok, a film so nutty it easily surpasses the Guardians of the Galaxy films as the screwiest offering in the Marvel universe.
When you hand the keys to the Thor franchise over to a director like Taika Waititi, you know you are going to get something bizarre, and Waititi doesn’t disappoint. Waititi is the New Zealand comic actor/director responsible for the hilarious vampire faux documentary What We Do in the Shadows and the funny family drama Hunt for the Wilderpeople. There’s really nothing on his resume that screams, “Hey, let’s have this guy direct an action-packed, highly expensive Thor film!” But he got the gig, so there you go. Sometimes the wild card pays off.
Borrowing from a host of Marvel comics, including the famed “Planet Hulk” storyline, the hallucinogenic plot drops Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on a crazy garbage planet bent on round-the-clock, violent entertainment and led by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, finally getting a high-profile role worthy of him outside of a Wes Anderson film). The Grandmaster cuts Thor’s hair, dresses him in gladiator gear, and throws him into the ring for a weaponized bout with his prized competitor.
That prized competitor is the Hulk, held captive on the planet for the past couple of years. He’s been nothing but the Hulk the whole time, with Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) trapped inside him. Thor and Hulk have a battle royale for the ages, followed by some great scenes where the Hulk actually speaks. Ruffalo provides the voice, and this is the first time in the recent Marvel films where Lou Ferrigno isn’t providing Hulk’s growls.
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 brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) makes it into the mix, begrudgingly siding with his brother in the war for Asgard, but still not trustworthy. Waititi wisely plays upon the more comic notes from Loki’s past Avenger film participation and makes Loki, 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 and sporting 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, expensively 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 after credits scene), but it does so without being too obvious.And there’s no problem in that. These are comic book movies, and sometimes, as in Avengers: Age of Ultron, they can take themselves a little too seriously. Ragnarok embraces its insanity and takes it to highly entertaining, WTF levels.
No, I don’t want to see this happen with every Marvel movie. But, every fourth movie, just let a rogue director go crazy with some Avengers? That wouldn’t be so bad.