Thor: Ragnarok

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In Norse mythology the word Ragnarök refers to the annihilation of the gods and the destruction of the world, after which everything is born anew. This is key to this latest Thor movie both narratively and thematically but also tonally. Events are such that the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe story will be altered as much as it was after either of the last two Captain America films but beyond this the approach director Taiki Waititi has taken with the film may also prove to be a bit of a game changer. This could be the end of this world as we know it. 

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You’d think from the title that this would be quite a dark and foreboding film but actually it isn’t, it is quite the opposite. Thor: Ragnarok is funny; really funny. All of the MCU films have had great little moments of levity and Guardians of the Galaxy was more broadly humorous but that movie was always an outlier. Thor is one of the Avengers and his latest film is predominantly a comedy. With this movie it has all just got a little bit sillier and it will be interesting to see how Avengers 3 is going to follow it.

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This said nothing that has come before in the Thor films has been compromised. There are a great number of laugh out moments in Thor: Ragnarok but they do not come at the cost of the action and the drama. Moments of pathos and sacrifice still mean something and while the feel of the film is different to those that preceded it, the sense of it being a grandiose space opera remains. It’s a tricky balance but Waititi has pulled it off. 

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If you saw Thor: The Dark World you will remember that at the end of that movie Odin the king of the Nine Realms had been magicked away by his eldest son Loki who was impersonating him and had taken his place on the throne. After a brief interlude with Thor besting a dangerous enemy this is where Thor: Ragnarok picks up with Loki ruling Asgard. You are going to love what he has done with the place. Soon though Loki and Thor are off to look for their dad with the help of Doctor Strange (this is not a spoiler, it’s in the end of the Doctor Strange movie) but this leads to the release of Hela the Goddess of Death who starts making a huge amount of trouble for everyone. 

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If you’ve seen any of the marketing you will know that in the middle of all this Thor ends up on a gladiator planet where he is reunited with the Hulk. It is a shame that the appearance of Hulk in this movie was widely publicised because if they had managed to keep it a secret then it would have been the greatest surprise since we saw Bruce Willis as a one of the dead people. Watching the film you do actually get the impression that this was the intention as Hulk’s entrance is an excellent reveal with a big build up. Still the interaction between Thor and Hulk is one of the main selling points so I guess it’s no surprise that they made it one of the main selling points. Fortunately there are other characters here, both advertised and not, that are also worth the ticket price.

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There are almost too many great performances in this film to mention but not being prepared to let that stop me, here we go. Cate Blanchett is having a whale of a time as Hela and the character looks just like she does in the comics. Tessa Thompson is a real stand out as new female superhero Valkyrie and thankfully looks nothing like the scantily dressed busty blonde white woman depicted in the comics (hooray for more diversity and less objectification). 

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Loki has always been the highlight of the Thor movies and Tom Hiddleston still doesn’t disappoint. Idris Elba’s Heimdall finally reaches both his and the actors’ potential both having been a little underused in the last two films (he also gets away with playing it totally straight despite the lighter tone). Jeff Goldblum is wonderfully Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban has a character arc that zips up and down like a roller coaster but he pulls it off and Waititi himself plays a CGI character called Korg that I will let you discover for yourself. There are also some great cameos that I won’t ruin for you other than to say Luke Hemsworth’s casting is just perfect. Then at the centre of it all is Chris Hemsworth who gives a perfectly pitched performance that acts as the lynchpin holding the whole heroic/comedic approach of the movie together. To a lesser extent Hemsworth has always been funny in this role but here he really nails it. It’s an even better comedy performance than the one he gave in Ghostbusters.

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Some of Marvel’s purist fans may not like the direction Taiki Waititi has taken this in but personally I think giving him this gig was inspired. It seemed a surprising choice after his previous movies The Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows but the deadpan comedy of manners he brought to those films actually works perfectly in this exaggerated fantasy world. For me, having been disappointed by the undisciplined nature of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, this is the film that that movie should have been. Where James Gunn’s sequel went too far with both the humour and the violence, Thor 3 gets the balance just right.

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Taiki Waititi hasn’t totally destroyed the world of the Avengers but he has tickled it relentlessly until it has given up and let him get his way

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The Ripley Factor:
Previous Thor films have given us strong female characters in Lady Sif, Frigga and Jane Foster, none of who appear here. In Valkyrie though we have a character to rival them all. Unlike those to have come before her she is unsaddled with the role of mother or love interest and is totally unreliant on the male hero. Marvel may not have given us a female lead superhero film yet but the list of strong supporting women continues to grow. Tessa Thompson has suggested that the studio bring all of its female characters together in one solo movie and frankly when you consider who that might involve it is a very exciting idea.

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Is this one for the kids?
Thor: Ragnarok is rated 12A just like every other Marvel movie but the fun tone makes it all seem softer. A lot of characters die on screen, including some we know, but none of it is particularly upsetting. If anything in some places it could have done with being a little more so as a few of them deserved more (think Newt in Alien3) but I’m splitting hairs. The quick sacrifice of a few minor players is worth it. 

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