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Thor: Ragnarok – a fresh pair of eyes on tired material

  • Culture

By Azeem Rajulawalla

Another year, another Marvel movie (or three). Luckily for us, Thor: Ragnarok is a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t feel weighed down by the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s 16 preceeding films. What distinguishes this film is its director Taika Waititi, the New Zealander best known for recent indie gems Hunt For the Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows. Waititi has clearly taken creative control by integrating his own quirky humour and visual sensibilities into this Hollywood mammoth.

The strongest aspect of this film is its cast, led by Chris Hemsworth, finally able to show off an impeccable sense of comic timing and acting muscles that makes his celebrated physique look mediocre in comparison. Tom Hiddleston returns as the scheming Loki, for once a less interesting presence than the titular character.  Cate Blanchett plays Hela, the villainous Goddess of Death, as a Marilyn Manson cosplayer; Tessa Thompson is introduced as Valkyrie, a warrior with a dark past who works for The Grandmaster, played wonderfully by the internet’s best friend,  Jeff Goldblum.

Thor: Ragnarok takes a new direction with the superhero genre, going full-fledged comedy with an end-of-the-world backdrop, rather than using jokes to alleviate tension. Waititi’s irreverent style is also highly self aware, with comments on the ridiculousness of various situations; the film is littered with sexual innuendo and silly gags, particularly through Korg, a rock-monster played by the director himself. Occasionally this results in more emotional moments being undercut by one-liners, especially  disappointing when compared with the masterful balance of pathos and comedy in Waititi’s other works. It also means that certain characters are wasted, in particular Mark Ruffalo’s turn as everyone’s favourite green superhero. The film seems to acknowledge this, with Banner telling Thor “you’re only using me to get to the Hulk”. Hela lacks the character development she and Blanchett deserve, relegated instead to the standard two-dimensional Marvel villain. However Blanchett is evidently having a blast playing her, and this shows in every minute she graces the screen.

Stylistically, Ragnarok moves away from previous Thor films, a cosmic Shakespearean tale from Kenneth Branagh and intergalactic fantasy from Alan Taylor, and this has demonstrably increased the fun-factor. Mark Mothersbaugh’s score exemplifies this, ditching the epic orchestral sounds for 80s-style synths that suit the colourful visuals of the film. Unfortunately the cinematography can border on cartoonish at times: overly CGI-ed environments are obvious and dramatic scenes are undermined by the unsubtle green-screen environments that the characters inhabit.

Marvel’s newest instalment into its ever-expanding cinematic universe is a welcome one, and feels like a cohesive piece of work from a distinct filmmaker rather than an extended trailer for the next two Avengers films. An undeniably fun trip to the cinema is guaranteed with Thor: Ragnarok, and if you look closely enough, there’s even some social commentary on colonialism and the refugee crisis. The third time’s the charm, it would seem, when it comes to the God of Thunder.

Thor: Ragnarok will be released in UK cinemas on 24th October 2017. Running time 130 minutes.

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