By Zeus, Thor’s new film hammers home a winner

by Martin McNamara

THOSE who found themselves caught up in the cultish fervour that followed director Taika Waititi’s hilarious vampire-farce, What We Do In the Shadows (2014), and delighted in the offbeat buddy-comedy of last year’s, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, will have been understandably dumbfounded at the announcement that the New Zealand filmmaker would be helming Thor: Ragnarok (Cert 12A, 130 mins).
Waititi’s cinematic worlds thus far have been intimate in scale and scope, uniquely oddball comedies, as absurd as they are endearing.
These tendencies seem alarmingly ill-fit for the massive-scale blockbusters that Marvel trade in, so one would be forgiven for any scepticism held.
However, Marvel’s “God of Thunder” (Chris Hemsworth) is in safe, capable hands – hands that have moulded a series in danger of going stale into a refreshing, off-the-wall comedy, which boasts all the frenzied, explosive superhero action we’ve come to expect from the studio, but fills its gaps with the director’s unique brand of humour.
It strays further from the well-worn “Marvel formula” than any other release in the 17-film MCU franchise.
Following his return to Asgard at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Thor has spent some time fruitlessly searching for Infinity Stones.
After a run-in with a gigantic fire-demon, who warns the god of the fabled “Ragnarok” – the destruction of Asgard, the gods’ home – Thor sets off on an adventure that finds him imprisoned on a planet on the other side of the universe.
There, Thor is forced to fight in a deadly contest by “the Grandmaster” (Jeff Goldblum, at his most wonderfully eccentric), a battle that sees him eventually team up with an old friend, The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Meanwhile, the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett, left), as evil as she is powerful, is also intent on taking over Asgard, so Thor finds himself in a race against time to get home and stop her.
Loki also makes an appearance here, played by Tom Hiddleston in a considerably more comic role than in previous instalments.
The same could be said for any of the series’ cast of otherworldly heroes and villains: the mighty Thor is at his most bullheaded, the Hulk has never been so concerned with “smashing”, and particular applause must be given to Karl Urban’s hilarious turn as evil henchman, Skurge.
Marvel have quite clearly given Waititi free reign to reshape this universe with all his charming and bizarre idiosyncrasies; above all else, this is a comedy.
In that respect, Ragnarok is closest in style to the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and with all its space-hopping madness, it’s fair to say that Waititi’s vision could only have been greenlit following the success of the aforementioned galactic superhero-comedy.
This, however, is a much, much funnier film. Unfortunately, all that humour pushes a typically epic-in-scale plot to the background at times and the characters have less archetypal growing to do than in your standard Marvel adventure.
Hela is a strong villain, as nasty as they come, but regrettably one-dimensional. Thor accepts some responsibility along the way, but is very much the same hero we get when the film starts.
These narrative flaws are easy to forgive – there’s just so much to fall in love with and laugh at in this vibrant, charming and utterly daft superhero movie.
A Marvel movie that doesn’t fit the Marvel mould, this is one of the studio’s best, and certainly one of the year’s finest comedies.
Verdict: 8/10

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