Marvel Studios' God of Thunder is back once again, bringing his colourful cosmic realm to the silver screen for the third instalment of the Thor franchise, the aptly titled Thor: Ragnarok. As Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige so eloquently explained back at the Phase 3 announcement in 2014, "Ragnarok" essentially means "the end of all things". Throughout comic history and threaded through the annals of Norse mythology, Ragnarok was depicted as the Asgardian apocalypse or end of the world.
Prophecies throughout the comics proclaimed that Ragnarok would be brought about when Odin's great sword was withdrawn from its sheath. This event would cause the cataclysmic destruction of Asgard and all its inhabitants. The impervious and fiery demon of the underworld Sutur was usually the instigator of these events, implicating him in Asgard's destruction and rebirth, as well as the death of key characters. This developed Surtur's reputation as being arguably Asgard's greatest archenemy. The original comic mythology takes a departure in this film, however a new concept is established during the early moments of the movie, setting up the mechanics involved with beginning Ragnarok and subsequently preparing audiences for the events to follow.
While Thor: Ragnarok is chronologically the third Thor movie to be released by Marvel Studios and Disney, the film is in fact more of a sequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron. After leaving Earth and the Avengers, Thor embarks on a quest to understand his nightmarish visions regarding the fall of Asgard and "infinity stones", tiny gems that control the entire fabric of the Universe. Things don't go according to plan however, with Thor finding himself in a complicated predicament. The movie begins at a hellacious pace, following a personal monologue from Thor indicating his lack of progress.
Most audiences will be delighted with the opening sequence. It is action packed and highly entertaining. Thor aficionados will also be surprised by the abrupt introduction of a new character we have not yet seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The immensely prominent figure from Marvel Comics is dealt with quite quickly, perhaps indicating a lack of character development and trivialising the antagonist's formidable and threatening nature. This may disappoint some Thor fans, however the key scene has further implications as the plot progresses. The only negative during the opening scene is the out of context humour that is weaved within Thor's dialogue. This is a direct consequence of director Taika Waititi's involvement, which again trivialises the immense threat on Thor and Asgard, and dilutes the significance of the film's finale. However, the character change does establish Thor's subsequent fearless irreverence and newfound wit.
Following the action packed opening, Thor makes his long awaited return to Asgard, a place that has significantly changed since he left it last. Some notable characters are curiously absent, including the likes of Lady Sif. In addition to this, essential members within the Asgardian hierarchy seem to have been rearranged. Thor is quick to decipher the reason for the mischievous activity, equating the mysterious changes to his brother Loki, the God of Mischief. A tremendously surprising and entertaining sequence follows, sprinkled with some highly unexpected and jaw dropping cameos, culminating in a highly humorous pantomime. Following a few interesting revelations Thor and Loki must embark on a quest to find their missing father Odin. Loki magically supplanted Odin during the end of the previous installment Thor the Dark World, and has subsequently lost track of his whereabouts. The brotherly adventure takes them back to Earth, where their paths cross with another hero, whose strange magical prowess has grown exponentially since audiences saw him last. It is a scene that is one of the absolute highlights of the film. It clearly demonstrates the brilliance of Marvel Studios and their idea to integrate other characters within their stories, just like in the comic books.
Key revelations are discovered by Thor and Loki regarding their father Odin and the ensuing threat that is to come in the form of Hela, the God of Death. Another epic encounter follows transporting Thor and his adopted brother to a far away world. The world known as Sakaar is a colourful realm in disrepair, run by a quirky ancient being known as the Grandmaster. The Grandmaster lives for pleasure and the overwhelmingly barbaric battles he arranges within his giant space age coliseum. Thor's overconfidence leads him towards a unique transformation and a surprising reunion with a familiar face. From here Thor and his unlikely band of heroes must fight their way across the galaxy to vanquish the infamous Hela and her threat upon Asgard.
For the most part Thor: Ragnarok is a Thor story. However, a significant chunk of the movie has been devoted to the Incredible Hulk and subsequently Bruce Banner. This substantial segment of the plot takes its inspiration from the popular "Planet Hulk" comic book storyline, which involved the Hulk being exiled from Earth after being deemed too dangerous. It goes without saying that the character arc involving the Hulk in this movie isn't quite as elaborate as the one to feature in the graphic novel. In fact, the minor details involving the Hulk's personal journey are condensed and mysterious at best. Nothing is really explained about how the Hulk finds himself off world in the first place, apart from the mode of transportation. This leaves an air of secrecy to the problematic predicament. The inclusion of his character however is most welcome and immensely enjoyable all the same.
The absolute highlight of the film is the tremendous chemistry between Thor and the Hulk, which adds to the already well established rapport between Thor and Loki. Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Hiddleston are utterly fabulous in their roles. Mark Ruffalo's depiction of Bruce Banner is understated to the point of being endearing. Meanwhile Tom Hiddleston brings back the all the memorable nuances of Loki that audiences know and love. Chris Hemsworth on the other hand takes the charismatic Thor to a whole other level, exploring a more humourous side in addition to emanating a sense of responsibility that is in contrast to the original Thor film. There is a significant amount of character transformation shared amongst all three, with Thor receiving the majority of the reimagining. For the most part the changes work well, however idealistic Marvel and Thor fans may be disappointed with the significant alterations, particularly with Thor's already wonderful aesthetic. By the end of the movie, Thor goes through such a dramatic transformation that audiences will perhaps no longer recognise him as Thor, with most of his unique aspects being obliterated.
Mark Ruffalo continues to excel as both Bruce Banner and the Hulk, taking the character further each time he returns to the role. There is a fascinating dichotomy between the two, with Banner's reserved nature being at direct opposition to the Hulk's rage and impatient need for validation. Thor: Ragnarok sees the Hulk come into his own more than ever before. He has a significant amount of dialogue in the film, speaking at the equivalent level of a 2 year old. This is coincidentally about the same amount of time he has remained as the Hulk since Avengers: Age of Ultron. The updated Hulk is incredibly petulant and immature, which creates a plethora of comedic moments that audiences will relish. The attention to both aspects of Banner's character also begins an interesting character arc, which is meant to continue through the next two Avengers movies.
Tom Hiddleston's Loki returns once again to marvellous effect. His performance is brilliant as always, creating a dynamic with Thor that is fantastic to watch. Loki is a such a tremendous asset to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He is the classic trickster and heel who you can never seem to trust. However, in this edition of the franchise he seems to be much less of a threat, and even less of a scene stealer, with his main focus being on self preservation. Loki's character is well developed throughout the storyline, although this time around he seems much less sure of himself, which makes him a lot less formidable. His motivations are also tremendously murky and unclear.
Hela the imposing God of Death and nemesis of Asgard is played fabulously by Cate Blanchett. Her depiction takes villainy to a whole other level, as she conjures an extremely well thought out persona complete with sadism and a working class British accent. She provides the film with an immensely potent presence and her character design is absolutely brilliant, paying homage to her comic book origins. There is definitely not enough screen time allocated to her charismatic performance. In saying this, she undeniably leaves her mark, not only on Thor but the entire Marvel cinematic landscape as well. However, the way she is weaved into the plot will unfortunately taint the audience's perception of Asgard. It is an unfortunate byproduct of a superbly executed villainous performance.
Veteran thespian Anthony Hopkins also makes his presence felt as Odin, with a wise and measured performance that sees him play a vital role as oracle to Thor on his quest to save Asgard. His presence in the film is also far too brief, which is a pity considering this may be his final appearance in the role. Odin's depiction in this film is far better than his grumpy persona from the previously released Thor the Dark World. However, he is again perhaps misused, being primarily relegated to the role of Thor's spiritual advisor. This aspect is executed well, but leaves the audience with many unanswered questions, especially in relation to his character arc and the legacy of his past decisions.
Karl Urban's entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is also most welcome, as he provides a quirky interpretation to the character of Scourge. His inclusion however adds nothing to the plot, as he primarily fulfils the role of a reluctant sidekick to the infamous Hela. While Scourge does allow Hela an avenue to direct her dialogue, providing essential exposition for the audience, the extent of his usefulness stops there. Fortunately his character arc is successfully tied up by the end of the film. However, his inclusion is completely unnecessary, with vital screen time being better allocated to address other characters.
The introduction of Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster is a real delight to witness. Goldblum undeniably makes the role his own, providing a performance that is fabulously quirky and creative. While the Grandmaster is never officially referred to as the Collector's brother throughout the film, the implication is very clear. His utter irreverence and sadistic humour is incredibly entertaining to watch, making him a most worthy addition to Marvel's growing list of cosmic characters.
The introduction of Valkyrie to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been long overdue. This is especially considering her prominent role in teams such as The Defenders and the Lady Liberators. Tessa Thompson's depiction is profoundly interesting and astoundingly well thought out, leaving her as arguably one of the most well developed characters throughout the movie. This is totally due to Thompson's fabulous execution, as she takes the character to places audiences will immensely enjoy. She is sassy, tremendously strong and stands on her own as a majestic heroine, all while being incredibly flawed. Her subtle accent is delightfully delivered and her persona is infectious. Her introduction is also highly humourous, creating one of the funnier moments in the film. However, it has to be said that her casting may seem perplexing to audiences on a surface level, especially considering Valkyrie's original comic origins and incredibly recognisable Scandinavian aesthetic.
In her comic book form Valkyrie was the blonde and blue eyed Brunnhilde, complete with pigtails and a metallic brassiere. It's about as stereotypically "Viking" as you can get. The choice to cast an African American actress in the role is a welcome and progressive choice, but to strip the character of any elements that made her comparable to her comic incarnation is an extremely odd creative decision. The only aesthetic aspect that anchors the cinematic adaptation to her comic namesake is a flashback that has her riding a winged horse. These creative choices essentially leave the character as the "Valkyrie" in name only, completely alienating the source material. It would have been nice to see a little more care taken with Valkyrie's character design, linking her a little more to her counterpart from the comics. Although in spite of these character design flaws, Tessa Thompson leaves a fabulous lasting impression with her formidably entertaining performance, making her one of the most fun additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in recent memory.
Director Taika Waititi also makes a key cameo during the movie as Korg, an alien rock creature with a distinctly Maori and Polynesian predisposition. Korg primarily positions himself in the plot as comic relief, working off Chris Hemsworth for the most part to produce a perceived need for levity. The overwhelmingly New Zealand and Australian inspired humour is clearly palatable throughout his performance. In short, the character is immensely enjoyable and quite hilarious. However, during the later stages of the film the comedy can take audiences out of the moment. While Taika Watiti does a great job directing the film, his primary motivation seems to be to prioritise the gags and punchlines over the plot. This unique style, while fresh and spontaneous, unfortunately trivialises the apocalyptic implications that drive the story forward. The comedy in the film definitely works, however the plethora of funny moments can feel slightly forced and a lot less organic than previous Marvel movies.
In summary Thor: Ragnarok is such a marvellous movie. It encompasses so many sensational characters and fabulous moments that it arguably makes it the best film in the Thor trilogy. Thor: Ragnarok is also undeniably the most entertaining Thor movie yet, creating many funny moments while delivering a fantastic story with superb narrative drive. The film also takes what was so good about the previous editions of Thor and builds upon the legacy, with a new creative direction. This is much to the credit of director Taika Waititi. In a way, the film also melds the worlds of Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy more seamlessly. This undoubtedly preempts what is to come with Avengers: Infinity War.
Thor Ragnarok's musical score is also sensational, presenting audiences with a palatable 80's feel and vibe. The bright colours and creative production design conjures the revolutionary artwork of Jack Kirby, paying homage to his brilliant legacy. The movie also seems to reproduce similar creative concepts that are synonymous with 80's animation, particularly seen in the likes of He-man and the Masters of the Universe. Much of Thor: Ragnarok's success is owed to the sensational visual effects and production design work, creating both a story world and characters that are believable and incredibly unique.
On the negative side, everything audiences love about Thor is turned on its head in this movie. This goes for his overall aesthetic, his hammer and his ultimate sense of purpose. It is undeniably a bold new direction for the character, one that perhaps audiences will not be truly ready for. It has to be said that Thor's transformation by the end of the movie is a little too drastic. In essence, the unique elements that made Thor so great are stripped away due to a perceived need by the cast and director to refresh the character. This dramatic transformation unfortunately makes Thor unrecognisable as his former self, taking him away from his Stan Lee and Jack Kirby origins. As a consequence the character actually becomes less unique and less grounded.
On a positive note, Thor: Ragarok is also arguably one of the best movie productions to come out of Australia, with the vast majority of the film being shot on the Gold Coast. It is tremendously encouraging to say the least, and should hopefully see more Disney and Marvel Studios productions being developed on Australian soil. Marvel Studios and their development team have once again created a fabulous film that will be remembered for a very long time, not only for its fun moments, but also for its wonderful characters and compelling story. In short, Thor: Ragnarok is a definite must see movie this November.