THOR: RAGNAROK is the latest instalment in the increasingly-broad Marvel Universe, and the third Thor-specific movie. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the superhero genre is becoming ever-more crowded. A movie in this field has to do something different, and offer something unusual, to justify itself. So, does RAGNAROK succeed, or is it just another hero movie?
THOR: RAGNAROK takes place after the events of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. Thor has been looking for the Infinity Stones, without success, and finds himself captured by Surtur – a fire creature with a severe dislike of Asgard. Thor is threatened that a prophecy will soon come to fruition, and Asgard will be destroyed as a result. On his return to Asgard Thor discovers that Loki has usurped the throne, and the kingdom is in decline as a result. Odin, Thor and Loki’s father, has been exiled to Earth. Tracking Odin to a care home, and then eventually Norway, the pair discover that they have a sister. Named Hela, she is the Godess of Death, and she poses the real threat to Asgard…
Firstly, some background before I saw RAGNAROK. I’ve always found the Thor movies to be quite ponderous and very serious affairs. If anything, Thor is my least favourite Avenger: Asgard has never properly been defined for me (is it magical? Does it have technology? How does it interact with the other realms?), and Thor himself takes everything very seriously. Sure, Chris Hemsworth plays the role well enough (I actually think he does a good job), but the emotional depth just isn’t there as it is with some of the other Avengers.
So, that was my starting point when I sat down to watch RAGNAROK. Very shortly into the film, however, I found that I was pleasantly surprised. RAGNAROK doesn’t exactly reinvent Thor, but it fixes many of my issues with the character and the Thor filmd. The tone of the film is much closer to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: very tongue-in-cheek, and at times even self-mocking. The humour is spot on, with many scenes adopting a comic rhythm that really seems to suit Thor. There are heavier moments, sure, but these don’t hold up the action, and for a longer Marvel movie (RAGNAROK clocks in at 2 hours 10 minutes running time) the pace is good.
The larger cast of the Thor/Avengers universe returns, and this perhaps makes the movie – Hemsworth has a real sounding board in the wider world in which Thor finds himself. Chris Hemsworth is excellent as Thor; his comedy moments don’t seem out of character, and he handles the balance of humour and emotion just right in this film. Tom Hiddlestone’s Loki is also on great form. Ever the trickster, the familiar pattern of trust and betrayal that we see again and again from Loki is even self-referenced in RAGNAROK; a nice little nod to something that the audience has surely noticed. Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins has a lot of fun with two versions of Odin, and plays a central part in the development of Thor as a hero-king. Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett is fantastic as Hela, and seems to relish every scene in which she appears: an excellent choice for this role. From Idris Elba, to Karl Urban (who has a truly epic but equally comic demise at the end of the film!), to Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, every performance shines here.
RAGNAROK also involves the return of everyone’s favourite green fighting machine, the Incredible Hulk. Although I didn’t know this until recently, RAGNAROK actually includes elements of the comic book arc PLANET HULK. Mark Ruffalo turns an emotional performance, but again he veers more towards the comedic, which I thought suited the character and plot just fine. This might – somewhat ironically! – be Ruffalo’s best performance as Hulk: we get to see more Hulk than we do in many other Avenger movies, and his activities since the end of AGE OF ULTRON are interesting to explore. My only criticism here is that it’s a shame the marketing for RAGNAROK involved spoiling Hulk’s inclusion in the story. His arrival at the midway point of the film is meant to be a shock reveal, but anyone who knows anything about this film will already know that Hulk is in it: it’s a shame this wasn’t held back as a proper surprise. That comment, however, can be made in relation to many modern action movies – too many films these days have spoilerific trailers in my view!
Overall, THOR: RAGNAROK takes the Thor universe in a new direction, and it succeeds in a “soft” reimagining of a classic Avengers character. It’s great fun, very entertaining, and a thoroughly enjoyable entry in the Avengers canon.