Out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the only films I did not like were the Thor ones. I found them dull, dragging and not really representative of the character. Visually Thor 1 and its sequel were great but I felt that portraying Thor as the friendly earth superhero did not really suit him. Plus things were made worse with humans joining him. I always thought he excelled as part of the Avengers especially when he ganged up with the more outrageous characters in the ensemble, namely, Hulk. The films desperately needed humor so drafting New Zealand director Taika Waititi, who has directed some slyly funny films seemed like a good idea.
Waititi definitely injects comedy in Ragnarok but also manages to explore deeper themes, more of later.
The premise of the plot is thus, Hella, Thor’s sister, is back from the dead and now has taken over Asgard, since Odin is not there anymore (all Loki’s fault) she banishes Thor (and destroys the Mjolnir as well) and Loki and they land on planet Sakaar, run by the madcap Grandmaster. Thor, Loki, with the help of Hulk and renegade Valkyrie return to Asgard to save the inhabitants and destroy Hella.
I like it when the MCU films follow canon and Waititi ties up some loose ends. One being the return of Hulk. In age of Ultron he was sent in a rocketship blasting into space. The second is the return of Dr. Strange whose role as the median of all dimensions is cemented. We are also given a glimpse of the Infinity War saga that will be on the screens in 2018. Excellent.
As always Marvel have the best casting. I won’t go into the returning characters. Jeff Goldblum is fantastic. His portrayal of the bonkers Grandmaster is the best thing he’s done. Usually his ummm and ahhs get on my nerves but here they work AND he plays a synthesizer while Cate Blanchett can play a supervillain brilliantly, I do wish she had some more opportunities to shine. Tessa Thompson as the boozy Valkyrie was great. Director-wise Waititi gave Thor a less po faced role, kept Loki’s deceitfulness and made Hulk dumber and Bruce Banner naive. He also chucked in some little references to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory and Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Visually it is a stunner, Sakaar being a treat for the eyes. No complaints.
However the big theme is of immigration. Thor realises that the only way to save the people of Asgard is to fulfill the prophecy and destroy it. He also learns that as a place Asgard is only a concept but what makes a place is its people so all inhabitants are gathered in a ship to make way for better lands. In one scene there is talk of doors, which reminded me of the Mohsin Hamid novel Exit West, where a couple flee their war torn country via doorways in order to find a promised land. In a more realistic scenario, Waititi’s paternal side of his family are descendants of the Te Whanau-a-Apanui tribe, who may have been in the same situation? I remember reading about similar situations in Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors, which focused on maintaining an identity.
Out of the Thor trilogy, Ragnarok is the best. In the context MCU it is one of the stronger ones. Waititi did something a bit daring and it works and finally the MCU have a decent Thor film to its name.