While we weary of superhero films, a good movie is a good movie, and with much trepidation we went off to see Taika Waititi’s latest film, Thor: Ragnarok. I lamented in the Hunt for the Wilderpeople review on Waititi’s being tapped for the next installment in the Thor franchise, because both Hunt and his earlier film (What We Do In The Shadows) were in my top five for the year, and I feared his quirky Kiwi-ness would be lost in the Marvel swamp.
Fear not! Even as we enjoyed this film, I came out of it with a pretty mean New Zealand accent, thanks to Korg, a rock-man who finds himself in jail with the demigod after he tried to “start a revolution, but didn’t print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up”, voiced by Waititi and, I believe, at least partly written by him, though he has no writing credit on the film. But where most films wouldn’t have been clever enough to come up with that as a line, most of the ones that did would’ve made it just a gag where Waititi has Korg be a truly novel character: The mild-mannered revolutionary.
Chris Hemsworth has a light touch—seriously misused in Ghostbusters—that Waititi exploits to its fullest, giving us a nice break between the smash-em-up set pieces which were good but, honestly, who cares anymore, really? Some people say this cribbed from Guardians of the Galaxy but even if so, that’s not a bad thing. I think what the big commonality is not the space opera-ish feel (which both have, sure) but that the director is not going to let a chance pass for a character to become memorable. There’s a two-headed alien in the movie—no lines, no real story impact except he helps fight in the big end battle and we see at the end that he’s been killed. The Boy and I had the same reaction: We hated to see him go!
They gave him character even in the limited onscreen space he had, and we both picked up on that. And the movie is full of that both big and small, like having Jeff Goldblum be the quasi-villain who runs a space-gladiator-arena where Thor must fight his way to freedom. (This is set up as a big gag in the movie, and it’s utterly spoiled by the trailer, which ticked me off.)
It was especially great to see Waititi bring his fellow Kiwi, Rachel House (the grandma in Moana), along with him (from Wilderpeople) as the comically stern sidekick to Goldblum’s comically casual sadist. Even the appearance of Dr. Strange didn’t annoy me as much as I would think it might. He has a role in the Marvel universe of protecting earth from alien demigods, and his appearance is short and to-the-point, as are the other tie-ins with the Marvel universe. (Which, I would add, are something I was over before they were ever a thing.)
Cate Blanchett is the villainess Hela (Hela in the movie, but Helle in Norse mythology) and she felt a little typecast, basically, reprising any of her recent superpower sociopathic roles, like Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, the evil stepmother in Cinderella, or Carol in Carol. I didn’t really recognize her when she was on. It was mostly “Oh, that must be Cate Blanchett. She looks odd. Wait, maybe it’s not Cate Blanchett. But it sounds and acts like Cate Blanchett.” She’s mostly a foil for the climactic set piece, and she could’ve been done entirely CGI, like Clancy Brown’s Surture.
Still, if you’re not completely sick of them, I’d probably recommend this as the superhero movie to see this year. (Keeping in mind that I’ve missed most of the others. Well, I wouldn’t say “missed”, Bob…)