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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Film review: Thor: Ragnarok - Taika Waititi puts the "comic" back in comic book

Marvel's latest draws a solid line under the sombre Thor of old

Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo in a scene from Thor: Ragnarok. Courtesy Marvel Studios
Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo in a scene from Thor: Ragnarok. Courtesy Marvel Studios

Taika Waititi was a strange choice to direct the latest outing in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. The indie darling behind low-budget gems such as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople isn’t short of fans in film-buff circles, but what would he do with a multi-million-dirham budget, all the special effects he could ask for, and an assortment of capes and superpowers at his disposal? We have been here once before, when Josh Trank, revered for sci-fi cult favourite Chronicle, was handed the keys to the Marvel costume closet, and delivered the risible Fantastic Four. His CV has remained strangely empty since. Would Waititi suffer the same fate?

Thankfully not. Instead, the director has delivered possibly the most entertaining instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet. Marvel movies have always been a little brighter than their DC rivals, bringing a wry self-deprecating humour to what is, at its core, a rather silly genre. Here, Waititi turns the self-awareness up to 11 and delivers not so much a superhero movie as a full-blown comedy that happens to feature some people in capes.

The movie may upset some purists – the previous two films in the Thor franchise were among the most sombre in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Waititi has torn up that rule book and instead delivered The Keystone Norseman. Hemsworth, having perhaps honed his comic talents in last year’s Ghostbusters, proves himself an unexpectedly hilarious comic lead, while Hiddleston’s mischievous Loki has abandoned the Shakespearean monologues of old and instead just acts as a constant irritant to his older brother and rival Thor.

The plot, such as it matters, finds Thor and Loki stranded on the faraway planet Sakaar after losing a battle with their formerly banished prodigal sister Hela (Blanchett), the rather unwelcoming sounding Goddess of Death. While Thor is forced to do battle in a gladiatorial arena by the planet’s twisted ruler the Grandmaster, a role that could have been written especially for Jeff Goldblum, and Loki uses his wiles to ingratiate himself with Goldblum’s villainous ruler, Hela sets about conquering the pair’s Asgardian homeland, bringing death and misery in her wake. Thor, naturally, must escape Sakaar, return to Asgard and save his people, enlisting the help of Marvel favourites Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), as well as newcomer Valkyrie (Thompson) along the way.

What carries the film is the blooming comic relationship between Thor, Ruffalo’s Hulk, who is more sulky child than fearsome man-mountain, and Valkyrie, a kind of Wonder Woman with an alarming drinking habit.

Guardians of the Galaxy has traditionally been seen as the black sheep of the Marvel family for its wacky humour and lack of respect for traditional comic-book-canon reverence, but Waititi’s entry makes the Guardians adventures look like an accountancy conference. The resulting riot of explosively garish effects, irreverent one-liners and humour spanning the spectrum from toilet to high-grade satire is well worth two hours of your time.

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Read more:

OSN to launch pop-up Marvel Channel

Mark Ruffalo accidentally livestreams part of Thor: Ragnarok

Chris Hemsworth on films, family, fashion and fragrances

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