Asgardian of the Galaxy
By Jason Wiese
There is a consensus among the majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe fandom that Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is best when he is with the Avengers. The Australian actor’s performance as the comic book interpretation of Norse mythology’s God of Thunder is perfect in nearly every way. His mere appearance suggests that he secretly is the true Thor, banished from Asgard and sent to Earth to play himself as some sort of misguided punishment.
As brightly as the character shines in 2012’s The Avengers and its 2015 sequel Age of Ultron, his first two standalone films, his self-titled 2010 introduction and 2013’s The Dark World, are tonally unbalanced, creatively dry, visually disengaging and, overall, utterly forgettable. Throw in one of New Zealand’s most creative comedic talents, director Taika Waititi, and you get a Thor film that is a thoroughly refreshing departure from the previous cinematic interpretations of the character and his world. However, this new redemptive formula does come with a price.
Thor: Ragnarok sees our hero still fighting outside of the Avengers and away from his home of Asgard. He returns upon threats that Ragnarok, the Asgardian Apocalypse, is upon them. After he and his villainous adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) discover that Hela (Cate Blanchett), the sister they never knew, is destined to start Ragnarok, the brothers fail to prevent her from usurping the throne and are banished into space.
Thor lands on a distant planet that has incorporated a sort of dystopian utopia. The planet is a beautiful, brightly colored place with architecture that defies physics, garbage-filled wastelands, futuristic technology and savage gladiator battles for entertainment. This is all under the jurisdiction of the flamboyant and amusingly sociopathic Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, in his most entertaining role in years), who pits Thor in a gladiator battle against his top champion, who just so happens to be the alter ego of Dr. Bruce Banner, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Thor sees this reunion with his former comrade as a ticket to escaping this planet and saving Asgard from Hela’s vengeful destruction.
As I walked out of this film (hell, even before I saw the first of its two post-credits scenes), I could not think of a single thing wrong with it. It gets everything that makes Thor a great cinematic character right, starting with the fact that he is best when on a team, which this time includes Loki, Hulk and a new character known as Valkyrie (a great Tessa Thompson), a tough-as-nails warrior with a mysterious past. It also realizes that Thor is most likable as a witty, relatable and more affable hero while still keeping his nobility and grit in check, a balancing act that Hemsworth has nearly perfected over the years. It comes in handy for the film’s frequent and consistently prosperous comic bits. In fact, the humor is so prevalent that the film could easily be called a comedy that just happens to have glorious intergalactic action set pieces every once in a while. And when those sequences are set to memorable classic rock tunes, it is impossible not to have fun.
Yet, after considering all of this, that is when this film’s one nearly debilitating flaw hit me: Ragnarok, in everything from its marketing to its color-coded credits sequence, is shamelessly pandering to the Guardians of the Galaxy fandom. Without giving too much away, I would go as far as saying it is nearly a remake of the first Guardians. It is as if Marvel realized that, with Guardians being their most widely loved property, they took the wonderfully unique plot and structure of the first film and converted it into a formula with the fool-proof result of a satisfied audience. Fortunately, the result truly is fool-proof.
Upon further analysis and comparison to the other Marvel films like it, Ragnarok is not a very original film, but having Thor as the main focus is what makes it feel so refreshing and ultimately forgivable. Waititi is masterful at balancing humor with action and brings a brilliant sense of fun and excitement that we previously thought Thor was not the character to seek out for. The film keeps you laughing, cheering and rooting for Thor, Hulk and even the newcomer characters like you never would have expected.