Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Ragnarok and Roll

Director: Taika Waititi
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Taika Waititi, Rachel House, Tadanobu Asano, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Clancy Brown, Benedict Cumberbatch

In spite of his clear popularity, Thor has always felt like the red headed step-child of the MCU. Whereas the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy are widely adored, neither of the Chris Hemsworth starrers seem to have held a comparable kind of adoration. It's almost as though the powers that be knew that, as the resulting third entry cleans the slate, and allows the character to step outside of any comfort zone.

Finding himself imprisoned halfway across the galaxy, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), his former ally. He must fight for survival, in a race against time to stop Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who wants to bring about Ragnarok, the end of days which will result in the destruction of his homeworld and the extinction of his people.

Being the third director to helm a solo tale about the eponymous Asgardian prince, the hiring of Taika Waititi is certainly unique. Following on from Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor, who had prior experience directing Shakespeare and Game of Thrones, the director of a vampire mockumentary isn't the most obvious choice. Needless to say, the proof is in the final product, as Waititi has crafted one of the most *ahen* Marvel-lous additions to the MCU.

What's been crafted is a loving retro throwback, complete with a fantastic synth score by Mark Mothersbaugh, and even managing to include "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You can feel he's handed this picture with the utmost care, refusing to relegate the Asgardian to Earth like the previous two instalments were largely guilty of. Thank goodness for that, as the stunning designs of Sakarr prove to be a visual feast.

What's been delivered to the screen can easily be called one of the year's funniest films, with comedic gold regularly provided from the character interactions, as well as the cast being played to their comedic strengths where possible. Thankfully, there's a knowing sense of when to play things seriously, with the jokes never undercutting these moments. You can feel there's actual consequences at play here, as opposed to it being a throwaway picture with action set-pieces. It helps that the scenes of action are pulse-pounding, with weight being carried in the characters actions.

The best element is how, no matter the regular frequency of the gags, the focus remains firmly upon the characters. Their development and personal arcs are treated with importance, and it's this element which helps cement Waititi as the real star of this film. Well, that and a scene stealing voice performance as Korg.

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Thor Carter of Mars
He may have missed out on last years franchise shaking event that was Captain America: Civil War, but Chris Hemsworth more than gets his due here. The Asgardian prince has never wanted to rule his people, yet feels he must do right by them, and that hits him harder this time around than before. Hemsworth pulls off this inner turmoil rather well, and is also given a chance to show his comedic chops, clearly honed by his time on comedies such as Vacation and Ghostbusters.

Tom Hiddleston returns once more to do what he does best, and that's gleefully threaten to steal the film out from everyone else. He's as eager to scheme and backstab as ever, but is evident to the critical point his brotherly relationship has reached. Thor acts with more indifference to him than before, and it's clearly left Loki scared, and unsure about his place in life.

In portraying Hela, Cate Blanchett is clearly relishing her antagonistic role. A clear product of her upbringing, brought up believing a thirst for conquering and power was the way to go, while unable to adapt to changing times and attitudes. There are interesting ideas behind her character, especially when it comes to making unfortunate truths of the past a reality. Unfortunately, these are ideas which could have been addressed a bit more. Helping her out is Skurge, portrayed by Karl Urban. He's somebody who just wants to prove themselves, and finds themselves questioning whether they've joined the right side to do just that. It's not the meatiest of roles, but it's one that serves the story well.

The clear standout is Valkyrie, compellingly portrayed by Tessa Thompson. A fighter who's spent her life trying escape her past, attempting to drown away the pain and sorrow that lies within. This is depicted in a flashback, where every scene gorgeously resembles an oil painting. Thompson has proven herself a strong talent multiple times before, but this is the role where she deserves to breakout, much like Gal Gadot did for Wonder Woman.

It's clear Jeff Goldblum is having an absolute blast portraying The Grandmaster, a character who revels in manipulating the lifeforms who pass by his planet of Sakaar. Mark Ruffalo wonderfully portrays both sides of his characters. A Bruce Banner who's fearful of transforming, lest he be forever trapped as the rage fuelled being, and as Hulk, who enjoys catering to an adoring audience, a far cry from being feared and loathed on Earth.

Though, not every appearance is a success, as an early inclusion for Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange unfortunately feels needless. As cool as it is to see these characters share the screen, this moment feels only included due to the post-credits scene in last year's film.

With Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi has injected one of Marvel's lesser loved franchises with a needed shot in the arm. Working as a standalone picture very well, the picture also raises the stakes and satisfyingly closes off character arcs in a manner befitting of a great trilogy closer. It's also utterly hilarious, while never sacrificing the more serious story moments.