Thor as a character has worked best on screen when he’s been allowed to be funny; that’s not to say he isn’t good when serious as well, but there’s a balance that needs to be struck to get the best out of him. The original Thor found that balance, contrasting the serious Asgardian family drama with Thor’s fish out of water antics on Earth, and the film became one of my unexpected favourites from the Marvel stable. Thor: The Dark World on the other hand is an uneven, gloomy film that only sparks to life when Loki is around, and while I’ve grown more forgiving of the film after multiple viewings, I still find it a damp and dreary piece.
Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok skews wildly in the other direction; there’s action here and it’s good, coherent and punchy, and there’s a bit of family drama, but the film is fundamentally a comedy and as such, it’s excellent; the script is funny, the performances, the expressions, the story, some cameos; even a soundtrack choice made me laugh out loud at one point. Tom Hiddleston has more than established Loki as a fun character to spend time with, and Mark Ruffalo has shown both Hulk and Banner can get laughs, but Chris Hemsworth is also an excellent and underrated comic performer and he’s given moment after moment to prove his bona fides. The supporting cast as well are all on perfect form; Jeff Goldblum plays a weirder, nastier version of his usual Jeff Goldblum character and Tessa Thompson stands out as Valkyrie, soused and subdued when first introduced but a major player by the end. Karl Urban is a pantomime henchman but he does it well enough, so, ok. Waititi himself gets a slew of the best lines as Korg, a perishable rock creature with a taste for civilised revolution; I’d honestly have watched a whole film with him as the lead.
As a comedy, then, the film is magnificent, but there are occasional weaknesses when the film can feel a little ashamed of taking itself seriously, with a few too many dramatic beats immediately undercut by a joke. An early cameo from another Marvel character is funny but moves neither story nor characters forward and could easily have been left out. And while Cate Blanchett is as brilliant as she always is, Hella, while psychotically seductive and demonstrably powerful, is a distant antagonist, rarely in direct conflict with anyone we care about. Constrained to Asgard and largely left out of the middle of the film, she bookends the real story of How Thor Got His Groove Back, and leaves the film feeling a little unbalanced.
But none of these weaknesses made me enjoy the film any less. The sparkling script and solid performances aside, Mark Mothersbaugh’s score is delightfully twangy and a perfect match to Javier Aguirresarobe’s lurid cinematography. Thor: Ragnarok is an exhilarating, witty, beautiful film, and I can’t wait to see it again.