Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Thor: Ragnarok review

Marvel. Taika Waititi. What could possibly go wrong?

The worst part about Marvel movies isn’t, persay, that none of them are particularly good – which is true – but rather that they’re all not particularly good in exactly the same way. The fact is that, despite the occasional surprising directorial choice by the studio, there’s too much emphasis on sticking to the exact house style for film after film, year upon year. This is bad enough, but it’s made far worse by the fact that the house style in question is bland, beige, and dull: inoffensive jigsaw pieces calculated to rake in the profits and be totally forgettable. Make no mistake, Thor: Ragnarok is still trapped inside this Marvel box, but it’s fighting to escape, and is doing a pretty good job of it.

Ma name Jeffff...
Chris Hemsworth stars as the titular deity, who’s cast out of Asgard along with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) after his sister (Kate Blanchett), who happens to be the goddess of death, decides to take the realm by force. He finds himself trapped in a rogue society run by Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, where unfortunate misfits are forced to fight in a gladiator-style gameshow for supremacy.

Taika Waititi’s spin on the Norse god succeeds in two principal ways. Firstly, it’s very funny. From the opening scene, in which Thor struggles to converse with an ancient menace due to a spinning chain, to the very last, the laughs come thick and fast, with nothing feeling like it has any gravitas whatsoever. The same kind of comedy that made Waititi famous through hits What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is most definitely on show here: deadpan and genuine comments juxtaposed by extraordinary situations. If you go into Ragnarok looking for a good time, you’re going to find it pretty instantly: it’s probably the funniest Marvel movie yet. Largely inconsequential and irreverent, it’s the rare superhero feature that’s completely aware of its silliness, and instead of lumping on a heap of melodrama, it embraces it.

Secondly, it’s very colourful. Trailers, particularly the earlier ones, hinted that Ragnarok was going to piggyback of Guardians’ success and go full-on retro throwback - an idea which would have been an egregious mistake. But it goes one step better and, instead, aims to capture the rainbow-coloured awesomeness of 70s/80s blockbusters without resorting to tired nostalgia-baiting references. Bright, multicoloured portals litter the visual landscape, dragging our characters through refracted tunnels of light towards planets that look a bit like sweet shops in their obsession with garish neon. Waititi displays an affinity for side-on shots, displaying scenes as if they’re layered cross sections. It is, at times, truly beautiful.

Soundtrack-wise, as well, it feels refreshing to hear a vintage synth soundtrack that's completely original, and not just composed of songs from the 70s/80s. Granted, Waititi does make liberal use of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, but, apart from that, its noir-ish late 20th century blockbuster tunes all the way. 

But there are noticeable issues. Despite the Flash Gordon–esque attractiveness of Ragnarok’s mid portion, there’s an equal amount of generic trash thrown in that devalues the experience as a whole. Asgard, for instance, may as well be any other planet in the universe – it’s existence as a godly realm isn’t justified by the bland, gold-ish images we see onscreen. Or take the opening portions of the film, which may well have been offcuts from the previous two Thor adventures (or any other Marvel movie for that matter). The film, as a whole, relies on a ridiculous level of CGI which isn’t always (read: usually) convincing. And, of course, there’s the matter of the final act – a 30 minute computer generated orgy of such staggering beigeness that you wonder what the point was of the last 2 hours in any case.

There’s never any sense of peril or suspense due to the bouncy tone, the villain is awful (comparable to Suicide Squad’s Enchantress), and the experience does indeed feel overlong, warranting around 10-20 minutes of cuts.

Comic chemistry...
Directly tied to at least 4 superhero film strands, and beckoning the arrival of even more, Thor: Ragnarok is incapable of standing fully on its own merits and, at many points during its 130 minute runtime, particularly the final act, it feels like forgettable Marvel movie number 200 (or whatever we’re on by now). But, for the majority of its runtime, it’s an absolute blast. Fizzing with a rainbow-powered kaleidoscopic energy, propelled by catchy synth beats, and injected with a strong dose of crowd-pleasing comedy, this is a funfair blockbuster through and through. 

Also, Matt Damon's cameo is fantastic.
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