Thor: Ragnarok ★★★★½

Thor Three is very much What We Do In The Shadows with capes. Wait, it did have capes in it. Well, you take my point.

Despite its adherence to the kooky, sometimes slapstick, sometimes realistic, always offbeat, kiwi humour, Ragnarok is also an out and out true fantasy; much more so than Guardians of the Galaxy with its space opera chops, Ragnarok delivers cloaked exiles trekking refugees across lush landscapes, fights inside trippy rainbow light bridges, posturing enthroned becrowned fire demons, the severed head of a gigantic guardian dragon, prog rock album art cover shots sprinkled liberally throughout and Mark Mothersbaugh's delicious score that flipflops between 80's nostalgia synth and Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings. The lack of distinction between the magic and science mentioned in the first Thor movies finally lives up to the magic side of things; the opening and closing title logos almost as good as the film itself, not to mention the comic-con announcement/trailer typeface, all promising a coin-op arcade cabinet of a film that was eventually, actually, delivered.

Thor: Ragnarok is a good example of liberal canon and yet also, about evolution of character; Thor, a waning, one-note, foppinsh, stiff do-gooder needing to find a new throughline above the macho sycophants and narcicists that rule the Avengers world. As such we're given an impressively short time on Earth and instead given a micro and macro level view of the workings of the planet Sakar, repurposed here from Planet Hulk to give us a greatest hits skim over deeper, more creative comic bokk source material. But the characters are allowed time to bond here; Thor's way of dealing with Banner and Hulk are hilarious and realistic, the idea that The Avengers just end up using each other is touched upon nicely here the film is allowed to explore the only superpowered Avenger who isn't pretending to be someone he's not. He's a hero and he bloody well knows it through and through, he doesn't have to put on a suit because his Dad didn't love him, he doesn't have to fight his darkside through Gamma exposure, he has to convince and rally those to the cause of good, only to discover (see Ragnarok) that it was good for him to do nothing. He can't fight nature, death and rebirth, because it is the universe. It's all these even if it is hidden, which makes a refreshing change.

The film does have a problem with zipping all over the place like a saturday morning cartoon in its effort to (admirably) resolve a bunch of cameos and scenes from previous unrelated Marvel entries, but I suppose it's a refreshing twist to see the entire end credits sequence featuring Doctor Strange played out in full here, it almost feels like the most solid link between disparate films they've crafted yet.

The film veers in to slaptick a little too often but when it is let off the leash to be full badass, my god does it go full badass: Thor actually using his lightning powers to decimate his foes; John Wicking his way through Draugrs and using his hammer to flee dirty great creatures and the clearly videogame-influenced ship battles involving characters jumping from ship to ship to disable them directly. A wholly appropriate smattering of Led Zeppelin got my fist and heart pumping and a smirk on my face that said: "Well done Thor Ragnarok, well played."

But the fact that this film is having so much fun and invites you along to have it too, only makes the misfires all the more bitter: Take Tessa Thompson for example, there's no doubt she was having fun, but her acting style of looking smug and fighting with a truly distracting and hard to understand BRITTOSH(tm) accent, was only the icing on the cake for her character who had no proper catharsis and no moment of a real ending or closure to her story. The fact that she was hired in as the kick-ass female(tm) and not warranted properly and woven in properly cheapened her immensely.

Also missed is all the weight and depth and aching, ponderous beauty from Hulk and co. from Planet Hulk - It wouldn't be hard to shoehorn it in to a later entry, but losing Meek and his history and personality from PH and the relationship between Korg and Hulk in PH were particularly standout in comics and were weak here. I suppose there was the faintest hint of the relationship between Valkyrie and Hulk/Banner but it misses some of the most beautiful and impactful nuances of the romantic relationship of PH.

I also think more time and attention could have been spent on some of the CGI. Because Taika stages the extras and physicasl backgrounds so well, Asgard has never felt so real unlike most of the other Marvels that suffered from acute greenscreenitis. The CGI background work and sets are generally excellent which means sore thumb sequences such as CGI Hela fighting off the hoardes reminded my of Matrix Reloaded's plasticky blandness, and some of Hulk's moments were played far away with emphasis on acting and movement, leaving a lingering desire to want to see a few close ups of Hulk talking to build a stronger sense of connection and to tame my curiosity as to how they made this Hulk tick.

One of the stronger aspects is the strong, almost resolution, to Loki's story. He is the brother in this film and the story deserves him, unlike The Dark World, and it deserves to explore brotherhood in it considering their connection to Hela. Hela is given enough to do, is charismatic enough and has motivation and backstory etc etc but she ends up being mixed bag. Due to the speed and globetrotting nature of the film, she feels like an immovable object, taking 90 minutes to make her way from the rainbow bridge to the warehouse of antique relics. Had she been employed as someone in the way of their journey and not just waiting for them to get back the way Guardians 2 managed to do, it might have not felt like a film of two halves.

Anthony Hopkins is another symptom of the film playing catch up with the decisions of prior titles; he starts strong, but really, he's Loki at that point, and when he's himself he is detached and is glossed right over. The emotional side never plays out properly and the best parts of the film's themes are left unexplored. The colonial idea that Odin paid for the vast beauty of Asgard with his bootheels over the countless other worlds is a fascinating and a surprisingly obvious one. It came out of leftfield, but was not unwelcome and tied directly to the titular Ragnarok, smacking nicely of the Crusades. It was powerful and smart but it left Odin unaccountable as he turned in to gold dust and disappeared, there's not enough running time or clever scripting to have Thor or Loki deal with the fact that their empire and their father dealt in so much bloodshed. Maybe if his parting speech made more sense in retrospect instead of being wishywashy forgettable claptrap.

However. When a film make a conversation about a vampire stake weapon so deftly that I can't breathe through the laughter, or when Thor waxes about how much he loved snakes and how Loki played a prank on him as children that's so funny I think I'm going to die. When cameos are so brazen and stupid they feel like they belong in Anchorman not Marvel's throwaway Avenger, then the film manages to fully and wholly redeem itself.

The films goofy charm is awash with 80's music and glam rock villains and it's no small feat for it to be, for me, the film I wanted Guardians to be when I first watched it. It's the film I like as much as everyone else seemed to like Guardians. Ragnarok isn't as emotional, but I like it more. I liked the Hulk/banner transformation that stirred me, I like that its influences and taste are less crass and more kiwi, and it wasn't the plethora of slapstick humour that kept me laughing alone, it was the conversational, humanising dialogue amidst this alien, fantastical world. And the fantastic array of acting doing its best to make it the most unique entry in to Marvel's machine. And its Taika's little details, the use of Pure Imagination, the destruction of all the hero tropes in to childish, playing-action-man-with-your-mates moments, that prove that a strong director can push past the Marvel factory and yet still play ball enough not to get fired ceremoniously or unceremoniously.

Thor: Ragnarok:

It's fist pumping hero action. The third act is fun, doesn't feel out of place, comes at the right time and flows well. It's a blink and you miss it, eye popping, influences on its sleeve, side-splitting, niche humoured blockbuster and it's highest compliment is it embodies its themes; it is true franchise Ragnarok: destruction of the known and previously seen, to facilitate a rebirth, of relationships, of what a visionary can bring, of what a film should strive to be, a rebirth of good blockbuster cinema.