Thor: Ragnarok (M rated long version)
At the collapsing core — the Devil’s Anus, if you will — of Thor: Ragnarok beats the amiably daggy heart of Kiwi director Taika Waititi.
Waititi’s previous flicks Boy, Eagle vs Shark, What We Do In the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are all exercises in offbeat, low key charm.
Having previously leant on politically dodgy Buffy creator Joss Whedon (The Avengers franchise) and Troma Studios oddball James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise) for leftfield tentpole nerdbait, Marvel Studios now turns to Waititi to stamp his credentials on the rudderless Thor (non) trilogy.
Waititi — at forty two somewhat of a man child savant — also comes preloaded with the pop cultural preoccupations of the Gen X crowd (much to my ongoing consternation: me, if you hadn’t noticed yet) from whom Marvel Studios most craves filthy box office lucre.
To this end, Thor: Ragnarok’’s trailers have variously been frontloaded with the dorky, John Carpenter (They Live) inspired synthwave of Magic Sword’s ‘In The Face of Evil’, healthy doses of Flash Gordon via New Gods era Jack Kirby production design, and affable Waititi quirk by way of WD Richter’s 1984 oddity The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.
Even the flick’s production logo nodded to the 16-bit pixelated glories of classic Sega video games (though I question its lack of umlauts), while certain group message chats may or may not have involved hushed chatter along the lines of “could this be Masters of the Universe — 1987, starring Dolph Lundgren; directed by Gary Goddard — finally done right?!”
Thor: Ragnarok occasionally dials in to these hints via Waititi’s amiable frequency.
The Marvel Studios production machine is programmed to sand off the edges of its talent, but Waititi fares pretty well.
The director’s natural knack for timing and pace — developed during a career that includes stints with Flight of the Conchords — mean the gags breath and benefit from a goofy, nascent geniality.
Actual sweaty geniality personified, Chris Hemsworth’s (Ghostbusters 2016) gamely switches his Thor performance from the po-faced fish out of water drang of previous entries, capitalising on the actor’s inherent comic chops, plus less hair. Tom Hiddleston’s (High Rise) back and doing that snake oil thing the Tumblr ‘shippers seem to revel in. Idris Elba’s (Beasts of No Name) finally gotten a slightly less thankless gig as a freedom fighting Heimdall.
Elsewhere, the previous film’s supporting cast are AWOL and ultimately superfluous to means — I couldn’t honestly tell you if the Warriors Three had been recast, and poor old Sif (Jaime Alexander) was definitely a no-show.
Anthony Hopkins (Red Dragon) shows up but is this year’s second-best Odin, I’m afraid.
Thor: Ragnarok’s debuting cast include Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk and his alter ego (sic) Bruce Banner, on loan from The Avengers and doing some extra lip service to beloved ’90s comics storylines; Jeff Goldblum (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension) playing himself as The Grandmaster; Creed’s Tessa Thompson as a mysterious, permanently sozzled slave trader with solid skills in a ruck; and Waititi, with full Enn Zudd accent in tow as in-comics-canon giant rock bloke Korg, also property of The Grandmaster. Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Rachel House also delivers a wondrously deadpan turn as Topaz, The Grandmaster’s muscle.
The less said about poor old Karl (Judge Dredd) Urban the better.
Elsewhere, Waititi’s evident taste for the aesthetic trappings of ’80s fantasy art — characterised as ‘Panel Van Chic’ in some sets — give rise to majestic tableaus reminiscent of Frank Frazetta, Chris Foss, Walt Simonson and pretty much any of Ronnie James Dio’s solo recorded output.
On the flip side of Waititi’s tasteful retro-futurism, admirably inclusive casting credo (Google it) and lovingly etched, good natured homage to swashbuckling space opera are the inevitable concessions the Marvel Studios badge infers.
It’s difficult to get overly invested in the charming Thor: Ragnarok’s abundant excesses, but still. At its direst, Thor: Ragnarok ticks off the laundry list of Marvel Studios’ increasingly threadbare formulaic conceits.
Superfluous, nonsensical battles with teeming hordes of CG stunt doubles overwhelm, hijacking any of the flick’s occasional, incremental momentum. The villain, Hela: Goddess of Death — a wan Siouxsie Sioux via Evil Lynn from Cate Blanchett (Carol) — is a disconnected and arbitrary end of level boss (for now).
On that front, the more egregious of Thor: Ragnarok’s sins include a heavy reliance on hollow video game aesthetics.
There are sequences which evoke leaked, heavy duty pre-viz for a new Diablo game, while a side scrolling, visually nonsensical Mortal Kombat — replete with finishing moves — aesthetic is deployed for a couple of the more climatic mass fracas.
Edgar Wright had the (intentional) final word on this stuff in 2010’s Scott Pilgrim — Marvel was never going to let Taika whack some health bars over the top of the rainbow bridge sequence, in particular.
Then there’s the exasperating deployment of Led fucking Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’
You may or may not be shocked to learn that this obscure cut includes references to both “hammers” and “gods”.
Primary of all complaints, however, is that this latest entry is — barring the odd half hearted ‘actor’s contract’s up’ gotcha moment — a final bout of geeky salad tossing and table setting before next year’s all-in Marvel franchise money shot, the Avengers: Infinity War duology.
Which is directed by the blokes behind the blokes behind You, Me and Dupree.
Think I might watch Buckaroo Banzai again.