When I heard that Taika Watiti was directing the new Thor movie, I was understandably excited. Watiti’s previous film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople was among my favorite films of last year (#6 on my list, if you want to get specific). I describe that film as Napoleon Dynamite but from New Zealand instead of Southeast Idaho.
Marvel has a track record of taking sophomore directors and bringing them on board to direct their projects. However, Marvel is also notoriously controlling of the process to the point where the director is typically more of a co-director, with the studio (or more precisely president and producer Kevin Feige) giving very little creative freedom. To say that this process has yielded success is the understatement of the decade: they’ve never had a box office bomb and none of their films have a ‘rotten’ score on Rotten Tomatoes. I worried that this process would stifle Watiti’s off-beat sensibilities, and in some ways I think it did. But in other ways it didn’t, and he gave the MCU a much needed injection of quirkiness.
Let’s just get this out of the way at the beginning: the film is even more hilarious than its trailer suggests. I laughed and laughed. Taika’s fingerprints were all over the film in right ways. Chris Hemsworth showcased a comedic sensibility that proves that he is one of the finest actors of his generation. The one liners that Hulk had were genuinely funny. And of course Jeff Goldblum Jeff-Goldblumed his heart out, proving once again how much of a national treasure he is. As a comedy, it really works. However, as a superhero movie I do think it lacks quite a lot.
The biggest problem I had with Thor Ragnarok was that the third act was so predictable. I am tiring of Marvel’s formula of everything being tied up in a nice bow at the end of every one of its films. And I probably wouldn’t mind as much if I didn’t see all the emotional beats coming a mile away. There seems to be a list of emotions that Kevin Feige requires to be checked off in the third act of every one of his films and to be honest I am getting sick of it. Once you know who the characters are and what drives them, you can very easily figure out how the film is going to end for each of them.
It’s been said that Marvel has a villain problem. I think they’ve tried very hard to to fix that in recent films, and Cate Blanchett’s Hela was really good. The only problem was that for her being such a powerful being, the scale of her villainy felt pretty small. Again, her performance is great and I could watch her for days as Hela, but I don’t think she is given a chance to really shine here.
It’s no secret that there is a Doctor Strange cameo, and I’m sorry to say that it was almost pointless. That sequence felt like Iron Man 2: it seemed too exist solely to setup other MCU films and connections. It had some funny stuff, but didn’t add anything to the story.
The color palette and the music were unique compared to other Marvel movies (or any other blockbuster for that matter); both gave the film a quasi-80’s feel and enriched the film quite remarkably. It added to the quirky feel that we have come to expect from Taika Watiti picture. The action set pieces had a number of unique camera techniques that impressed me as well.
The Bottom Line
Thor Ragnarok is a very funny, visually stimulating breath of fresh air for the MCU, despite the third act being predictably formulaic. It is enjoyable enough to be worth the price of a ticket.
I’m very disappointed in Marvel recently, because their movies of late seem to have more language and sexual references than they used to. There is a reference to an orgy, which I found unnecessary. This movie is more on the level of Guardians of the Galaxy than previous Thor movies.