When's the last time a third instalment in a franchise was superior to its predecessors? Never. And that's precisely what THOR RAGNAROK is! In fact it is immediately better, and the tone of the film is set within seconds. We are re-introduced to Thor as he is suspended above the fiery pits of Mespelheim by the fire demon Surtur. None to concerned about his predicament, Thor does what he does best and with a kick-ass Led Zeppelin soundtrack he swings his mighty hammer and lays rest to countless monsters. And from the moment the THOR title card slams on to the screen, all all bets are off and a new type of Thor movie is established.
Taking massive cues from Guardians of the Galaxy, this new chapter sees the Marvel property reinvigorated with a sorely needed dose of humour, while simultaneously progressing the pre-established storyline. This is not a feat that the old school of Hollywood seem able to wrangle, as demonstrated by Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor in the first two films, but it is a challenge that the new school are completely equiped for. Repeat after me “80's, 80's, 80's”. With cinema currently experiencing a wave of 1980's nostalgia, it is the children of that era who have grown up and are reliving their youth. And to the delight of audiences they are injecting their affection into modern cinema in a way that that is both exciting and strangely sentimental... even if it is becoming a little too commonplace.
Frivolity is exactly what the Thor franchise needed and Waititi has delivered in spades. The story mostly takes place on Thor's home planet of Asgard, as well as the planet Sakaar which is a dumping ground – of sorts – where species from farther realms find themselves stranded after being consumed by the planet's neighbouring wormhole. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) becomes captive (again) by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who rules the planet with a childlike obsession with games. He forces Thor into a gladiator-like battle, whereby the loser dies. To Thor's delight his opponent is HULK, and after a long dual followed by an arduous identity crisis they re-team along with a group of renegade allies to return to Asgard to defeat the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchette).
It is a convoluted synopsis on paper, but rest assured it unfolds simply and proves to be one of the most adventurous and side-splitting chapters in the entire Marvel Universe. Waititi's direction is on-point and with a considerable amount of creative control he has also managed to place a basket of easter eggs throughout the film for his Australasian friends at home. From spaceships being named after Holden cars (The Commodore, The Statesman & Torana) to an Indigenous flag-inspired colour design, and a rock monster with an affectionate Maori accent (voiced by Waititi himself). It is fair to say that THOR RAGNAROK is a smorgasbord of in-jokes and references for those nerdy enough to identify, and with a whole lot of other stuff that's best left secret (you're welcome) there's never been a more Aussie-centric and appealing superhero movie (it was also shot in Oz... but I'm sure you know that).
Every performance is perfectly measured, and all players have embraced the comedic nature of the script. Hemsworth is in his element and reveals a new side to Thor that comic-book geeks might have feared (they can rest easy). He is joined by Mark Ruffalo who also nails his comic timing, as well as revealing a smidgen of drama. The rest of the supporting cast includes the return of Tom Hiddleston Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins, who are joined by Marvel newcomers Jeff Goldblum, Cate Blanchett, Karl Urban and Tessa Thompson... there's also a slathering of unexpected appearances, some appearing briefly and others in a larger capacity. Again, this is a movie full of surprises.
So what now? THOR RAGNAROK has re-energised the series, but can it be repeated? James Gunn attempted to recapture the magic of Guardians in Vol 2 to a somewhat lacklustre effect. That impact of the original's humour was lost in the sequel, with the element of surprise all but gone. So too could be the fate of another Thor sequel. We've been treated to such a spectacle, with such a delicious flavour, that to go another round might risk bursting the bubble. Given that I disliked the first two movies so much, I would be entirely content leaving it be. Three is enough, and what a way to close!