dir. Taika Waititi
Reviewed by Dakota Drobnicki
Although Thor and Loki are strong fan favorites in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the God of Thunder has been cursed with the worst films Marvel Studios has offered to date. Thor in 2011 was the absolute worst Phase One entry, where director Kenneth Branagh tried his hand at surpassing Battlefield Earth in egregious overuse of Dutch angles. Phase Two’s Thor: The Dark World in 2013 was a modest enough improvement, but it really just traded in a dreadful script and visual style for mediocre ones instead.
Considering Thor’s penchant for attracting the company’s weakest movie scripts, I immediately wasn’t looking forward to this entry when it first popped up on the horizon. Marvel Studios must’ve seen a whole lot of malaise coming, though, so they saw fit to not only bring in the Hulk to be Thor’s sidekick, but also to bring in New Zealand’s own Taika Waititi to direct.
Waititi recently made his biggest waves internationally with What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople—and if you haven’t seen those yet, please, please do. I have to admit that Marvel’s recent pulls for new directors—Waititi, Sinister’s Scott Derrickson, Creed’s Ryan Coogler, Clown’s Jon Watts—have been interesting, even if Marvel has seemed far more in control of the film’s proceedings than the director they chose.
Spoiler alert—that’s the feeling I had walking out of this one, sadly.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are still reeling from the death of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) when their long-exiled sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) returns to bring about Ragnarok—the destruction of their homeland Asgard.
When the two try to stop her, they are ejected out of the beam taking them from Earth back to Asgard and end up on _, a planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) where the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) has been hailed as a gladiatorial hero. Thor and Loki must find a way to come off this planet with Hulk in tow and save Asgard from Hela’s reign.
One of the things I loved dearly about Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 was its flourishes of bonafide auteurism, a rare feat in modern blockbuster cinema, which were possible because Marvel Studios clearly had a world of confidence in James Gunn. He could cast friends and past collaborators like Michael Rooker or his own brother, and be the only writer credited with its script, because they knew they could take risks like that and still have a big hit on their hands.
These same qualities I would’ve liked to see with Taika Waititi as well, and to an extent he does; the hilarious character of Korg (played by Waititi himself) is a good example, who looks like a slimmed down recolor of the Thing from Fant4stic but sounds like an episode of Flight of the Conchords when he talks. Beyond that, it feels more producer-driven, which can be fine, I just tend to prefer when the director leaves more of a personal stamp.
What you do get here is honestly fine, if not spectacular by any means. It’s tonally inconsistent and feels like it pulls elements from a bit of everything in Marvel’s established wheelhouse to make up for how boring the Thor films have been up to this point.
In particular, it apes a lot of elements from Guardians of the Galaxy, from a clear inspiration in its color scheme, to its use of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in a similar enough vein, to a similar vibe with the spaceship battles towards the third act. I also don’t really know what’s up with the marketing, which uses a neo-retro, 80s-inspired sheen as if this movie actually takes place in the 80s or ever evokes a retro vibe beyond that rogue Moog synth that occasionally snuck into the soundtrack. It doesn’t really tie to anything in the movie itself.
I am glad that, like Guardians, this movie is really, really funny. Thor and Loki have wittier and more interesting interplay than they’ve ever had before, and moments like the use of their tried and true “get help” maneuver had me and my audience rolling in the aisles. Just about everything that came from Korg’s computer-generated mouth was both sly and perfectly timed, which again I would owe to Waititi’s own comic background.
Jeff Goldblum is a joy to watch as the Grandmaster, punching up comic beats with his trademark idiosyncratic line delivery, and frankly would’ve been a much more interesting villain than Hela turned out to be. Hela herself is given Marvel Studios’ typical villain treatment—weak motivation and character development, leaving little impact on the viewer. It’s disappointing when Ego and Vulture from the last two MCU films are easily among the universe’s best villains.
I was glad to finally see Hulk outside of an Avengers film again, which has been less easy since I think Universal is still holding onto solo film rights. Hulk’s also been hooked on phonics now, which was a development I didn’t see coming, and I’m not even sure if I should mention it in case it’s too much of a spoiler. The fight between him and Thor is a rousing one, and among the movie’s best setpieces. His whole subplot even snuck in a little well-deserved ribbing at Age of Ultron in there!
If you were turned off by the last two Thor films, don’t fret! This one is likely the film you were looking for all along. For me, this is down there with Doctor Strange as one of Phase Three’s weakest entries, but even those two are among the better films in the universe overall. You may not come out of this with your world rocked, but you will feel like your money was well spent.