Brothers will fight
and kill each other,
will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world,
—an axe age, a sword age
—shields are riven—
a wind age, a wolf age—
before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another.
And a vessel built for orgies
Shall enter the devil’s anus
Prophecy of the Volva
Pity Joss Whedon.
I mean okay, he’s a hugely successful film and TV professional with a devoted fanbase and more money than a fabled king of old so don’t pity him too much but….yeah, squeeze out a tear for the guy.
See, Age of Ultron was an absolute nightmare for Whedon, not least because of Marvel’s insistence that he grind his movie to a halt several times to painstakingly set up the dark, gritty, epic, Thor 3. Ohhhh it was going to be so dark and gritty, you guys. Look! Heimdall’s blind! That’s how dark we’re talking. And there were snakes and dark, gritty, sexy dancing.
And then Marvel gave the job of helming the movie to Taika Waititi, celebrated fim-maker and Māori god of mischief and trickery and he was all “Hee hee! I shall use none of this! And I have cast a spell on your wife and swopped faces with her, for she is beautiful and I am ugly! Ha ha!” And then he transformed into a bird and flew out the window, leaving Joss Whedon to wonder what the fuck just happened and thinking that maybe making DC movies for Warners wasn’t actually the worst idea in the world.
Anyway, the Vikings were a bunch of monastery razing, monk-stabbing, Battle-of-Clontarf-losing assholes but I’ll give them this; they knew how to do series finales. The tales of the Norse gods end with a big, stonking climactic battle where pretty much every major god dies including the really popular ones like Thor, Odin and Loki because the Vikings were not overly concerned with action figure sales. Ragnarok (or Ragnarök when it’s got its little hat on) is the most famous of all these tales, and not surprisingly, the Thor comic has retold it many times over the years, usually when sales are a little slack. And typically, these stories tend to be pretty grim affairs like the sagas they’re based on. And I totally thought that’s where they were going with this movie. Heck, for a long time I bet Marvel thought that’s where they were going with this movie. Everything was set up for it. The Dark World ends with Odin seemingly dead, and Loki secretly ruling Asgard. Age of Ultron seemlessly and organically (hah!) hinted at a desperate Götterdämmerung for Thor and his homies.
We knew what to expect. It was not this.
So the movie begins with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) imprisoned by the fire demon Surtur (Clancy fucking Brown!) and narrating as to how he got here. After his totally accurate visions in Age of Ultron he went looking for the Infinity Stones but couldn’t find them because they were, respectively, on Knowhere, Xander, Asgard, Vision’s noggin, Benedict Cumberbatch’s elegant, swan-like neck and on the planet Vormir being guarded by…
Sorry. So Thor is brought before Surtur who reveals his big plan to bring Ragnarok to Asgard and Thor is all “cool story bro” and breaks out of his chains with Mjolnir and then, oh Lord…
Thor. God of Thunder. Fights an army of fire demons. Kills Surtur. Takes his crown. Flies away while volcanoes erupts. Chased by a GODDAMNED ROCKET POWERED FUCKING DRAGON. All to the chords of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”.
It is fucking METAL. It is awesome. It’s just…
Like, the rest of the movie could be Thor and Loki sitting in a blandly furnished room discussing fiscal policy as it pertains to emerging markets and I’d be still like “damn, that was awesome”. THAT is how you open a movie.
Anyway, Thor returns to Asgard and is surprised to see that Bifrost is not guarded by Heimdall but by Skurge (Karl Urban), a shifty bloke who’s been using Bifrost to steal “stahf”.
Thor doesn’t like new daddy and wants to know where old daddy is and Skurge says that Odin had Heimdall exiled for treason. Which obviously is RIDICULOUS because no one’s more loyal than Heimdall.
Well anyway, Thor doesn’t think that the fact that he’s betrayed the rightful king of Asgard twice in as many movies is any reason to suspect Heimdall and flies off to confront Odin. To his horror, he finds that in his absence Asgard has become a peaceful paradise with liberal funding for the arts. Odin and his court are watching a play depicting Loki’s death saving Thor in The Dark World and damn but the Asgard Community Players were able to bring in some top tier talent, having cast Luke Hemsworth as Thor, Sam Neill as Odin and Matt Damon as Loki. (Must be an am-dram contest coming up and they brought in some ringers. The Coolock Musical Society used to pull shit like that all the time. Like sure, Liam Neeson just happens to live in the neighbourhood and wanted to be in your production of Chicago. Right.)
Now, of course, when last we saw Loki he was impersonating Odin and ruling in his stead. And, friend, if you’re ever blue and in need of cheering up, I implore you to watch this scene of Anthony Hopkins pretending to be Tom Hiddleston pretending to be Loki pretending to be Odin. Pure joy. Just, sunshine on a screen.
Having finally figured what’s going on, Thor forces Loki to reveal himself and threatens him until he reveals where Odin is.
Turns out Loki, God of Mischief, stuck his father in a retirement home. They journey to New York and find that Odin’s retirement home is just a pile of rubble (I think that place was featured on 60 Minutes). Loki patiently explains that the retirement home wasn’t a pile of rubble when he put Odin in it and they’re interrupted by two girls who want to take a selfie with Thor. Interestingly, they’re apparently big enough fans to know who he is, know who Jane is, and know that they broke up, but not who Loki is. Or maybe they just mistook him for somebody else.
Loki suddenly disappears and is replaced by a small business card instructing him to come to an address on Bleecher street. Thor meets Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who icily asks to know why he’s brought Loki, (aka the Asgardian Bin Landen) back to New York. Thor explains the sitch and Strange is all “So, I tell you where Odin is you’ll piss off?” and Thor is all “Verily” so Strange agrees to help them. He releases Loki from a pocket dimension where he’s been falling further than American prestige and teleports them to Norway where Odin is gazing wistfully over a cliff.
Odin tells his sons that they have a secret sister called Hela that he hid from them all these years and they’re all “Oh God, is this going to be like the last season of Sherlock?!” and Odin’s all “No, no, don’t worry, she’s just going to destroy the world” and they’re all “Oh thank Christ.” He tells them that Hela is the goddess of death and that she got really into her work and so he had to squirrel her away but now he’s dying and she’s coming back and she’s going to kill everyone. So, to be clear, Odin’s plan for protecting the world from Hela involved him never, ever dying at any point.
Odin tells his sons that he loves them both, and vanishes like a Jedi.
Thor is just about to smush Loki’s face all over the fjords when Hela (Cate Blanchett) arrives and oh me oh my.
Firstly, have we really gotten to seventeen films without a female main antagonist? God damn.
Second, oh my lord but I love this. Yeah, yeah, she’s not exactly the most layered villain in the MCU (though I think Blanchett finds plenty of interesting wrinkles) but honestly WHO CARES? Hela is a RIOT. She is a wise-cracking, all-powerful dominatrix who never told the universe the safe word. She is a HOOT.
She is also off-the-charts powerful. She demands that Thor and Loki kneel before her and when Thor responds with a hammer to the face she catches Mjolnir in mid-air and crushes it with her bare hands.
Loki screams for the Bifrost, but as they get beamed up Hela follows them and kicks them out of the stream. She arrives alone in Asgard and promptly slaughters Volstagg and Fandral. She spares Skurge though, as he’s got a “Gríma Wormtongue” vibe that she figures she can use.
Meanwhile, Thor has got his ass kicked so hard that has ended up in a completely different movie. Namely, he’s a in a sci-fi B-movie from the eighties with a kick-ass electro soundtrack and a demented crayola colour pallette that I just adore. Ragnarok has the most distinctive feel of any of the movies of the MCU so far and it’s glorious. Thor ends up in a massive junkyard where he gets ambushed by scavengers who want to eat him. He gets rescued by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who gets one of the all-time great character introductions when she steps out of her spaceship, barks “He’s mine” and then stumbles off the gangway and falls into a decaying monster carcass because she’s so pissed she can hardly stand. Notwithstanding, she massacres all the scavengers and subdues Thor with a little neck-thingy and takes him to meet oh my stars and garters…
This is Jeff Goldblum, played by Jeff Goldblum. Jeff Goldblum was the best possible choice to play Jeff Goldblum. I can think of no other actor than Jeff Goldblum who could have so perfectly captured the essence of Jeff Goldblum. Jeff Goldblum, of course, originated the part of Jeff Goldblum, but I think this may be his finest performance as Jeff Goldblum.
So despite being an alien overlord who forces slaves to fight to the death for his amusement, Jeff Goldblum is a really fun guy who deejays and throws awesome parties and frankly we need more villains like that. He buys Thor from Valkyrie and at one of his banging parties Thor sees Loki who pretends that he’s never met him. Jeff Goldblum tells Thor that if he defeats his champion in the arena, he’ll win his freedom and throws him in a cell with Korg, a very polite rock monster who is played by Taika Waititi magically disguised as part of a ruse to steal fire for humanity far too complicated to go into here.
Meanwhile, Hela has just pulled a one-woman Helm’s Deep on the forces of Asgard, killing Hogun in the process. In Odin’s throne room, Hela is furious that she’s been erased from Asgard’s history. This is Waititi’s commentary on how nations gloss over the uglier aspects of their history, like how the British never talk about the atrocities that were committed by the empire, or how we Irish never mention the reason Sean Hannity’s ancestors were exiled centuries ago.
Back on Sakaar, Loki visits Thor in his cell and tells him that he’s managed to ingratiate his way into Juff Goldblum’s favour
with his penis and that if he and Thor play their cards right they could be running this shitpile. But Thor is adamant that he’s going to defeat Jeff Goldblum’s undefeatable champion and win his freedom. While preparing for his first big fight, he sees a tattoo on Valkyrie’s arm and realises what she is. He tells Valkryie that, as a boy, he always looked up to the Valkyrior and wanted to be one which is nice and all but makes none of the sense. Because, as we later learn, the Valkrior were wiped out by Hela before Thor was even born. Look, here’s a picture that just happens to be the most gorgeous thing ever set to film.
He asks Valkyrie to help him escape, but she’s all “newp” because she’s kinda done with Odin and Asgard and the whole schmear. Thor is thrown into the arena and finally gets a helmet with little wings, as he always should have had, and comes face to face with Jeff Goldlum’s champion, who, it turns out, is a friend from work.
The arena fight is chock full of great moments. I’ll says this for Taika Waititi, he’s perfectly willing to say “piss off ghost!” to the previous films if it serves his purpose, but he’s also capable of mining continuity for fantastic gags. Like Loki’s horrified “I have to get off this planet” when he sees the Hulk for the first time, or Hulk tossing Thor around in the exact same way he did to Loki. Finally, Thor has enough and unleashes a huge thunder blast at Hulk. It actually looks like he’s going to beat him but then Jeff Goldblum activates his neck thingy and shocks him unconscious (Vince McMahon pulls shit like that all the time).
Thor wakes up in Hulk’s bedroom, which is not a shock that anyone needs, and discovers that Hulk can actually string full sentences together which I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen before. Thor asks Hulk how he got to Sakaar and Hulk says that his Quinjet just randomly flew through a wormhole and ended up on the planet. Which…seems awfully convenient. Are wormholes just randomly opening on to earth now? Meh. Maybe it’s an after-effect of the Chitauri invasion. Anyway, Hulk shows Thor where his Quinjet landed and Thor activates Natasha’s last message to Bruce. This causes Hulk to freak out and smash the Quinjet before reverting back to Bruce (Mark Ruffalo). So, here’s the thing.
Ruffalo is playing a completely different character than in the first two Avengers movies. Whereas Avengers Bruce Banner came off as someone who could give you plenty of trouble in a fight even without the Hulk, this time around it feels like Ruffalo is playing him like a Woody Allen character, all nervy and neurotic. I can handwave it, though. If the “I’m always angry” Bruce we saw in Avengers was Banner at his most balanced, then this is Banner at his most unbalanced. He’s been Hulk for two years straight, meaning that the Banner we see here is the most “Banner” he’s ever been, all Banner and no Hulk whatsoever. And he’s kinda a dork.
Jeff Goldblum isn’t happy with his prize fighter going missing and sets Valkyrie and Loki on his tail. Valkryie quickly overpowers Loki and when she finds Thor she tells him that she’s had a change of heart and is going to help him get back to Asgard.
Valkyrie takes them back to her apartment where she’s got Loki tied up and hey! Hey! I see you fancficcers typing away, you cut that out! Thor forms a new team called “The Revengers” (action figures coming soon to a Tawainese supermarket near you) and Loki offers to help them steal Jeff Goldblum’s ship so they can get back to Asgard. On the way to the hanger, Thor tells Loki that he should stay in Sakaar because it’s perfect for him and Thor finally realises that his brother is never going to change his ways and that Loki should just do Loki.
What I love about this movie is that it recognises that there’s really only so long Loki and Thor can continue their endless cycle of betrayal and redemption before it gets old. By this stage, Thor and Loki are like the wolf and sheepdog from that old Warner Bros cartoon, just clocking in every morning and trying to destroy each other for an eight hour shift without any real malice. It’s just what they do. Sure enough, Loki tries to betray Thor to claim the bounty on him but Thor was expecting this (because of course he was) and leaves Loki with a neck thingy shocking him while he steals Jeff Goldblum’s gold orgy spaceship, which Jeff Goldblum very kindly leant the producers for this movies.
A thought occurred to me as I watched Thor and the Revengers speeding towards a giant wormhole called the devil’s anus while blasting spaceships with lasers while Mark Mothersbaugh’s awesome techno score rippled in the background: is this movie the greatest thing ever?
Yes. Yes it is.
Returning to Asgard, Thor meets up with Heimdall and his resistance movement and they take the fight to Hela. Thor confronts her in the throne room and tells her that he’d love to let her rule Asgard but for the fact that she’s bilgesnipe-shit crazy and as evil as Twitter. They fight and she gouges out his eye. Thor has a vision of Odin and tells him that he can’t defeat Hela without his hammer, and Odin replies “Are you Thor, god of hammers?” and explains that the hammer never gave him his powers, it just kept them in check.
Back in the real world, Hela hisses “I’m the goddess of death. What were you the god of again?”
Hela? I love ya. But you deserve everything that happens to you now.
Meanwhile, the Revengers and Heimdall are leading the last remaining Asgardians to the Bifrost when they’re trapped by Hela’s forces. All seems lost but then Loki shows up with a massive spaceship along with Korg and Meek.
Thor realises that Hela is just too powerful and that a civilization built on genocide and conquest must eventually collapse under the weight of its own moral culpability he has to blow up Asgard to make Hela go boom. He gets Loki to throw Surtur’s helmet into the eternal flame, thereby triggering the very Ragnarok he was trying so hard to prevent oh what glorious irony! Surtur grows to Godzilla-size and starts thrashing Asgard while Thor tries his hardest to convince Hulk not to smash the giant monster.
And the movie ends with Surtur and Hela locked in a death battle as Thor leads his people through space looking for a new home and a place to start again and make a better Asgard.
Good god DAMN but I love Phase 3. Ragnarok might not have the emotional heft of Guardians 2 but it is a sumptuous, effortlessly cool, frickin’ hilarious joy from start to finish.
Throws Planet Hulk in a blender with a real loosey-goosey re-telling of several Thor storylines and somehow emerges with the best MCU film thus far. Hey, I’m not gonna question it.
Our Heroic Hero: 25/25
“Wow! Chris Hemsworth is actually really good!” Yeah, I know. “Wow! He’s actually incredibly funny with killer comedic chops!” Yeah, I know. “Wow! He’s really found new layers and interesting things to do with what is, on the surface, a very one-note character!” Yeah, thanks for joining me rest of the world.
Our Nefarious Villains 23/25:
Cate Blanchett as Aussie S&M Maleficent? Oh, I could never be on board with that.
Our Plucky Sidekicks: 25/25
It’s called “the Loki rule”, people. Loki as a supporting character equals instant perfect score. Plus Valkyrie, Doctor Strange, Korg, Hulk, Grandmaster…I mean, it’s be a 38 if the scale went that high.
Thor and Loki decide to go back to Earth despite Loki being a wanted war criminal. The two brothers share a tender moment that hints that they’ve finally managed to break from the past and move beyond their old rivalry. Thor says that everything’s going to be alright, and then Thanos’ ship appears.
And the audience went:
The Grandmaster is captured by the Scavengers and congratulates them on a successful revolution, while taking some of the credit.
And the audience went:
Meh. Possibly the one joke that doesn’t really land for me.
Infinity Gem Count: 5
No new gems, but the Tesseract (Space Stone), gets a cameo when Hela sees it in the treasure room and admits that its “not bad”.
Wait a minute, was that Stan Lee?!
That was Stan Lee, sinning against nature by cutting Thor’s magnificent golden locks.
Hey, what’s Thanos doing?
Thanos is about to prove me very, very wrong about being a lame villain.
FINAL SCORE: 97%
NEXT UPDATE 24 May 2017
NEXT TIME: We look at what was, for a hot minute, generally considered the best comic book movie of all time…