So, we are suddenly running a number of Thor: Ragnarok articles as the press embargo lifts. You can choose this low-spoilery review, comic creator credits, a mention of cameos, and answering the oft-asked question of whether there are post-credit scenes or not, and whether it is worth sitting through the credits.
This is a low-spoiler review of Thor: Ragnarok, You should be able to read this spoiler-unscathed, but if you want a completely virgin experience, go away and come back after you've seen the movie. I will try and keep specific references to what has been shown in trailers.
Okay, right from the start, while I have enjoyed many a superhero movie, many a Marvel Comics movie, I've been aware of flaws. A terrible third act as much of the promise and intrigue fails to land well, a standard, knocked-back look for much of reality, and an overabundance of action when there is much that could benefit from being said between characters. Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy are probably the two that have most avoided the biggest problems but Thor: Ragnarok knocks them both on their arses.
Two days after seeing, this stands out as the best Marvel movie to date. Certainly the most enjoyable. And without giving too much I'm going to try and explain why.
It doesn't ignore continuity, it picks up on the cliffhanger of Thor: The Dark World and while not fully explaining how Loki did what he did, it does unravel the situation and deal with the consequences. We also get the chance for Loki to revisit the "adopted" jibe from Avengers and well as his encounter with The Hulk. This film is embedded in Marvel continuity but at no point does this feel forced, and it stands alone. It's not just a sequel to The Dark World, but to the first Avengers film as well.
The film also does gets away with portraying the comic book on screen more effectively than any other. An early scene with Thor under assault sees him spinning his hammer to create a shield, something Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson drew with ease but seemingly impossible to envisage in real life. Thor Ragnarok achieves it. But this is a microcosm of what is reflected in the rest of the film, whether on the planet Sakaar, on Asgard or in Hades, the design sense of Jack Kirby is embedded into this film. And once scene with Valykries fighting Hela in slow motion comes the closest I've seen to anyone portraying that sense of wonder and majesty from the comic when you were seven years old, large to the movie screen. It is simply glorious.
But if it looks like Kirby, it reads like Simonson. Mostly.
The film doesn't take itself seriously, until it has to. Thor continues to be portrayed far more like Marvel's comic version of Hercules than the more serious Thor figure of the comics, but this takes it further, closer to the Team Thor short film, a self-parody, laughing and joking through the action, observing that whatever goes down for Thor, no matter what he does, "things seem to work out", acknowledging a narrative voice in his life. It's all fun and games until someone loses a hammer.
And that moment, seen in the trailers, is where everything goes wrong for Thor and the film becomes an attempt for him to return to the place where he began the film, emotionally as well as physically. We first see him in a cage, now as he spirals off into an unknown part of the galaxy, he wants those narrative restrictions back, rather than the anarchy of the planet Sakaar that awaits him.
And just as he has lost his hammer, and his hair and more — he is finding footholds to get back. He does so. And does something he hasn't had to do before, gain some sense of maturity. And in that moment, a greater sense of awareness and realises what he has to do, something so surprising and bold that it utterly saves this film from having a bad third act, while giving us something straight from the comic books. After the screening, that's what everyone seemed to be talking about.
We have a Hela with a convincing agenda and a true sense of dread (even if she does to the slicking back of her hair into antlers a few too many times). She also reveals the secrets and lies behind the history of Asgard that paints Odin and his empire in a far less flattering light, standing on the corpses of millions. And here to inherit the wind.
We have a Skurge The Executioner, played by Urban as an east London used car dealer, a wide boy, wanting to impress the ladies and seeing an opportunity when it presents itself. A comedy highlight with a pervasive unease.
And he replaced a Heimdall who has turned all mystical and wise and guiding away from his official role. And a true inspiration and protector to his people. The pinnacle of moral probity and a world away from flippancy, yet without denying the film its fun.
We have a Loki who never changes, always relied on to betray, always relied upon to stand up when absolutely and utterly needed but never before. He gets the best lines, but always fails Thor's belief in him.
We have an Odin at peace, tricked out of his life by Loki but finding a way to live with that. And one full of apology for what is to come. Playing tragedy with the lightest of touches, a world away from the impression that Loki makes of him.
We have a Grandmaster who takes all of Jeff Goldblum's annoying tics from other films and weaponises them to an immoral callous con man who has gotten very lucky indeed, without realising the impact he has on others. Why should he be, he has orgies to go to. And as for his number two, she makes a wonderfully solid and sadistic general. These are foes you can love to hate without any of the moral justification behind their stances that Hela claims. Thor: Ragnarok gives you both.
We have a Hulk who doesn't stop this from being a Thor film. His face is still a little Pixar-cute, as if David Marquez was drawing him, but his physicality is convincing and he makes for a great foil that's as hard to defeat through argument as he is through physicality. He is a force of nature, one that has found his happy place. But just as Thor has to grow, so Thor has to force Hulk out of his comfort zone into a new way of being.
We have a hard drinking and hard fighting Valkyrie who has to go on a far longer hero's journey than Thor — he is trapped on Skaar, she is there of her own volition. And it's Thor's growing up that is necessary to trigger that. And it's a much harder move than for the Hulk.
We have Korg of the Warbound, who is the comedy highlight in a very funny film, a mighty monstrous figure with the tiniest and weediest of New Zealand voices. Without realising it was Taika Waititi himself, I presumed it was the manager for the Flight of the Conchords. "Present". It's such an underplayed voice that's perfect to undercut the most serious of scenes and a real joy.
Because yes, this is a very funny film, repeatedly landing big laughs, but it successfully avoids the sound of crashing gears when the film goes more serious. It's somehow all singing from the same songsheet, but in a wide-ranging harmony with deliberately discordant notes that work together and that's a real achievement.
And if you are not cheered, satisfied, surprised and excited by the final ending, what the hell are you doing here?
Go have fun.
Thor: Ragnarok, the sequel to Thor and Thor: The Dark World, will be released in the UK on October 24th and in the US on November 3rd. It was directed by Taika Waititi with a screenplay by Eric Pearson and the writing team of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, and stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, and Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins.