Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen - JAMES DYER

DI­REC­TOR Taika Waititi

CAST Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruf­falo, Tessa Thomp­son, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hid­dle­ston, Jeff Gold­blum

PLOT Death god­dess Hela (Blanchett) re­turns from ex­ile to claim the throne of As­gard, thrash­ing Thor (Hemsworth) and ban­ish­ing him to the fight­ing pits of Sakaar. There, re­united with the miss­ingsince- Ul­tron Hulk (Ruf­falo), he must bat­tle his way to free­dom, re­turn home and un­seat the usurper.

WITH MARVEL PROP­ER­TIES, as with Betel­geuse, third time’s al­ways the charm. Each hero starts with a care­fully pitched ori­gin story; then comes a se­quel to jack up the stakes. It’s not un­til part three that a se­ries is given free rein to cut loose, let its hair down and be a lit­tle reck­less. Cap set the MCU high-wa­ter mark bat­ter­ing his friends in Civil War, while Marvel found its most per­sonal — and sub­ver­sive — story in Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. But even Black’s most left-field con­tri­bu­tion, the de­light­fully stupid Trevor Slat­tery, seems earnest next to the bonkers es­capade that is Taika Waititi’s Thor The Third.

Marvel’s most un­ortho­dox hire to date, the di­rec­tor of What We Do In The Shad­ows and Hunt For The Wilder­peo­ple was never go­ing to de­liver a stan­dard cape-and-tights yarn. But the ex­tent to which he’s been al­lowed to push the long­boat out — sail­ing right through the bay of hu­mor­ous asides and deep into the straits of ab­sur­dity — is noth­ing short of ex­traor­di­nary. For the first time in 17 (count them) movies, Marvel has de­liv­ered some­thing that isn’t an ac­tion movie leav­ened with hu­mour, but a full-bore com­edy us­ing block­buster spec­ta­cle as a back­drop for gags.

Waititi sets out his ir­rev­er­ent stall from the get-go, bounc­ing from a laugh-heavy pro­logue — in which a dan­gling Thor con­tin­u­ally in­ter­rupts de­mon Sur­tur’s (Clancy Brown) gloat­ing mono­logue — into a glee­fully silly show­down with Loki-as-odin (Hid­dle­ston) that kick­starts the story proper. And the plot is in no way slight. An­chored in geno­cide, slav­ery and the lit­eral end of days, this is as weighty an ad­ven­ture as any the ham­mered one has un­der­taken. But Waititi’s feather-light touch im­bues the whole af­fair with ef­fer­ves­cent jol­lity, car­ing not a wit whether it’s deal­ing with mass im­pale­ments or a price­less re­ac­tion to the sight of Hulk’s gi­ant green pe­nis.

Hurled from the Bifrost mid-fracas and stranded on junk-strewn Sakaar, Thor is trapped, trussed and — af­ter a VR in­duc­tion video to the tune of Willy Wonka’s Pure Imag­i­na­tion — de­liv­ered into the cus­tody of the Grand­mas­ter (Gold­blum at his Gold­b­lu­mi­est). Riff­ing on 2006 comic sto­ry­line Planet Hulk, Thor is forced into glad­i­a­to­rial servi­tude along­side the gamma-green mon­ster, cre­at­ing an odd cou­ple for the ages. More emo­tive (and ar­tic­u­late) than ever, Hulk de­liv­ers a knock­out com­bi­na­tion of gags as he fights (ver­bally and phys­i­cally) with his for­mer col­league. But Ruf­falo de­lights equally as Bruce Ban­ner: an in­spired straight man in too-tight trousers, de­liv­er­ing such lines as, “Guys, we’re com­ing up on the Devil’s Anus!” with­out so much as a stut­ter.

Hemsworth him­self has never been more com­fort­able in the Odin­son’s skin, Shake­spearean ham­mi­ness hav­ing ex­ited the stage with Alan Tay­lor’s stodgy se­quel. His time on Ghost­busters and Va­ca­tion (how­ever ill-ad­vised) has clearly paid off, lend­ing him a prac­tised feel for com­edy as he leans into the silli­ness with unerring skill.

And silly it most cer­tainly is. Rag­narok’s hu­mour is as broad as it is ec­cen­tric, pre­serv­ing Waititi’s sen­si­bil­ity while de­liv­er­ing con­sis­tent belly laughs at ev­ery turn. There are wank jokes, arse puns, vam­pire gags, prat­falls, in-jokes, snarky asides and buf­foon­ery to suit ev­ery palate. The di­rec­tor him­self is the com­edy stand­out, though. As rock-hewn gla­di­a­tor Korg, Waititi claims the cham­pion’s share of killer lines, steal­ing ev­ery scene he’s in with softly spo­ken Kiwi com­men­tary.

If there’s a weak link in the line-up it’s Blanchett’s Hela. While un­de­ni­ably strik­ing as Alice Cooper’s stroppy sis­ter, she’s one-note and out­shone by Rag­narok’s other ma­jor new char­ac­ter, Tessa Thomp­son’s surly Valkyrie, at ev­ery turn. Hela’s scenes, while es­sen­tial to the plot, feel an un­wel­come dis­trac­tion, leav­ing us, like Mjol­nir, aching for a re­turn to the Thun­der God’s side.

Mean­while, joy­ous though its clown­ing is, the film oc­ca­sion­ally feels too glib. Heav­ier emo­tional beats, in­clud­ing wide-scale slaugh­ter and the loss of a ma­jor char­ac­ter, are all but swept away in a for­mat ill-equipped to deal with so­bri­ety. But in a film that man­ages to pack fire demons, zom­bies, a gi­ant wolf, a dragon, a god­dess of death and the Sor­cerer Supreme, it’s hard to feel too short­changed by an oc­ca­sional lack of grav­ity.

Like a cos­mic fever dream, Rag­narok is a dis­ori­en­tat­ing cock­tail of ri­otous colour and batty an­tics that seem al­most un­real af­ter the fact. Try to fit it into an es­tab­lished mould at your peril, but roll with this and you’ll dis­cover not only a top-tier ad­di­tion to the MCU, but one of the most flat-out en­joy­able come­dies of the year.

VER­DICT Daft as a badger sand­wich and twice as funny, this is vin­tage Waititi, and the bold­est, most out­ra­geously fun film Marvel has yet pro­duced.

Mark’s Hallowe’en out­fit was frankly rub­bish.

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