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As films set in the DC Universe take themselves ever more seriously, Marvel is taking risks in the other direction.
DC’s Batman v Superman tried to convince us that the word “Martha” was a dramatic plot point; Spider-Man: Homecoming spent a lot of its time joking about how silly its teen protagonists are. Wonder Woman, while lightest in tone for DC, maintained the dark atmosphere that’s so far characterised this Justice League; Thor: Ragnarok has no trouble stealing laughs for a high-pitched Australian rock monster.
In one of the opening scenes of Ragnarok, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) stumbles in on a play about the events of the previous Thor: The Dark World. Played by a cast of ridiculous cameos, the performance is a shot-for-shot recreation of Loki’s “death” scene, and it’s at this moment director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows) alerts the audience: this is what Thor was, but it’s not what it is now.
So what exactly is Thor now?
Well, it’s an energetic, colourful, and camp film that takes all the fun parts of superhero films and discards the rest. You want to see Thor and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) fight, but don’t want emotionally-contrived backstories? You want a film founded in character dynamics and banter rather than convoluted plots and uninspired villains?
Thor: Ragnarok is the film for you.
The story follows the title character as he attempts to return to Asgard and save it from his sister Hela, the God of Death. Along the way, he’s entrapped by a gladiatorial slave master (played hilariously by Jeff Goldblum) from whom he must escape with his motley and untrustworthy crew of the Hulk, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and some revolutionary aliens.
What Waititi does best is a form of self-aware comedy that makes fun of itself while safely avoiding the annoying self-deprecation that can make a joke intolerable. One aspect Ragnarok knocks at is Thor’s previous characterisation, and the dissonance between how he views himself versus how the rest of the Avengers — and the audience — see him.
Is he a fun-loving bad boy? A pompous ass who was told he was powerful from day one and never had to question it? Turns out he’s both, and in Ragnarok he’s forced to reckon with the fact, simultaneously endearing himself back to the audience while tackling his own identity issues.
Sure to be a smash hit, Thor: Ragnarok marks yet another step towards superheroes’ campier roots. It sits in a place where heroes stay heroes, and hope is the order of the day. It’s a film for superhero fanatics and the indifferent alike, and it’s the escapism we desperately need from the sombre superhero franchises being shoved down our throats every other month.
And if you’re still not convinced: a scene in which a short-haired Chris Hemsworth appears shirtless is worth the ticket price all on its own.