Marvel movies are inescapable, yet kind of a pain in the ass. There’s a gang to be got together, and then they have to save the world. Always the world. Nothing less will do. Encouragingly, the gang in Thor Ragnarok manages not to save the world at all, even if they do manage to save a ridiculously small number of the residents and cram them onto a passing space freighter. Finally someone has realised that people are more important than the world.
Briefly. For most of the movie, it sucks to be a bystander. The whole middle of the movie happens on a planet which is either called Sakaaro or Sarlaac and I’m not interested enough to check. Garbage rains out of the sky on this planet, and people live their lives on it with nothing much to look forward to other than trooping down to the enormous stadium to watch unluckier residents either murder each other or get murdered by the Hulk. The first decent sized group of these poor schmucks we meet are pretty annoying, but within about three minutes, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie has butchered the whole lot of them with automatic weapons. Later on there’s a huge space ship chase with fast moving crap slamming into structures in all directions. The body count’s probably astronomical, but it all happens off screen, just like Hulk hammering a succession of “Dougs” into paste, so no-one really seems that bothered it, not even angst-ridden Bruce Banner, who doesn’t seem even a little bit bothered that his alter ego has spent two years mashing people up for the amusement of a crowd.
But, hey, at least the pleasant, utterly useless, multi-ethnic civilisation of Asgard gets to ride off into the sunset, so you know, happy endings.
That might seem like an odd thing to grumble about in a movie which is actually great fun. Chris Hemsworth is some kind of genius, and Taika Waititi does a wonderful job of making the Marvel universe comic, as opposed to comic book. Chris Hemsworth is funny; every line delivery is pure gold, starting with his opening monologue as he tries to explain to a skeleton how he wound up locked in a cage with it. I also enjoy the way that Thor is kind of a glib idiot, forever trying to punch his way out of problems and resorting to hilariously inept manipulation whenever he was to try to talk people into doing things. He’s so likeable you can see how he’d think it was all working out, but I don’t quite know how Hemsworth carries it off.
Maybe it’s because the dialogue in between the action scenes is reliably funny, but for once the action scenes don’t feel overbearing and pointless. I’d still rather just watch the talking, but the balance is better. And I liked the quiet way that Waititi manages his pop culture shoutouts. He voices one of the most dependably funny side characters, Korg, and at one point he offers Thor his choice of weapons, including a spear with three wooden points. “I suppose” he deadpans “It’s really only useful if you’re trying to stab three vampires clumped really close together.” From the director and writer of this. Perfect.
And since Marvel has all the money in the world now, they can hire anyone they want. Cate Blanchett plays the big bad, Anthony Hopkins is back as Odin, Jeff Goldblum is the horrible leader of garbage world, and in a piece of absolute genius, they got Liam Hemsworth, Matt Damon and Sam Neill to play Thor, Loki and Odin in a play within the play. These are all - well maybe not Liam - people with plenty of better things to do, and when you throw in all the recurring players like Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba, it’s getting to the point where it’s possible that every actor in the world will soon be tied up in Marvel movie and real movies will hide around the edges stealthily poaching people so as to get anything else done. If they can hit the tone of this Marvel movie, it might not be an unbearable future.