Remember that bit in season one of Daredevil, when Kingpin takes revenge on someone by chopping their head off with a car door? The scene is dark, brutal and bloody. The full ugliness of the violent underworld was on show - and it was shocking.
Well, it turns out that while that sort of thing happens in gritty New York, in another part of the same universe there are mad spaceship chases, and gladiator battles between monsters overseen by a blue-bearded Jeff Goldblum.
Yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still expanding rapidly - and Thor: Ragnarok represents an enormous redshift from our previous encounter with Asgard and its residents.
Forget Thor: The Dark World, as this film is nothing like it. Not only does it spend only seconds on Earth, but tonally, it is a transformation too. If The Dark World was The Dark Knight, then Ragnarok is Adam West’s campy sixties Batman. But this is far from a criticism.
The new tone makes the film work. It is packed with colourful and bizarre characters, like Goldblum’s evil yet eccentric Grandmaster and Cate Blanchett’s pantomime-like performance as the film’s villain, Hela. Her shtick, essentially, is that she wants to Make Asgard Great Again.
Tessa Thompson’s hard-drinking Valkyrie is a spiky new addition to the ensemble, and an instantly more interesting addition to Thor’s world than the super-friends who helped him stop Loki in the first film in the series (whatever happened to them?). Here’s hoping this isn’t the only time that we see her in the Marvel Universe.
The film is packed with silly moments. The opening sequence is essentially a big record-scratch/freeze-frame “I guess you’re wondering how I ended up in this situation” introduction, and our first trip to Asgard is to see Loki (still in disguise as Odin) watching a play offering his side of the story from The Dark World.
The supporting characters are fun additions to the Marvel universe too. Korg, a rock monster voiced by director Taika Waititi feels like an audition for membership of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Stan Lee’s obligatory cameo helps explain one of the questions that fans have been asking since the first Ragnarok trailer landed. And don’t worry, if you’re a hardcore Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, there’s plenty of pay-offs to moments setup by earlier films.
Like most Marvel films, the fun comes from seeing the characters interact with each other. Avengers was a huge achievement because not only did it pay off the four preceding films, but it was like putting the characters into a box together, shaking it up and seeing what happens. This too is the beauty of the latter MCU - the filmmakers have hundreds of characters who they can mix and match to create fun personal dynamics (what if Hulk went to space with Thor?).
But as with other Marvel films, this also comes at the expense of some other elements. Blanchett’s Hela somewhat suffers from the perennial Marvel under-developed villain problem, as we’re told she’s turned up and is evil, with only the bare minimum amount of backstory. It’s a shame as there’s definitely plenty of meaty thematic elements that could have been further explored - such as the fact that Asgardian hegemony in the Nine Realms was effectively founded on colonialism. It would have been nice to hear more about this dark past - and how it has informed Hela’s nativist reaction to it.
Structurally too, the film is a little messy. Don’t worry, it isn’t Suicide Squad levels of incoherence, but it is clear that the film’s story was conceived by imagining a series of cool moments (“What if Thor and Hulk had to fight like Roman gladiators?!”) and then working backwards to make it stick together. The Doctor Strange cameo near the beginning (which isn’t a spoiler - it’s in the trailer!) was some fun fan service, but was as ultimately unnecessary as when Ant Man had to make a sacrifice to the God’s of brand synergy by visiting the Avengers headquarters for an inexplicable couple of minutes in his film.
However, it’s easy to forgive these structural issues because unlike, say, Batman vs Superman, Ragnarok isn’t a depressing brown sludge. The sheer charisma of the characters carries the slightly jumpy plotting and the built-in need for a space opera to include lots of exposition.
The new comedic tone - which is more cranked towards laughs on the “drama-comedy” axis than even Guardians of the Galaxy - also means that the story lacks emotional weight. Whereas Guardians is anchored by Peter’s parents, it is harder to connect with Thor. When Asgard is being blown to bits, it doesn’t feel particularly meaningful as you’re just waiting for someone to jump in with a snappy quip.
Ultimately though, Thor: Ragnarok is yet another triumph by Marvel. Another well crafted, funny and exciting blockbuster has dropped off of the production line. By going straight for laughs, it has in a sense managed to Out-Guardian the Guardians. If you’re not already a Marvel convert, this probably isn’t a film that will radically change your views, but if you’re already on board with Disney’s 30-something film project, go see it as it is a more than worthy addition.
Thor: Ragnarok is out on October 27th.