Sometimes the best acting is done when an actor doesn’t have to act but just be himself. The second last time I thought of this was during Star Wars The Force Awakens and the performance of Harrison Ford as an older, wearier Han Solo. Anyone who has seen Ford in interviews knew he was pretty much being himself. A goodhearted but slightly sulky old man who enjoys making people feel awkward. Same leather jacket, same crooked smirk and furrowed brows. Ford felt comfortable being Solo because he knew how the character felt: a little exhausted and weary, and occasionally perplexed by the absurdity of the world.
Technicolor Dream Planet
I said second last time, because this weekend I witnessed a similar performance. Jeff Goldblum stars as “Grandmaster” in the newest Marvel gem: Thor Ragnarok. A movie that theoretically should bomb: the third part in a series and number Lord-knows-what in the entire franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is hardly that much of an inexhaustible source of deep, rich lore and complex characters. By this time we all expected the money mill to run dry. But lo and behold, Ragnarok is now the highest rated Marvel movie ever and the first one I wanted to see again after leaving the cinema.
And all it took was Jeff Goldblum? Well, no. That would unfairly diminish the excellent performances of the rest of the cast. But the Grandmaster is one of the fabulous highlights of the movie. As a self appointed monarch of planet Sakaar he is being Jeff Goldblum in every scene. That hint of surprise and wonder in his voice. Always looking slightly concerned, as if he isn’t sure his audience understands him. Not Jurassic Park’s sleazy Ian Malcolm, but the one from the sequel The Lost World. That look in his eyes like a parent with a problem child. “Oh dear, am I the only one who understands that dinosaurs are dangerous?”
Through the grapevine I heard that about eighty percent of Thor: Ragnarok is ad-libbed. It didn’t surprise me when I heard it. Not only Goldblum’s, but every dialogue feels like genuine banter. Just an ensemble of excellent actors perfectly feeling their character. Hemsworth with his usual wit and strappy self confidence, Hiddleston giving life to the ever charming god of mischief, and newcomers Cate Blanchett and Tessa Thompson being visibly comfortable as goddess of death and heavy drinking space scavenger respectively.
Camp, Colour and Style
Director Taika Waititi also has a part: he voices the Kronan revolutionary Korg. He tried to start a revolution once, but didn’t print enough pamphlets and the whole thing fell through. It’s that kind of humour that carries the film; not the scripted exchange of smart-ass one liners we know from other Avenger movies. But a fine balance between self mockery and in-universe sincerity. Every character in Ragnarok seems genuinely surprised and amused by everything that happens around them and naturally reacts appropriate to the nature of their persona. From Loki who let’s out a heartfelt “Oh shit..” when his brother catches him red handed on one of his ploys, to the people of Sakaar celebrating Hulk in a mix of Brazilian carnival and Holi.
Add to it an excellent soundtrack of retro synthesizer music and Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, which sounds like it was written for the God of Thunder and you have one of the finest comic book movies ever. Waititi gets it just right. Not the heavy handed grittiness from DC, nor the overly polished up and pop-culture friendly stuff we got used to from Marvel. Thor Ragnarok is a little camp, a little edge and a whole lot of fun. With that it seems to follow the philosophy of the Netflix series like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, in which writers and directors are given more freedom to give it their own distinguished look and feel. If this is where the rest of the MCU is heading, we’re going to have a lot of fun the coming years.