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Thor: Ragnarok
  • Composed by Mark Mothersbaugh
  • Hollywood / 2017 / 73m

Marvel goes all-out comedy in Thor: Ragnarok, the third in the series focusing on Chris Hemsworth’s Thor’s battles with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddlestone) and, this time, still greater foes as he finds himself caught up in all sorts of problems, not least being forced into gladiatorial battles against the Hulk.  As if that’s not bad enough, Asgard is threatened by the Ragnarok, which as all Old Norse scholars will know is based on the old warrior Ragnar Ok.  The film’s tone makes it a unique entry in this series and it will be interesting to see how the filmmakers revisit the character in future.

If Taika Waititi was an unlikely choice of director for a film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I think if you had asked film music fans a year ago to write a list of the film composers most likely to score this film, and forced them to carry on writing until they guessed successfully, most of them would still be writing now, with Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh an extraordinarily left-field choice to follow in the footsteps of Patrick Doyle and Brian Tyler.  (I was probably not alone in thinking he was at serious risk of following more closely in the footsteps of Carter Burwell, the original composer attached to the previous film.)  As a film and tv composer Mothersbaugh is best-known for his work on the earlier films of Wes Anderson and on Rugrats, and he’s never scored anything remotely like this.

The eclectic score was originally conceived by composer and director to be an all-electronic 1980s throwback, but the studio insisted it should have an orchestral base, and the result is an entertaining mixture of the two styles, not surprisingly closest in tone to Tyler Bates’s two Guardians of the Galaxy scores in terms of this cinematic universe (but it’s better than either of them, with both the electronic and orchestral elements being delivered with greater verve).

Needless to say, thematic continuity not being Marvel’s modus operandi, Mothersbaugh created his own theme for Thor, the character’s third in as many movies.  It reveals itself quite early in the opening “Ragnarok Suite”, after a bleak opening minute or so – very much cut from the same cloth as Brian Tyler’s theme for the character, it’s got an appropriately heroic vibe; much like Tyler’s, it’s simple, and while it’s frankly not nearly as catchy, it does what it needs to do.  Other elements in the suite are actually probably more impressive: after Thor’s theme we get a surprisingly stirring, emotional theme with wordless female vocalist accompanied by lovely strings and vibrant electronics; and perhaps better still is the action theme which follows, with pulse-pounding, full-bodied writing for strings and brass.  Interestingly, this is not the sort of “keyboard music transcribed for orchestra” that you might expect (and which you hear from all the film composers who find themselves writing for orchestra despite not knowing how to do so) – it’s proper orchestral music, not as in Shostakovich or Brahms, but in the sense that it’s written and orchestrated properly, and recorded in a way that makes the instruments sound like instruments and not like samples.  The nine-minute piece is really good, probably the album’s highlight.

We get a great arrangement of the main theme in “Thor: Ragnarok” complete with rock guitar (a little nod to Queen), then comes “Weird Things Happen”, which bizarrely recreates the style and orchestration of Michael Giacchino’s Doctor Strange without actually quoting his theme (a little similarly, there are hints at but not direct quotes of Brian Tyler’s Thor theme a couple of times).  Cate Blanchett’s villain doesn’t get a theme herself as such, but she does get some appropriately menacing, growling material, perhaps most notably in the later stages of (the otherwise rather dull) “Twilight of the Gods”.

What I really love about the score is the electronic components.  “Grand Master’s Chambers” is the first cue where the composer really goes all-out with his analogue 80s synths.  Later on, “No One Escapes” sees Mothersbaugh combining the electronics with a bit of orchestra for a really great, fun action piece.  In “Arena Fight”, choir joins the party too, but best of all is probably “What Heroes Do”, a wonderful retro piece.  For the end title, there’s a great disco rendition of the main theme (“Planet Sakaar”).

As the score nears its conclusion, there’s some fine action material.  The predominantly-electronic “Sakaar Chase” is tremendously enjoyable, then comes the wonderfully-titled “Devil’s Anus”, more orchestral in nature and very entertaining.  To my absolute amazement, Mothersbaugh throws in a little easter egg at the end of the finale cue “Where To?” in the shape of Patrick Doyle’s theme from the character’s first movie, which seemed to have been discarded along with most of the Marvel series’ themes after only one airing – great to hear it again.

I thought it was rather brave of Mothersbaugh to tackle that viral video about Marvel scores that went around last year, in his press interviews before this film’s release, not just by acknowledging it and appearing to agree with at least some of its criticism, but saying he’s the man who’s done something about it.  In truth, this is a distinctive musical entry in the series thanks to its use of electronics (which is wonderful) but it is still predominantly a 21st century action/adventure score which is cut from entirely the same cloth as, say, Brian Tyler’s Marvel scores but without nearly as memorable a theme anywhere in sight.  The composer’s orchestral writing is considerably more accomplished than you might expect it to be and the album is very entertaining – it’s more impressive than the two Guardians of the Galaxy scores but I can’t imagine I will return to it as often as Thor: The Dark World.  Still, for entertainment value it certainly ticks the boxes and I wouldn’t be disappointed to see Mark Mothersbaugh return to the series in future.

Rating:
***
Fun action score with great electronic elements

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  1. Timothy Snyder (Reply) on Friday 10 November, 2017 at 20:11

    I audibly squealed when I heard the theme from the original Thor pop up at the end. Such an underrated score. Honestly, the whole first movie was underrated.

  2. Brage Viken (Reply) on Friday 8 December, 2017 at 23:57

    The old warrior Ragnar Ok? Who is that?
    Ragnarok is the name of an event. It’s exact meaning is a bit ambigious. End/dawn of the gods.
    Nothing based on an old warrior named Ragnar Ok. Sorry, I just couldn’t unread that bit.

    Besides that, great review.
    Loved the movie. Very rewatchable.
    Epic soundtrack.