Director: Taika Waititi Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thomson, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Karl Urban Running Time: 130 minutes
Thor: Ragnarok is fine. This might seem like a needlessly dismissive hot take on a movie that has been popular with critics and a hit at the Irish box office (the film was responsible for over 46% of the Irish 3-day weekend box office), but given the considerable talent involved in the film, both on screen and in the director’s chair, is it spoiled to come out of Marvel’s latest blockbuster? Let’s not be too much of a curmudgeon about this; Ragnarok is a frequently very funny film, one that meets the expectations of its audience, set firmly from that “he’s a friend from work!” trailer, more or less exactly. It is another Marvel movie, and much like pizza, even when they’re not amazing they’re still pretty good. It is what it is. It just could have been more than that.
Bringing Taika Waititi in as director was clearly intended as the jolt of electricity needed in the arm of the Thor series, never the most popular of the MCU among viewers. If the dour, lifeless villain Malekith from Thor: The Dark World were to show up in this installment, it would more likely be as a piss-take in the first few minutes, with Waititi’s lightened-up, Flash Gordon-esque take on the film making it clear early on that though this film will be continuing Thor’s story, it will be doing so in an easy-breezy fashion. The kind of story you might be told at a party, rather than boomed self-seriously from some ancient tome. The literal fate of Asgard, the self-serious capital of the MCU, is no accident in that regard, but there’s another side to the approach the film takes. As much as Waititi is working under Marvel constraints, his personality comes through very well, through charming side characters, the busy environment of the trash planet Sakaar, or the sense of style (perhaps no Marvel villain has had as good a visual design as Cate Blanchett’s Hela). When the humour is at its best, its never been better in a Marvel movie, the film going for gags at such a rapid-pace that it’s never far away from the next belly laugh. As a series of jokes, it’s great. As an actual story, there are more than a few problems. Prepare to roll your eyes, but there may be too many jokes.
The problem with Thor: Ragnarok is that it may be the peak of MCU films undercutting the actual story at every single turn, with a sitcom-like structure of dialogue that ensures few moments are afforded time to breath. In an effort to keep things light (an odd over-correction, considering even The Dark World‘s climax was played for laughs), the character arc and relationships become blurred. This is, spoiler-alert, a film where Odin dies, but whether that affects Thor and Loki at all is seemingly decided by coin-flip from one scene to the next. Some characters are coated in so much irony or afterthought it becomes questionable (especially in a 2 hour long film) why they are there at all, like Karl Urban as Scourge the Executioner or Tessa Thompson, charismatic but wasted as Valkyrie. The film clowns on both of them as it introduces them and speeds through their arcs so quickly that attaching any emotion to them is impossible. The intention with Scourge is tragic redemption, but almost no characters interact with him or know who he is, and he spends most of the film following Hela vaguely and looking conflicted without really doing anything evil. Even in a long film there’s little room for his storyline, especially when we’re always in a rush to the next punchline.
In general the MCU people seem to have heard the backlash to their DC counterparts grimdark attitude and rather than remain confident in their stories have become scared of being serious for more than 30 seconds at a time. The jokey-joke approach is omnipresent, whether it fits the character (Spider-Man), doesn’t (Doctor Strange) and culminates in Ragnarok. Nothing feels like it matters in the world or to the characters at all and the arm distance of irony is beginning to feel odd for films that sell themselves on an epic shared universe. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople showed that Waititi is perfectly capable of making a film that’s emotionally grounded, so why does Thor feel like he’s on a wild weekend with his mates when personally, on paper, he’s never been so low or had more to lose? There’s nothing wrong with the light approach in a bubble but when put into context of the actual events of Ragnarok, what’s happening and how it’s being treated don’t go together. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was packed with jokes too of course, but that film was emotionally honest in a way that Ragnarok isn’t really.
There should be plenty in the film to entertain, from the comfortably established petty rivalry between Thor and Loki to an interlude with space-glam Jeff Goldblum and plenty of Easter eggs and cameos packed in. The inclusion of other Marvel characters, particularly the heavily advertised Hulk, fits pretty seamlessly here, even if Mark Ruffalo’s presence in the film signals another plotline that announces itself as very important, then turns into a joke, then is more or less forgotten. It’ll be picked up in the next film I’m sure. That’s Thor: Ragnarok though, plenty of entertaining moments, that don’t really fit together or go anwhere. A series of gifs and trailer moments. And funny gifs are great, but are they especially memorable after you look at one, or do you just scroll down to the next one? When is Black Panther out again?(3 / 5)