It feels somewhat pointless doing an intro for a new Marvel movie, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the single most successful franchise in the history of film. Not only is this is the third Marvel offering in 2017, but the seventeenth installment in the universe over all, seventheenth. Meaning this should be a pretty standard super-heroic adventure right? Well, not so fast. Ragnarok follows 2011’s Thor and 2013’s The Dark World, and even though I love the first film, Thor’s are widely considered to be the most lukewarm of MCU character franchises. However, Taiki Waititi, from indie gems like Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows, was a surprising pick for director, as his style and sensibilities felt so unlike what we’ve gotten from Marvel before. So a talented comedy director takes over one of the less-than-stellar franchises, does it deliver? Well, kind of.
At the very least, Thor Ragnarok is an example of just how far we’ve come with the idea of comic book movies. Ten years ago, when Iron Man was a B list Avenger and literally no one knew who the Guardians of the Galaxy were, if you told me that’d we’d be getting a Thor/Hulk team-up movie where they fight Hela and Surtur, and Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster, I’d have thought you were making fun of me. That’s just what they show in the trailer, which comes nowhere near the level of insanity this movie reaches. There’s a fun poppy eighties synth score, alien fighting pits, a Norse God kicking ass to Immigrant Song (twice), and did I mention Jeff Goldblum? To all of those begging for new and exciting adventures featuring your favorite superheroes, meet your new shinning example, because this movie is bonkers.
The man behind the mania is New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, thats ok, as his films can at best be categorized as obscure. Just know that he’s responsible for some of the most underrated comedies of the century. Waititi brings those comedy chops in full to the Marvel Machine, as this is without a doubt the silliest MCU film yet. While this has some drawbacks (more on that later), it’s not remotely a bad thing. Everyone is clearly having a good time making this movie. It feels like everyone is in on some joke and, throughout the process of the film, inviting us to laugh with them. Prime example of Waititi’s sensibilities is the character he plays, Korg. Korg is a big blue rock monster, and I’d be surprised if any of his dialogue was ever written down, because it has that fun, off the cuff feel that only improv can provide. I laughed harder in this film than I have any other Marvel movie, and Waititi is the man to thank.
The main beneficiary of Waititi’s humor is Chris Hemsworth, as he flexes impressive comedic muscles (while also flexing his impressive real muscles). This is his fifth time playing Thor on the big screen, and it didn’t feel tired or worn out at all. Hemsworth is having a blast in this role, and it seems like he truly loves being the God of Thunder. Even though he more often than not goes for the joke, it all feels like a calculated character choice, not just being funny because he’s supposed to be. He’s not a walking joke dispenser, he’s an actual character with his own personality and sense of humor. Though he’s not given much opportunity to do so, in the more somber moments, Hemsworth is compelling and can convey genuine emotion, something that can’t be over-looked in blockbusters like these.
The two main members of the supporting cast, or the “Revengers,” are Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie. Ruffalo is solid, as he always is, and gets to have some fun exploring a different side of the Hulk than we’ve seen before. However, the standout is Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie. She isn’t given quite as much to do in the way of comedy, but she more than makes up for it with ferocity. Her’s is the most fleshed out character, and what could have been a cliche badass hot girl turned in to a rugged, feminine warrior that can (and does) easily stand with any Avenger. Thompson is able to turn on a dime between a comedic brashness and a scarred damaged character. Never once did I doubt something more hiding behind her smug attitude.
However, these superheroes wouldn’t have much reason for their super heroics without villains, and Ragnarok has quite a few. Tom Hiddleston returns as the best antagonist Marvel’s ever given us in Loki. While Loki doesn’t get as much screen time as he did in the first two Thor films or The Avengers, he isn’t left by the wayside either. Oddly enough, Ragnarok fleshes out the sibling dynamic between the two Asgardian princes better than maybe any other movie before. Hiddleston is expectedly great again, and I’m glad Marvel has taken their best villain and found a way to keep including him, without sacrificing his conniving, scheming nature.
The true antagonist, and bringer of the apocalypse, is Cate Blanchett’s Hela. If there’s one criticism of the MCU, it’s the consistent lack of care they put into developing their villains. So often, their villains are bland, McGuffin hunting embodiments of evil. Hela is no different, as she is coming back to destroy Asgard, but also rule it? While her motivations are less than compelling, she’s now up there with Loki as one of Marvels best villains. Ragnarok spends a good deal of time showing why she’s a force to be feared, and she’s as much of an ass kicker as she is a scenery chewer. Blanchett is a world class, Oscar winning actress, playing the Goddess of Death with dear antlers and a a green leotard. Yet, she commits fully to this role with just enough of her tongue in her cheek to have a good time.
Hela has an impressive set of powers that lend themselves to an impressive visual spectacle, and when she takes on an Asgardian army all by her self, it’s a thing of beauty. That goes for almost all the action in this film, as every sequence is as creative as it is brutal. Waititi does good to make sure each sequence is motivated, and characters only resort to fisticuffs when they have a reason to do so. That doesn’t mean the fights are any less intense, because when Hulk smashes, he smashes like never before.
While the action hits hard, it doesn’t always look great. I don’t mean in terms of choreography, it’s all as fluid and graceful as you’d expect. Rather, at various points in the film the CGI is noticeable at best, laughable at worst. Not just in the action sequences either, there were moments when the sets were so clearly green screen, it was hard to stay focused. It was also in the little things, things that had no reason to be CGI. Marvel, you’re a multi-billion dollar studio, how much money could it have possibly saved you to put a CG eyepatch on Anthony Hopkins’ Odin? I can forgive some cartoon-y fights, but that was just embarrassing.
Honestly, The entire look of the film just felt off too me, which again comes back to the looming presence of Marvel. If you take a screenshot from any moment of the film, nothing about it says, “This is a Thor movie.” Look, I know that everybody loves Guardians of the Galaxy, but Thor has one of the most impressive, diverse sandboxes that Marvel can play with. Asgard, the nine realms, there is no limit for the fantastical settings they could let visionary directors create. Yet, instead of something original, they give us a rehash of Knowhere. If I want to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, I’ll go see Guardians of the Galaxy. I go to a Thor movie because I want something different.
This copy-and-paste approach makes it feel much less like a vision from one of the best up and coming comedy directors, and more like Marvel Movie number seventeen. It’s honestly quite strange, because this movie is simultaneously one of the Most original superhero flicks we’ve ever seen, all while being another bland uninventive studio tentpole. It felt like Kevin Feige and the rest of the brass at Disney put together the story beats they knew would play well, and then let Waititi pad the runtime with whatever he wanted. This leads to a very disjointed watching experience, and it was clear which scenes were from Waititi’s imagination, and which ones were a studio mandate.
The studio demands have been getting increasingly clear in Marvel movies, and it’s having a negative effect on the final product. Ant-Man, both Guardians of the Galaxy’s, even Doctor Strange to an extent, are all fun, extremely plot heavy, emotionless romps through the MCU. None shake up the universe too much, and none put any of the title characters in any form of real danger. I know a movie called Ant-Man isn’t going to kill Ant-Man off in the final battle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel the danger they feel. Thor Ragnarok has sky high stakes, and doesn’t leave the MCU the same way it found it. Yet almost every time they could have driven home an emotional beat, they go for the joke instead. It’s not completely void of any heart, but not nearly enough to get me to buy in.
While it may have a few of the typical MCU stumbling blocks, Thor Ragnarok is a fun, crazy ride that never ceases to entertain. The choice of Taika Waititi was an inspired one, as he’s added to a long list of talented directors that manage to put their stamp on the Marvel brand. The talented cast brings an incredible energy that will had me smiling the whole time. The visuals may be sloppy, and the formula may be showing through, but when Jeff Goldblum’s spinning tracks as a DJ and looks like he’s straight out of a DIVO music video, does it even matter?
Rating: 3.0 — Good
Goldblum Rating: 5/5 Goldblum’s