Length: 130 mins
Writer(s): Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Dir.: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo
As a piece of pure escapism, Thor: Ragnarok is fantastic. It’s exciting, colourful and surprisingly hilarious. Visually, the movie is gorgeous with a great use of neon glam colour and set design inspired by Jack Kirby, the near-legendary comic book artist. The performances from the movie’s impressive cast are all brilliant – notably, Chris Hemsworth, who is a revelation in the lead role. I had never thought of Thor as a funny character before, but Hemsworth’s surprisingly good comedic timing and improvisation totally sells it. The soundtrack is great – clearly drawing from Guardian’s of the Galaxy in terms of track choice. All in all, Ragnarok is exactly what a comic book blockbuster should be – fun.
From a more technical point of view, there are some odd choices here and there. The opening 20 minutes race through a lot of important plot elements with little or no setup or explanation – aggravated slightly by a reasonably entertaining, but thoroughly pointless scene with Benny Clumbersnatch’s Doctor Strange making a zero-impact cameo. Odin dies because plot, an unmentioned goddess of death is let loose on the cosmos, Mjolnir is destroyed and Thor is left tumbling through space. Again, this all happens in the first 20 minutes. It all goes by too fast to have any real impact.
Speaking of Thor’s hammer for a minute, Mjolnir being destroyed had next to no impact, for me. The main reason for this is that it had already been spoilt in the trailer. In fact, many of the big reveals of the film were spoiled in the trailer and the rest of the marketing for the movie. I know that this is just a fact of the industry and the way films are marketed now, but it always strikes me that Marvel movies can be surprisingly coy about reveals that they themselves have already shown us in promotional material.
Take Iron Man 3, for example – Stark makes constant reference to the ‘house party protocol’, and it’s suggested throughout that he has loads of other Iron Man suits hiding away… but we already know they are going to turn up at the end because of the trailer, so what’s the point of being so coquettish about it? In Ragnarok, the Hulk’s reveal is similarly built up, but it has no effect on the audience because we knew ages ago that he was in the movie, both undermining the impact and the humour of that scene. That being said, none of these points are dealbreakers – I just can’t help but feel they are missed opportunities. Like… who are you trying to convince to see the next Marvel movie? We’re on the hook, we’re down for it, you don’t need to sell it to us.
The inherent problem that I think Marvel movies have is, fittingly, almost the complete opposite of what makes the Warner Bros. DC films so dull and uninteresting. Whereas Batman v Superman attempts to create fake depth by treating everything with Nolan inspired seriousness, I can’t help but think that Thor: Ragnarok might have gone too far the other way. While the movie is thoroughly entertaining, there is a lack of depth that I found a bit disappointing.
Before writing this, I went back and watched Thor: The Dark World, the much-maligned second instalment in the Thor series. While this outing shared some similarities with the DCEU movies – i.e. it’s ‘dark’ and boring – I have to say that I was intrigued by the attempt at world-building. A decent chunk of the runtime is spent on Asgard and I did get the idea that this was living, breathing world. You get the sense – and only a sense – that this is a place with a rich history and lore – a world worth exploring and expanding upon. All that’s gone now. Never to return.
Elements of that were hinted upon throughout Ragnarok as well – mostly revolving around Hela, the hitherto unmentioned goddess of death played by the criminally underused Cate Blanchett. There is a scene where it becomes apparent that Odin, twisty bugger that he was, had white-washed much of the history of Asgard and painted himself as a benign ruler. Hela reveals that she was instrumental in building Asgard’s empire, establishing its dominance by sword and slaughter. It’s even suggested that she was the first of the gods to wield Mjolnir – hence how she could stop it in flight and utterly destroy it. All this fascinating backstory is alluded to in one five minute scene and never mentioned again.
These are two stories that don’t quite gel, and it’s odd that they were mashed together. It’s like there are two films here – Thor’s wacky misadventures through the cosmos awkwardly juxtaposed with the goddess of death/literal end of the world story. While the Thor storyline is great – I cannot stress that enough – it feels like the actual Ragnarok storyline is tacked on and rushed and I don’t think it got the time that it deserved. It feels like Hela is a means to an end rather than an actual threat, like she is only there to destroy Thor’s hammer and kick him off Asgard. More of a plot device than an actual character.
That’s the main problem with the Marvel films recently, in my opinion. It feels like rich and intriguing stories are being used up purely to get the characters where they need to be for the Infinity War movie – a film that has been so built up for so long now that it can surely only be a disappointment. Odin, Asgard, Mjolnir, the Valkyries – all gone. Just because we have Infinity War coming up. All those stories, all that lore and history, just abandoned. With the destruction of Asgard, everything that made the Thor universe unique is gone; and what we’re left with is, essentially, a Guardians of the Galaxy movie with a different cast. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I reiterate, Ragnarok is a thoroughly entertaining movie – I can’t help but feel a bit sad that those stories will never be told.
It’s not that I think the Marvel movies should be darker, or anything like that. I am a firm believer that, for the most part, comic book movies should be… well, comic. I just think that you can do that at the same time as telling a richer story and that Marvel’s tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to their more complex narratives undermines their attempts of building a coherent cinematic universe. I worry that the different characters and the worlds they inhabit – the mini-verses within the MCU as a whole – are losing some of their distinctiveness, and I hope that this doesn’t become a trend.
Thor: Ragnarok is a brilliant movie and you should definitely go and watch it. But despite how enjoyable I found it, it does make me a bit worried about what’s in store for the franchise.
Also, Jeff Goldblum is amazing.