Thor: Ragnarok is quite possibly the funniest Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date — besting even the two Guardians of the Galaxy films in laughs and silliness. And that’s not a good thing. The third Thor film tosses out the seriousness of the title, Ragnarok, the literal end of the world, and instead rolls out a two-plus hour laugh-fest that eschews almost everything established from the previous two films.
It hasn’t been easy to be a Thor fan in the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the first film, we saw our hero turned into an alien, as the MCU didn’t trust the audience enough to understand the concept of Asgard as a mystical kingdom that oversees eight other realms, which includes Midgard/Earth, so they made Asgard an alien planet. Then they set a large portion of the film on Earth, in New Mexico, at that, which was the furthest thing from the grandeur and richness of Asgard. And lastly, they took away Thor’s iconic winged helmet, only showing it in one scene — a scene where a helmet wouldn’t even be worn.
In the second film, 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, Marvel tried to course correct, adding a more medieval feel to the production, but it contrasted with the rules (as odd as they were) set in the first film, and that turned off audiences. It didn’t help that Natalie Portman had a much bigger role, and she essentially phoned it in, as she and Chris Hemsworth had zero chemistry together. Long time Thor fans hoped that the third time would be the charm, especially after Marvel unveiled the film’s title, Thor: Ragnarok, an important, life-altering event in the long history of the comic books. Boy, were we misled.
Thor: Ragnarok begins with Thor (Hemsworth) confronting one of his long-time enemies, the fire lord Surtur. Thor seeks to protect the nine realms, and Surtur wants to see them all burn. The battle is intense and has a comic book feel — something missing from the first two films. But then the issues with the film begin to surface. The resolution of the cliffhanger ending of Thor: The Dark World is quickly resolved, with little-to-no conflict, and the ramifications of Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) kidnapping and replacing Odin (Anthony Hopkins), taking the throne of Asgard for himself, are wrapped up with nary a battle.
Loki and Thor, with the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), track down Odin on Earth, and the All-Father admits that he had another child, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who he banished when her thirst for conquest grew too great. Odin tells his sons that their older sister wants to return to bring Ragnarok to Asgard, or to end all things, as she is the Goddess of Death. Things happen and Hela returns, sending Thor and Loki on a galaxy-spanning adventure with the fate of Asgard — and possibly the universe — hanging in the balance.
Thor’s journey sends him to Sakaar, where he is taken prisoner by a fellow Asgardian (Tessa Thompson) and is forced to fight in gladiatorial combat against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who somehow got to the strange planet, though it is never reasonably explained how. Add a healthy dose of a hammy Jeff Goldblum, and Loki being Loki, and insanity ensues.
Thor: Ragnarok does many things very well. The opening confrontation and battle with Surtur and a flashback of the last ride of the Valkyries against Hela are well done. The Jack Kirby-esque art direction of the entire production — especially on Sakaar — is the closest fans have ever come to seeing Kirby’s creations faithfully brought to life. The character designs, especially Hela and Skurge (Karl Urban), and Korg and Miek, look just like their comic book counterparts. The final battle for Asgard was 15-20 minutes of absolute bliss, as many comic book heroes and villains clash with each other in such a huge spectacle that all comic book movies should look at this third act for inspiration on how to stage and block such an epic fight.
The problem with Thor: Ragnarok is solely in the fact that director Taika Waititi (What We Do In the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Chris Yost, decided that this film should be a straight up comedy. It’s not just Tony Stark-like verbal barbs, we’re talking full on jokes and one liners, and slapstick physical comedy that would make Peter Sellers proud. Add to that huge splashes of vibrant colors, and CGI characters that speak with quirky New Zealand accents, and the whole production begins to look, sound, and ultimately feel like a cartoon. A Looney Toons cartoon, sadly.
There is a great film in here somewhere. With some editing out of the 30 minutes of jokes and utter silliness, this could have been the best Marvel Cinematic Movie to date, but a decision was made in the 11th hour to add all of the funny stuff back into the original edit, and, to me, it has the opposite effect and hurts the whole movie. I’m not saying it’s a bad film. I can respect that people will enjoy laughing at the silliness and hijinks on the screen, but for long time fans — like myself — its a disappointment. Thor, the character, deserves better than this.
Thor: Ragnarok is full of jokes, to its detriment. It inexplicably both honors and shits on the mythos of the source comics, and sells out the entire genre of the comic book film. It represents the seismic shift to self-parody, the push to make things funny — things that shouldn’t be funny. Fans have long wondered when the comic book movie would run its course, and this film is the charter for that inevitable journey. Suddenly, I’m very worried about next summer’s Avengers: Infinity War. Thor: Ragnarok is this generation’s Batman and Robin. The difference is that it has the Marvel logo on it, and they didn’t add sculpted nipples on Thor’s tunic, so audiences will undoubtedly give it a pass.
Verily, I cannot.
Thor: Ragnarok is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.
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