Thoughts on Thor: Ragnarok By M.Schinke
So, I don’t really know what else to add about Thor: Ragnarok, the 2017 Marvel release directed by New Zealand born Taika Waititi. The third entry in the solo franchise for the mighty Marvel God of Thunder and the fifth outing for actor Chris Hemsworth in the title role, the movie looks to upend just about anything anyone might have held sacred about the Thor character or the universe of his stories by thrusting him into the same Technicolor, intergalactic landscape that the Guardians of the Galaxy inhabit. As a person who enjoyed the previous entries, with 2011’s easily besting it’s sequel for pure cinematic weight, I was interested in watching Marvel finally shake off the shackles that bound Thor to Earth and let him roam free in the cosmos to be part of the galactic community in a way that even the Guardians couldn’t.
That’s not the movie I got.
When I saw that 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron was investing a not an inconsiderable amount of screen time, and losing Joss Whedon, over the inclusion of elements that would move the Thor story line into the mythological Asgardian apocalypse I was doubly intrigued. The idea that Thor’s power, or something related to, would bring about the end of Asgard as foretold in his dreams seemed ripe with danger and drama.
That’s… also not what I got.
Look, I’m not telling anyone that this is a bad movie. I could not, in good conscience, give the film less than an 8 out of 10, or 4 out of 5 or what ever, just based on it’s entertainment value alone. There is nothing so problematic with the movie that it takes you out of the experience. I think that’s part of the issue I have with the film though; once all is said and done there is just nothing to it.
From the very start of the film I remember thinking I could do without the self aware narration from Thor, but after seeing a few minutes of him bantering with Surtr, I thought to myself, “If Thor had been portrayed this way all along maybe people would have been a little more interested in him.” As the movie progresses and we see Thor confronted with what should be emotionally wrenching situations it quickly becomes clear that this new Thor seems almost incapable of generating any genuine emotional reaction to anything. This is put all too glaringly on display as Thor and Loki are confronted with the death of their father, Odin, and Thor doesn’t murder Loki on the spot for being pretty much responsible for it. His anger at this point is about the closest Thor, or the movie for that matter, will get to having anything that seems like an appropriate emotional reaction to anything that happens from that point onward. Whether it’s Thor being tossed to the far winds of the galaxy, Cate Blanchett’s Hela wiping out a literal army of faceless Asgardians as simply as if you were watching someone play a video game set to, “Easy” or the completely arbitrary decimation of the Warriors Three, the movie doesn’t seem to care about caring about much of anything at all. The closest we get to anything resembling a scene with any real depth is watching Tessa Thomspson’s nameless Valkyrie recall the events that led to her self imposed exile on Sakaar. The major events are played a with kind of, “well that just happened” attitude and the characters are so blasé about them that, at one point, Thor literally spends more time talking about his affection for his destroyed hammer than he does for his father. And if that scene was supposed to be some kind of emotional bait and switch that the Taika Waititi voiced Korg picks up on, it didn’t land with anyone I’ve spoken with about it.
Cate Blanchett is given very little to work with as Hela, to this point the unknown sister of Thor and Loki and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, but there was a lot of potential there. Family drama, the emotional and psychological effects of long term incarceration and being created as a nigh unstoppable engine of death only to be told that you are now considered, “evil” and must be locked away has an inherent weight to it that could have led to a lot of terrifying mayhem as well as some truly evocative performances. Alas the only character Hela has any true beef with, Odin, has to die before she can even enter the movie; meaning there is no catharsis for her and no impact to the very short emotional trajectory the film sets her on. Thor and Loki, the next best thing to dealing with daddy, are tossed out of her story for the majority of the films run time, leaving Hela with little more to do than act as a perpetual exposition machine single handidly pushing the plot along when the film makers need to remind us there is supposed to be a story happening. She has a fantastic energy about her and she certainly presents herself as a woman with whom it would be best not to trifle; but it’s all assumed evil and inferred horror. We don’t actually see her do anything the movie tells us is truly terrible. Yes, she straight up murders both Volstagg and Fandral in the only 15 seconds they spend on screen, and takes out Hogun along with the faceless mob of Asgardian NPC’s she blows through; but the audience isn’t given any time to feel these losses before the movie moves on to more good times in the Grandmaster’s court. The movie tells us that Hela is the architect of death in this universe upon who’s shoulders was built the rule of Asgard. Her banishment, combined with her power, should have made her a terrifying force at every turn. Unfortunately the movie is so intent on making us like her that it forgot to make us fear her, and the gravity of the film suffers for it. I will say this for Hela, she suffers not for the same ills that taint my opinion of Michael Keaton’s Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Unlike his disconnected disaster artist, Hela at least has a reason for her actions. Unfortunately what should have been a more emotional, though slightly redundant, arc concerned with how children are ranked within a family and who is owed what, emotionally or otherwise, turns into Hela preening about Asgard playing a game of, “Obedience or Death” with it’s people.
There are, of course, other characters in the film; Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki along with Mark Ruffallo playing both the massive Hulk and the incredible Bruce Banner, last seen flying to a totally un-paid off disappearance at the end of Age of Ultron. Jeff Goldblum reaches what I can only describe as PEAK Goldblum as the Grandmaster, an intergalactic person of authority who does stuff for some reason the movie never really gets into. Thompson’s Valkyrie (her title, not her name, by the way) drinks and swaggers through the film in a typical lost-warrior role made significant only by the fact that Tessa Thompson is playing it. Idris Elba is given nothing to do as the all seeing, all powerful Heimdall, and there are a couple of CG sidekicks who I stopped caring about ten minutes after leaving the auditorium. Yes, I didn’t mention Karl Urban’s Executioner. Yes, there is a reason for that. There’s a half-hearted attempt to hang a lampshade on Loki’s continued insistence on betraying Thor every chance he gets that at least results in Thor finally not falling for Loki’s double self illusion trick. Emotional gravity is avoided again when Bruce Banner wrests control of his body away from the Hulk after two years in space thanks to a leftover video voice-mail from Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow which results in some truly nice Banner vs Hulk imagery before Ragnarok completely casts aside all of the character work done for Banner and Romanov in Ultron to bake a luke-warm turkey pot pie between Banner and Valkyrie. The actors do fine work, as they always do in these films, but I’m beginning to fear the film makers are leaning too heavily on the performers ability to spin manure into platinum with the way they write for them.
Of course, no overview of the film would be complete without addressing the Ha-Ha-Horse in the room that is the films either use or overuse of humor, depending on how you take it. What did I think about it?
It was fine.
I mean, yes; the film definitely lands more on the comedy side of the spectrum than it does the action/adventure/drama side but it feels like admitting that is just damning with faint praise. I don’t fault Waititi for wanting to play into the strengths of his actors or his own sensibilities by casting the film as a funnier take on the end of the world. The problem isn’t that the movie makes such liberal use of overt comedy, or straight up jokes and gags, but in the fact that so many of them just aren’t funny. I know they are supposed to be funny; and there are a lot of jokes that I could have laughed at if I let myself. But so much of it was just vamping and riffing that had to have come from the reported 30 minutes of removed footage that Waititi put back into the movie that most of the humor just feels like filler to pad out the run time for no reason other than someone told him that shooting digital is cheaper than film. If I had to put a pin in what my problem with the humor in the film is, it would be the fact that the instances that elicited the biggest and most honest laughs from me were funny not because they came from something organic in the movie but because they referenced other films in funny ways. The Willy Wonka Tunnel Of Terror sequence had me guffawing out loud at how absolutely insane it was to see it used completely apropos of nothing; just please, for the love of god, DO NOT try to make any sense out of why in the cold sphincter of Hades the Grandmaster would be referencing a 40 year old Earth film when he couldn’t even tell that Thor was a male in his species. The second instance was the use of the post hypnotic trigger that was developed for Banner in Age of Ultron to bring him out of his Hulk state. The only reason it’s funny is because, as far as we know, the trigger was not designed to work with anyone other than Black Widow and it was a major component of the relationship the movie was trying to build between she and Banner. The image of Thor in the kind of close, intimate relationship with Banner that would make the trigger work was a juxtaposition that tickled my brain, but I don’t see why that joke would be funny if you had never seen Age of Ultron. The third instance I would let slip by would be Loki happily watching Thor get Hulk whipped in the same manner he once did in The Avengers (2012). But again, if you’d never seen that film the joke would lose a lot of it’s humor.
I fear this film represents both the best and worst aspects of Marvel Studios as we have come to know it. The last five films, going back to Captain America: Civil War, have been an insanely frustrating experience ins solidly middle of the road film making. The movies aren’t good enough for me to love, but they are in no way even close to be bad; so I can’t hate them. They’re funny but no so funny I quote them with my partner. They have fine action but not so god that I feel like I need to see it again. And when it comes to anything greater within the film to examine or pick apart; well, there just isn’t anything. The ambitions of the people making these movies doesn’t seem to rise very far about shooting for being, “pretty good”; and because of that there is almost no chance that any of them will be great in any way. Black Panther is looking to maybe break the trend of Marvel’s reliance on humor to cover up for their weak drama but it’s still too early to tell if that will be the one that puts Marvel back on track to actually trying to make great movies.
Like I said; there is no way I can hate this film. Even after all the rest of.. whatever that chicken scratch above was, I was still entertained with the movie. It doesn’t exactly pass Alfred Hitchcock’s test for fridge logic, but more than likely any severe issues you might have with the film won’t bother you unless you make the mistake of thinking about it later that week. I have to be honest with people and I’ve recommended that they go see the movie; it’s worth a watch. I just make sure to tell them this;
The movie doesn’t care about anything that happens; so just make sure you don’t either.
Clever endings aren’t my bag.
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