Thor: Ragnarok is the 273rd movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Okay, it is actually only the 17th film in the series, but it does feel like the 273rd. Their brand of light action has only beaten me down for a good number of years now. There was a time when I was excited to see these things, but that time has long passed now. However, they always fool me into getting hopeful that things can change, none more than with this third installment in the Thor franchise. Bringing on a guy like Taika Waititi, who has his own brand of humor and heart seen in films like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, gave me hope he could transcend the trappings the MCU burdens on all of its filmmakers. So far, Waititi gets out the best in that scenario, but even he gets bogged down in them far too often, giving us merely glimpses of the fun space comedy we could have had.
In an effort to upend the MCU’s least successful character, Thor: Ragnarok wastes no time in destroying all the things that make Thor Thor (without changing Chris Hemsworth for a new guy). With the threat of the annihilation of his home Asgard by his evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), his hammer is destroyed, his cape torn, his girlfriend dumped him, and his long, flowing locks cut. He even winds up on a planet that is literally a giant trash dump. Of course, he has to try and make it back home and save the day and blah blah blah. All of the standard Marvel hero’s journey is there. You know where it’s headed, and because we’ve seen this a million times before, the stakes of the apocalypse (yes, the apocalypse) feel like a minor inconvenience at best.
It is the trash planet, however, where some fun can be had. Ruled by the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum who has now completely crossed over into self aware parody of himself in the best way, Thor winds up in the Grandmaster’s gladiatorial competition, after being captured by Tessa Thompson‘s Valkyrie, a boozy, former Asgardian warrior who not so subtlety brings to mind Han Solo, and ends up fighting his old friend the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It is here the movie is able to thrive since the immediate stakes on that planet are so low that the jokes and quipping feel right at home. Goldblum basically just says whatever he feels like and is ble to make anything funny through personality alone. Waititi himself gets to have some great moments as Korg, a gladiator made of rocks who Thor befriends.
Unfortunately, the whiplash caused by cutting back over to Asgard and seeing Blanchett’s Hela threaten to execute people for not cooperating with her or summoning zombie warriors hits you like a sack of bricks. Blanchett, through her vampy performance, wants to get in on that Waititi comedy happening on the trash planet, but none of the material outside that little bubble suits the rest of the universe. We have to instead deal with meaningless, weightless CGI fights, nods to the rest of the MCU, and villains being evil because evil. We even have to sit through the arc of Skurge (Karl Urban), who is the guy looking for recognition, joins in league with the villain, feels conflicted about doing bad things but does then, and then once things get too bad, looks for redemption. Why do we still have this character? Why? Not only is it a disservice to Karl Urban, who is so much better than this role allows him to be, but it does a disservice to the audience in making them sit through this character arc for the millionth time with no glimmer of reinvention or ingenuity.
We also have to look at the same muddy wash that plagues all of the Marvel films. Colors don’t pop. Even when someone is wearing a gold suit against a gray background, the gold looks just as gray as the actual gray does. Action scenes fall to prey to pre-visualization where physics, space, and impact are thrown by the wayside in favor of a constantly movie camera and whizzing CGI where you cannot believe for a second a single human was involved in the filming of a fight. The score acts as simply dressing to a scene, making little to no impact whatsoever that you wonder why they even bothered having a score in the first place. One well-known song is used to great comedic effect, which was nice, but when that is your musical highlight, something is a problem.
All that being said, Thor: Ragnarok is probably my favorite Marvel movie based solely on the comedic material on the trash planet. It’s the first time in these movies where it didn’t feel like we were simply going through the motions to crank out another product to set up the next five products to set up the next twelve products. The trash planet was a little playground for some fun, and had the film been exclusively that, it would be so easy to wholeheartedly recommend it. This is still a Marvel movie first and foremost, though, and until we can’t use that as a descriptor anymore, I don’t know how much better they can get, particularly if Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther ends up the same way.
Categories: New Releases