Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Karl Urban with Cate Blanchett and Anthony Hopkins
Plot: Chasing down a prophecy that Asgard will soon meet its destruction, Thor (Hemsworth) comes home to find his family divided and a new evil present.
I really wanted to like Thor: Ragnarok. This was for a few reasons. Marvel Movies is the monster of the film studios at the moment, creating a tapestry of movies like none we have ever seen before. The idea of a constant cinematic experience designed to come out multiple times a year, weaving together into an epic action story, a decade ago, was a laughable suggestion. Who would have the time or patience? Simply as an experiment or a landmark moment for cinematic history, I want Marvel’s game plan to work. On a more superficial level, Marvel studios have become my safe bet of the year. As dark horses come and go, delivering varying levels of excitement, I know that at least I can relax knowing that the latest Guardians of the Galaxy will entertain me thoroughly. To a point, I need that safety going into the cinema, making a relaxing change to the uncertainty that comes with watching a gamble like Atomic Blonde.
Which makes it really frustrating when Thor: Ragnarok turns out to be one of the weakest Marvel entries to date. There was a time when each Marvel movie was a whirlwind of creativity. They cast unlikely directors (James Gunn, Kenneth Branagh, Joss Whedon), and dropped risky twists (disbanding S.H.I.E.L.D, turning the Mandarin into the biggest movie red herring to date). Walking into a Marvel movie was an exciting time. However, as we hit the third helping of movies, routine is sadly setting in. What started off as an edgy slice of humour to Marvel’s stories (the dry wit of Tony Stark, the faux set pieces of Ant-Man), is beginning to come a frustrating norm. As soon as Thor: Ragnarok opens, we are thrown into a dark storyline that simply refuses to admit it is dark. Thor is a prisoner in a hell-world and faced with taking on a fiery war-lord with a pet dragon. There was a time when the very notion of such a scenario would have the audiences dripping with anticipation, but there is something strangely predictable about how Ragnarok’s events unfold. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor glibly drops gags, while the war-lord comically fails to drum up tension. Once upon a time, it would have been an unexpected laugh, but now it is yet another Marvel sub-villain reduced to a joke. It never really gets any better. On paper, this is the darkest Marvel movie to date. As Odin’s rule slips away, Asgard is under attack from the daughter no one knew Odin had, Hela, the goddess of death. Cate Blanchett cuts a fine figure, as a deadly, threatening (and strangely gorgeous), dictator, slaughtering beloved characters and enslaving peaceful villagers. Thor’s hammer is obliterated and he is trapped in a gladiator arena, where he sentenced to fight until death. Weighty stuff, right? No, because director Waititi has been tasked with refusing to acknowledge the depth in the material. Whenever an actor gets a chance to mine their character, the moment is undercut with a cheap joke. Tom Hiddleston fans will revolt, seeing Loki reduced to a punchbag for most of the film, because it is amusing watching Hemsworth flex his muscles. The time when Loki was the greatest Marvel villain seems a distant memory. Hemsworth suffers too, his interesting identity crisis from the previous two films replaced with a lead hero who is essentially starring in the world’s most expensive awkward protagonist comedy. Watch him fail to speak to women! Watch his heroic getaway ironically foiled! There comes a time when you begin to think Marvel have three jokes on loop and are praying that the audience haven’t switched onto it yet. I criticised Guardians of the Galaxy’s sequel for similar reasons, as the jokes outweighed the narrative, but at the very least, we expected that with Gunn’s entry. He never pretended to be anything else. Ragnarok’s entire film is filled with missed chances at achieving something special.
Therefore I was beginning to really want to hate this movie. I was constantly peeved at the fact the narrative led me down interesting paths (the Hulk resurfaces a changed figure, Loki and Thor become a begrudging pairing), only for the movie to squander these fun circumstances. The Marvel machine had finally crumbled under its own weight. I began to plot a review where I called Marvel out on all of these flaws. But as the movie hits its final third, I had to admit that it wasn’t as though I was hating the experience. Ragnarok is a lot of fun: it logically can’t pump these many gags into its picture and not be. It is hardly a painful experience, just a movie that undersells itself every step of the way. Whenever I began to get tired of the stuttering story, it hit me with one joke that just knocked the ball out of the park. Thor returns to Asgard to find a Loki theatre piece being performed with a killer cameo. Cheeky reverting of the expected tropes do cause uproars of giggles. It is hard not to give into a pained smirk when Chris Hemsworth delivers the line: “head into the devil’s anus” with a straight face. And there are moments that escape the embarrassment of routine. While Hemsworth and Hiddleston fight to keep their credibility, the newcomers have no such task. Tessa Thompson will be a new fan favourite, as the heavy-drinking, bad-ass Asgardian warrior, running from a dark past. She adds to the idea that 2017 is the year of the female superhero. Jeff Goldblum fits the jokes like a glove, so when the movie pokes fun at his character, it doesn’t feel as forced as Hemsworth’s gags. Perhaps it is easiest to see Ragnarok as a mildly disappointing stepping stone to the bigger Marvel picture. However, the company definitely need a win. At this rate, D.C might actually become the most entertaining superhero franchise of the year.
Final Verdict: Ragnarok is a frustrating experience, cheap laughs replacing weight. Those looking for an entertaining adventure will be pleased however.