Thor Ragnarok Film Review
The goofy sight gags and quips will keep non-fans at least mildly entertained.
Taking its cues from the ultra-successful Guardians of the Galaxy movies, the producers of Thor: Ragnarok listened to fans who hated the sombre and dull Dark World and brought to the latest instalment a giddy, smart-alec-y tone that focuses on clever quips over dramatic storytelling. For this, they brought in director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople). You can detect slivers of his cheeky brand of humour and delicate handling of sensitive subjects in his turn at driving the Marvel freight train.
At the beginning, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is chained up in front of fire demon Surtur, who threatens ‘Ragnarok’ (the apocalypse, essentially) and informs Thor that his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is no longer at Asgard. Assured that his trusty magic hammer will get him out of this mess, Thor’s comfortable enough to crack a few jokes in the face of danger—a pretty funny sight gag has Thor, suspended in mid-air, spinning awkwardly on the chain while Surtur threatens him. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is both its best quality and a detriment to its storytelling. It’s insufferable to sit through self-serious fantasy films that earnestly require you to invest in their ludicrous mythologies, but Ragnarok takes this jocular tone to such an extreme that it feels like you’re being forcefully detached from the drama. Anyone who isn’t keenly invested in the series will just be waiting for the next clever line or goofy sight gag.
There’s a fight, and Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song revs along while the camera is stuck on Thor’s hammer zooming around and bursting Surtur’s minions to dust. The song choice masks the lack of swelling orchestral music in the film (the Marvel films have always been curiously devoid of any memorable scores, despite most other blockbuster franchises having hummable tunes). It’s also the most egregious example of the film’s attempts to piggyback on the popularity of Guardians of the Galaxy. The thing is, in those movies, Peter Quill had a mix tape and its 80s songs were a part of his character’s identity. The songs made sense as storytelling device. Here, it’s just because Zeppelin sounds cool set to a fight scene. The opening sequence is essentially a music video with some exposition.
Eventually, Thor crash-lands on a landfill planet called Sakaar. He meets the planet’s ruler, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, well cast and having a blast), and fights in gladiatorial matches for his entertainment. Meanwhile, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is buddying up to the kooky ruler and Hela (Cate Blanchett, well cast and barely in the film) is wreaking havoc in Asgard.
The most entertaining sequences are definitely on Sakaar. When Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) shows up, all shaken and disoriented, his neurotic discomfort plays well against Thor’s goofy cool-guy jock schtick. The planet itself, though we’re given no details of how it works or what goes on aside from gladiatorial matches, is visually detailed and strange enough to be intriguing. There’s a scene where the drunken Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) falls over the side of her ship’s ramp and accidentally puts her hand into the head of a strange-looking several-eyed beast. Little stuff like this makes the weird world feel lived in.
Taika Waititi also manages to insert himself into the film in the form of Korg, a talking rock-formation with a laid-back surfer-style approach to life and a few funny lines. His character seems to embody the film’s tone: despite threats to the destruction of Asgard, the coming of a mountain-sized fire demon and the fact that Loki and Thor’s father recently turned to dust, there’s plenty of time for cheeky asides and juvenile jokes about the size of Hulk’s dick. The characters all kind of talk like a variety of teenage stereotypes (Thor’s the jock, Bruce Banner’s the nerd, Korg’s the weirdo, Valkyrie’s the damaged badass, Loki’s the bully) trying to blow off doing any work until the bell rings.
Other than that, the film seems to give the fans what they want. Thor’s consistently unaffected visage disguises the fact that Chris Hemsworth can’t act, there’s a big fight at the end in which nobody dies and the whole thing rolls along pretty smoothly, before reminding you it’ll be happening all over again in the next one.