Thor: Ragnarok is the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brought to the screen by Taika Waititi, the third director to tackle the solo adventures of the heroic Norse God of Thunder.
This time around, we join Thor on his quest to investigate the disturbing vision he had of Asgard’s destruction in Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s trying to prevent Ragnarok, the Norse version of the Apocalypse. This may sound like an interesting and serious plotline, but it’s not actually what the film is about. The truth is, Ragnarok has almost nothing to do with the movie. Around ten minutes into the film, Thor has single-handedly stopped the random bad guy who would be the bringer of Ragnarok. As such, its title is quite misleading.
The real story happens when, through a quick series of events (involving a very funny cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange), Thor’s sister, the Goddess of Death, Hela (the always magnificent Cate Blanchett), shows up to claim Asgard for herself. A quick skirmish with the powerful Goddess results in Thor and Loki being stranded on the trash planet Sakaar, where Thor is forced into gladiatorial combat with none other than his avenging teammate, the Incredible Hulk, by Sakaar’s ruler, The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). This leaves the son of Odin, who just wants to get back to Asgard and stop Hela, in quite the pickle.
All of this belies Ragnarok’s biggest problem: the plot is a disaster. It starts by picking up the story thread left dangling in Ultron, then quickly abandons it, and rushes through a series of major plot points to set the main event of Thor being trapped on Sakaar in motion. Meanwhile, big moments, like the death of significant characters from previous films, are glossed over and barely acknowledged, while motivations for other characters are poorly explained, if at all. On top of those issues, the film is filled with frustrating plot holes and inconsistencies. For example, after Hulk transforms back into Bruce Banner, he tells Thor that he’s been stuck as the green monster for two years, and he fears that the next time he changes into Hulk, it will be permanent. However, at the end of the movie, he does transform again and, after the climactic battle, disappears off screen. It’s never shown if he changes back, nor do any of the characters mention his predicament. Some may argue that it’s an issue which will be addressed in future films, but for a film to completely drop a significant plot point isn’t a good set-up for future installments—it’s sloppy filmmaking.
The fact that the titular apocalypse barely factors into the story is bizarre, but clearly, demonstrates the intent of the filmmakers. Waititi and Marvel are obviously not interested in making a serious movie about the end of Asgard, instead, everything is focused on comedy. For some parts of the film, this works. Waititi knows how to make a funny movie and there’s a lot of genuine laughs to be found in the film. However, there are also points where the humour wears thin. During one scene, the heroes need to pilot a spaceship through a giant portal which is referred to as “the devil’s anus,” and each line where someone mentions flying through the anus feels dumber than the last. It’s a stupid joke that overstays its welcome, and there are too many others like it.
The film also tries to enhance its humourous tone with Mark Mothersbaugh’s score, which features a main theme that is reminiscent of 1980s synth music. That retro vibe is the only memorable theme from the film, which is a shame, since it’s awful. It sounds goofy and out of place, not matching what’s happening on screen.
The comedy would also feel stronger if it was supplemented with strong character development, but that’s also lacking. Thor’s journey throughout the film is a purely geographical one—by the end of the movie he hasn’t really changed, aside from learning some new ways to use his powers. Similarly, Hela is a half-baked antagonist with a poorly explained backstory, no depth, or well fleshed out motivation. She is merely evil just because the film needs a bad guy™, and this is the case with most of the supporting cast—everything is purely surface level.
However, even though their roles are limited, the cast is excellent. Chris Hemsworth continues to be charming as Thor and further demonstrates his gift for comedic timing, as he did in last year’s Ghostbusters. Blanchett brings a terrific screen presence to her under-developed villain; she’s intimidating, cruel, and stunning, conveying her threat with wonderfully cold line delivery and strong body language. Jeff Goldblum, as
Jeff Goldblum The Grandmaster, gives what is, by far, the funniest performance of the film, making the egomaniacal despot a welcome addition to the Marvel Universe.
Waititi also demonstrates a good hand at directing action, bringing several great set pieces to the film. Thor’s battle with Hulk and Hela’s single-handed slaughter of the Asgardian army are the standouts, both well conceived, shot cleanly and clearly, and thrilling to watch.
Thor: Ragnarok is the kind of superhero movie that feels like it desperately wants to be any other kind of film: a comedy, a sci-fi space odyssey, or a buddy flick. For a film whose title indicates the end of the world, it’s too short on gravitas. It’s certainly a fun movie, but film-goers cannot live off of fun alone. Marvel’s movies often seem to shoot for this style of filmmaking, but good humour and some solid action don’t make up for a weak story, abundant plot-holes, underserved characters, and a lack of emotion and drama. Hopefully, future films in the series will find the right balance of all these elements, but Ragnarok misses the mark.
(Featured Image: Thor: Ragnarok, Disney)