Every time I go in to see a Marvel movie, a voice whispers in the back of my mind: Don’t you dare give this a good review. You can’t give them all good reviews. Your five readers are going to think you’re basic. You’re becoming the enemy of cinema, a blockbuster, mouth-drooling, action-spectacular addict who likes quips and things that go boom. Don’t fall into the trap. Be better. Be the special snowflake who doesn’t like it.
But, I whisper back to the voice, professional critics have liked it. And I’ve been looking forward to this movie for two years.
They’ve already been mind-controlled. You are young, you can escape.
I just want to have a good time.
No, art only comes through pain and suffering.
That sounds fake, but okay.
Reveal this movie for what it truly is- a hollow technicolor sugar-rush!
And then I write the review.
Thor: Ragnarok takes place a little time after Avengers: Age of Ultron left off. Thor has been having dreams of an impending Ragnarok, the term denoting the apocalyptic-like end of his home planet of Asgard. As he tries to figure out what’s going on, his (evil? antihero?) brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, giving a very earnest performance) has been masquerading as their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins, definitely phoning it in), on the throne. A series of events occur, and Odin, being the Best Dad Ever, tells Thor and Loki they have an evil sister, Hela, goddess of death, (Cate Blanchett, having way too much fun) who is going to destroy Asgard. And then Odin promptly dies. Thor is subsequently sent to the planet of Sakaar, where he is forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena against fellow Avenger, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, who deserves more respect for his MCU work at this point).
When I walked out of the theater, the first words out of my mouth were- “it felt sloppy, and I am conflicted.”
Director Taika Waititi (of the fabulous Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows) has said the dialogue of the film is “about 80%” improvised. And that’s where the problem lies.
The film is clearly split into three parts (not just because of the three-act film structure) and they are all very different. The first part is rushed and works to parody the rest of the Thor films and clear up any threads to the previous films in order to start with a clean slate. This part was obviously scripted, with only subtle details that point to Waititi.
Then there is act two, where Thor is on Sakaar, fights Hulk, and assembles the new team. This is clearly where the improvisation happens, and where Waititi is most in control. The action sequences are good, but it’s the character interactions that shine. Then the film remembers- oh wait, plot– and so act three is served up with a script and probably a dose of improv. The pacing is uneven and rushed.
The third act is where the attempt at an emotional core takes place. Heimdall and Thor repeat this mantra a few times: Asgard is not a place, it’s a people. And that’s nice, except….
You can’t spend the first part of this movie parodying and invalidating and killing off the only recognizable characters from the previous Thor films, then expect me to then use the supposed connection I have with the previous Thor films to make me believe this ending and care. Maybe this makes me a terrible human being, but seeing all those extras looking mildly distressed is not enough to make me care all that much about Asgard.
So without an emotional connection at all, Thor: Ragnarok does not feel like a Waititi film, because his films do have heart. Quirky and off-kilter maybe, but they feel genuine. The ending of Thor: Ragnarok does not.
Ultimately, this film exemplifies all the pros and cons of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The good things? Well, there are jokes in this film that have been 5 years in the making, and as a fan, that is glorious. It makes it all worth it. The easter eggs in here are spectacular. I love seeing different Avengers pair off and watching their dynamic. I love that Marvel trusted an indie New Zealand comedic director to handle a big blockbuster! That only happens when you’re on your 17th film.
But the bad things? The first act having to deal with the previous movies. The overstuffed plot and characters that sacrifice a smoother story for fan service. The way Marvel is becoming too much of the same “funny.”
Yes, I said it. Marvel is too funny. If you watch the first Avengers film, while all the Avengers can be funny, each Avenger was a different kind of funny. Iron Man quipped. Captain America balked. Black Widow had the understatements. Bruce Banner/Hulk self-deprecated. Thor was a meathead.
But now, everyone has the same Marvel Humor. Doctor Strange, Ant Man, Star Lord and all the Guardians of the Galaxy, they all rip one-liners and can’t have an emotional moment without a joke attached. Thor may be more witty, and his jokes more physical, but when Waititi is gone and Thor is in the hands of another director, his jokes will probably lose their edge and become the same as everyone else. When everyone is the same kind of funny, it’s not as fun. So I’m surprised this film has seemingly caught everyone off-guard by being a straight comedy. That’s really all the MCU is creating right now, and while a few films in the future may divert the path, Marvel needs to rethink their brand. Light does not have to mean sitcom.
I’m trying to keep my critic’s hat on for this, because believe me, my fan side has some very specific strong opinions. I had high expectations going in.
That all said, I’m critiquing this movie because it has so many things going for it. You’re harder on things you love. And while I am frustrated with Thor: Ragnarok, I do like it, and I think most people will love it. The acting, the humor, the character moments, the visuals, the music, are all spot-on. I can’t really say more for fear of giving stuff away, but this film is really best just seen and experienced. If you can get over the issues I had, which I’m sure I’ll be able to put aside for a repeated viewing, then Thor: Ragnarok is going to be a blast. I don’t think this is a game-changer, but it’s certainly a solid step.