Synopsis: Thor must save Asgard from his older sister, Hela; gets a bit sidetracked.
Well, that was fun. My mind wasn’t blown or anything but I can’t say I didn’t have a really good time. Thor: Ragnarok is like In-and-Out when I’m not craving In-and-Out- I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to it, it gets the job done, I feel satisfied, and I don’t think about it too much after. (I will prematurely rank Black Panther on the craving-scale of In-and-Out.) Thor has always been on my list of Marvel Characters I’ll Watch… but I don’t go out of my way to see him. Like, when I watched the first one, the DVD skipped from him having coffee to the final battle at the end and I didn’t really feel compelled to go back so I accepted it for the short movie it was. He’s the Karen of the Avengers in my book- he’s cute, fun, watchable, but he doesn’t really add anything or provide a ton of complexity. There’s no gravitas a la Captain America or self-loathing drama like Tony Stark and he’s not a ton of fun, like Ant-man. He’s just… there.
In this case, I was entertained by Thor: Ragnarok, but my attitude hasn’t done the 180-spin like I did on Guardians of the Galaxy 2. The latter did a spin from its jokes and puns into a more focused, serious entity, while Thor: Ragnarok pulls the Norse god from some potentially stale elements and turns it into a joke machine- and a hilarious one at that. There are some things that work better than others (Matt Damon as Loki is always welcome in my book) and the improvisation, particularly from Chris Hemsworth, works surprisingly well. Overall, it’s good to see these characters finally having more fun than what the Avengers crowd has been allowed to have in the past. Hemsworth is utterly charming and finally gets the chance to show a range of comedy we all knew he was capable of but hadn’t gotten in this character. We also get a tad more Idris Elba (I love you!) where he actually gets to fight a bit and Mark Ruffalo is gold. I wouldn’t watch another Hulk movie but I’ll watch him in the sidecar if it means more turns like this. The two major additions- both female- are a blast to watch. Cate Blanchett, bless her, could play Hela in her sleep with much of her performance resembling Jessica Lange in American Horror Story- she’s here to have a good time and chew some scenery without taking it all the way to cheese levels. My favorite was Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, who is appropriately fierce and snarky, a good counterpart for Thor without being overtly sexy. And while Jeff Goldblum’s character is nothing more than a minor hindrance and plot point for Thor, he successfully solidifies the zany attitude of the film.
There is a slight lack of focus felt throughout- the beginning is extremely rushed but I also barely remember the second one, so that could just be me. There is A LOT that goes on here: Thor finds that Loki shipped off Odin, then they find Dad using Dr. Strange, Cate Blanchett shows up, they get sent to Sakaar where they find the Hulk, and they have to stop Blanchett from invading Asgard. The theme of the movie- Thor’s search for his power after the loss of his hammer- is too inconsistent. In the beginning, it’s touched upon, fades away into the background, and then is brought back at the end. (Marvel: find a new problem for your heroes! You’re using the “I’m still X even without Y” too much.)
And so, Thor: Ragnorak trucks in a mish-mosh of characters that don’t really need to be there- Loki could have left after the first twenty or so minutes, Black Widow shows up via video to calm down Hulk (never understood this angle), alien Corg and Company are comic relief but so is most of the cast, and by the end, I’m not really sure why Karl Urban was around. No, seriously. I love the dude, but his character provides nothing- no arc, no detail, no contrast- to anything here. And was Hulk really even necessary other than shoehorning the Avengers in? Dr. Strange’s lengthy appearance bothered me the most and was much more than a cameo- while I get that they are working towards connecting the MCU on the Disney side, I think time would have been better served on Valkyrie’s (Thompson) backstory. Let’s get more Elba saving people and instilling hope to the people of Asgard! (I’m hoping Marvel doesn’t start pulling a DC where every movie feels like a series of trailers to get to the next one or I have to do too much homework to remember past events.)
Visually, it’s almost as if Lisa Frank barfed and Marvel didn’t quite know what to do with all the colors. Most of the times, this works but Thor: Ragnarok stumbles between its use of practical and digital effects. There are moments in hand-to-hand combat, specifically with the talents of Blanchett, Elba, and Urban, that would have worked much better without the use of complete CGI- this could be due to watching lots of fighting movies recently, but I just wasn’t enthralled knowing they were composited. The opposite could be said for the world of Sakaar, whose practical sets look like they were repainted from bad-Saturday afternoon Kevin Sorbo shows (cough– Andromeda- but also cough- I was actually a fan). My attitude would most likely be different if the first two movies had been done in this same vein (I mean, you’re in space, let’s have some more fun!), but with the new tone and environment set, it was more distracting than enjoyable. (I did love the traditional Polynesian patterns seen in the body paint, costumes, and decor- those were really nice details and a good nod to the director’s indigenous ties.)
Storywise, I think there’s a lot to be desired here and it fluctuates between being this wild space romp and destruction of Asgard. While I enjoyed the former, it took a lot away from the overall impact of latter. Hela is a great villain and in any other movie, an antagonist of her power, intention, and stature would receive her own movie; however, it felt like her impact got demoted in the effort to make it more fun. I mean, Thor, dude, that’s your home! There’s a close-to-heart, tangible threat here going by the name Goddess of Death! She’s your orphan sister! (Side note- Thor, you should probably study your family tree. You’ve been blindsided too many times in this subject.) Plot convenience is this movie’s worst enemy, as it becomes plot point after narrated exposition after plot point. There are quite a few voiceovers and even a Dumbledore drop in at the last minute that the movie didn’t necessarily need- the movie is more or less checking in to see if you are understanding the themes. I’ll go back to Guardians 2 here, which was superbly crafted- we got a nice, steady build-up to the apocalypse angle and so the mesh of the comedy and tragedy worked; when shit went sideways, we felt the loss of characters and the urgency behind their actions.
Regardless of the pacing and bloated ensemble, Thor: Ragnorak provides a great turn and stepping stone title character for future films. It’ll definitely be interesting to see where they take this in the next adventure, but it’s still not Thor the character that will drive me to the theater- it’ll be the cast and director and hopefully more Matt Damon.