Movie Review - 'Thor: Ragnarok' Excels at Comedy and That's Kind of the Problem
Posted by Jason Ingolfsland on Thursday, November 9, 2017 at 12:00 AM By Jason Ingolfsland / November 9, 2017 Comment
Of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor never quite took off the way Captain America and Ironman did. Thor was not very memorable and barely had a villain. Thor: The Dark World fixed the villain problem. He just wasn’t a very good one. In both of these films, and in all of his appearances, Thor plays the straight-man to Loki’s silly and mischievous antics. He may have cracked a joke here and there but for the most part, he played the brooding Norse god from Asgard and that was kind of it. So, the question leading up to Thor: Ragnarok was, “Who really wants another Thor movie?” To some degree, putting in a third installment felt obligatory rather than necessary. Ironman got three movies. Captain America got three movies. Now it's time for Thor. But, if we’re honest, if Marvel said, “We’re not doing a third Thor.” No one would really bemoan them. Fortunately for all of us, they did and it’s fantastic. Thor: Ragnarok fundamentally changes the rulebook. The film has its own, unique voice, full of color and antics. Thor’s character shifts from the brooding Norse god to a more confident, witty, and silly Thor, making the film more entertaining. And, they finally solve the villain problem, putting in Hela (Cate Blanchett), the daughter of Odin, and giving her a better motivation and backstory than most Marvel villains ever get. Over and above, Thor: Ragnarok succeeds and excels where the other two failed and proves Marvel isn’t willing to settle for subpar if they can help it. Unfortunately, much of their success is a double-edged sword, fully undercutting their narrative and making it weaker in the process. Following the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is now imprisoned and finds himself having to face off against The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a gladiatorial contest. Meanwhile, his older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) has returned and taken over Asgard. Thor must find a way back to Asgard with the help of a few friends in order to stop her reign of terror. In terms of style, Thor: Ragnarok looks like it took a few notes out of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s colorful, witty, and full of offbeat silly humor people loved so much in Guardians. At first, it feels a little weird to have this kind of tone in a Thor film but it doesn’t take too long to sink in and become fully accustomed to it. Thor’s character change from a primarily brooding oaf to an easy-going and silly oaf also feels a tad forced at first. You start wondering if you’re remembering Thor correctly. Did Thor always behave this way? Did he change somewhere down the road? The answer is no. The last time we saw Thor was in Avengers: Age of Ultron. In that movie, you might remember he was getting visions of Asgard in serious trouble. While the humorous Mjolnir hammer lifting scene gave Thor more levity as a character, most of the movie kept him close to the formal, brooding character we’ve always known. So, why the sudden character change? Marvel probably realized Thor wasn’t a very compelling character and needed something to spice things up. Making him more lovable, funny, and laid-back probably felt like the best way to go with his character regardless of a catalyst. In most cases, this would be tantamount to the worst writing imaginable. You can’t just change a character's personality to better please an audience. However, in this case, it’s complicated. Thor’s new character is more interesting, entertaining, and frankly much more fun to be around. So, while a catalyst towards this kind of behavior would have been nice, it’s far more compelling to forgive the writing vice and let it be, especially since it improves the quality of the movie and doesn’t stray so egregiously far from the character’s core. The most fun part about Thor: Ragnarok is its heavy embrace of both Norse mythology mixed in with the science fiction and space odyssey genres. Thor has always been interconnected with other realms and is the most logical character to tie in with the worlds of Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers: Infinity War. So, the inclusion of the myriad of aliens and worlds keeps stretching the Marvel universe. At the same time, they don't forget their Norse roots but actually, embrace them. Dark underworlds, valkyries, giant wolves, large fiery demons, and skeletal warriors all appear in this movie. And, frankly, it's awesome. You can fully expect a large dose of humor this time around. While Thor certainly always had its humorous moments, it wasn't as intricately laced as it is in Thor: Ragnarok. It wouldn’t be too far to call the genre first and foremost a comedy. The jokes are never-ending and while there may be a heavy dose of action and adventure, two requirements of a superhero movie, it still is pretty hilarious all the way through. And therein lies the problem. For a movie about the end of Asgard (Ragnarok is the Norse mythological equivalent word to Apocalypse), you'd think the characters in the movie wouldn't be making so many jokes and laughing so much. Humor is, and always has been, Marvel’s great double-edged sword. While humor is a great and age-old narrative technique to lighten the mood and create levity, it can be overused to the point of removing all tension. When the stakes are high but the tension is low, you get a pretty dull experience. In most of the scenes where danger should feel serious and real and mean serious harm for our heroes and the people they’re saving, you can’t feel any sympathy or fear because you're busting a gut. This is a shame. Because, their villain, Hela, is a terrifying force and the best villain Thor has ever had. They do a great job heightening her as a cold, all-powerful, blood-thirsty queen that Loki and Thor can’t contend with. And Cate Blanchett does a fantastic job embodying her, improving on the past weaknesses of Thor movies. His villains aren’t very intimidating. Still, despite the improvement, the humor undercuts the viciousness of the character and waters down any attempt to make the narrative even better. Thor: Ragnarok is a great time and another testament to Marvel’s commitment to not sitting on their laurels and creating a fantastic experience for moviegoers. You’re going to get everything you expect and more and it’ll satiate your thirst until Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War come barreling to theaters. Yet, with the sudden character change in Thor and the overwhelming comedy neutering the tension, it isn’t exactly a perfect film, but there’s way too much to love to really care.