A film review of Thor: Ragnarok
By Lawrence Napoli
When the end credits finished rolling on the screen my initial reaction to this film was, “Wow! That was a ton of fun crammed into one feature length film!” There’s so much action, so many visual effects and so many laughs that the shear entertainment value of Thor: Ragnarok is undeniable. What’s more is that this particular installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was so conscious of being “fun” at as many intervals as possible that it would be difficult to find an audience in the free world that did not enjoy at least some aspect of this film. Then I am reminded of the title highlighted by “Ragnarok,” as in the Norse mythological apocalypse of not just the world, but the cosmos and how this film pursues a plot with similar bullet points within the confines of Marvel’s mythology. Is it appropriate for concepts of fun and levity to be prominent in a fiction as theoretically grim as the end of all things? Not if the intention is to spoof or make some sort of dark, ironic social commentary regarding the absurdity of (fill in the blank).
The problem is Thor: Ragnarok has no such ulterior motive. Yes, it is a superhero genre film which may not precipitate the most poignant of dramas, but it is also another chapter in an expanding, interconnected fiction meant to pit larger than life protagonists against dangers and consequences of equal measure. A lot of people get killed in this movie. No, “killed” is far too pedestrian to describe it. “Slaughtered” is more accurate, and while these scenes of death and destruction are visually dynamic, their impression is diluted by a consistent tone of fun. Every moment of supposed gravitas is bookended by gags, slapstick and sarcasm, and while other MCU films have applied similar formulas in their presentation (such as Guardians of the Galaxy); this one struggles to compartmentalize tragedy from all the comedy. Shifting tone in a film is a great way to reengage the audience, to draw attention to theme or plot, or to simply throw an unexpected curveball. However, when the shifts fluctuate between positive and negative with no neutral moments to reflect upon the negativity or positivity, the volume of one tone versus the other predetermines an audience’s interpretation for the entire feature. As I’ve said before, fun, laughs and spectacle are interwoven into the very essence of Thor: Ragnarok.
Balance in all things (let alone filmmaking) is a tricky thing, and it does not necessarily require a 50/50 split to be effective. This is the reason why I sincerely recommend Thor: Ragnarok to everyone looking for some high quality escapism from Kevin Feige and his friends over at Marvel. It is interesting to consider the reason for the third installment of Thor’s story being so overwhelmingly amusing and of course, the reason is money. This film represents a fundamental shift in style formerly unique of Thor’s hybrid ancient/future mythology now carbon copying the cosmic/retro space adventures of our quirky Guardians of the Galaxy. One can easily sense the not so invisible hand of studio executives approaching the filmmakers and requesting (demanding) a dedicated effort to make Thor’s story more mainstream which is apparently the only reason they have in explaining the “out of nowhere” success of James Gunn’s films. While the results of Thor: Ragnarok’s opening weekend in the US and China indicate a financial success as a result of this influence, the archetypes of the MCU ought to beware of infusing too much mainstream into its sub-fictions which I will touch upon in conclusion.
There is a decent pu pu platter of melee combat featuring Mjolnir, spaceship chase sequences featuring laser fire, set pieces featuring giant monsters, super powers being shown off left and right and of course, the Hulk doing what he does best.
The camera and virtual camera (for purely digital scenes) were both used to create as many dynamic angles for the audience to take in some of the more grandiose action sequences. I wouldn’t put the framing quite on the level as either Guardians of the Galaxy, but those were the films this one was trying to emulate.
From the land down under, Hollywood’s cradle of beefcakes continue to produce fine leading men in the form of Chris Hemsworth who really gets Thor in touch with his funny side along the lines of those YouTube videos explaining what Thor has been up to while everyone else was having some kind of a “civil war.” He’s beautiful, muscular, got great comedic timing, but it is his enthusiasm for this role that shines through in every scene, without which, this character would be far too flat for anyone to really care about.
This is easily the strongest supporting cast of any Thor (proper) film. When the contribution of the great Anthony Hopkins is merely an appetizer to the four course feast of fine talent on display, you know you have something special. Mark Ruffalo makes me fall more in love with the Hulk/Banner dynamic in every film he’s present. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, while asked to take more of a back seat in this plot, remains one of the MCU’s most deliciously devilish characters. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie brings an interesting blend of irreverence and playful hostility. Idris Elba is once again solid as Heimdall (though I‘d still love for his character to have more to do). Buuuuuuut: I was disappointed Karl Urban’s Skurge was reduced to a casual observer for most of the plot, and that Jeff Golblum was cast to play himself in yet another big budget film.
Cate Blanchett is a beautiful, talented, Academy Award winning actress who brings a distinct regality to the evil Hela. However, I cannot agree with Hela being played as cavalier as she was despite the story showing how horrible she is. Hela’s playfulness and general disinterest works against the sensation of her being an actual threat especially in light of all the comedy that is being intercut amongst every scene. If Hela were to play up the abandoned child angle with much more savagery and twisted psychosis, she would have been a far more interesting character. Instead, she’s just another battering ram that needs to get chopped down as an inconvenience to more interesting characters.
Led Zeppelin and other 70s/80s techno riffs produce another noticeable copycatting of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Good, but not great, especially in regards to showcasing Hela’s skill set of powers.
“Moving” = 26/33
Since Avatar’s been put on ice, MCU films have become the new gold standard of visual effect wizardry and it is no less impressive in Thor: Ragnarok. Get in line Star Wars!
I’m sure there was a decent amount of wire work in addition to standard pyro and other dangerous effects on set, but they are completely eclipsed by all the CG.
Excellent, excellent costuming for everyone. Uniqueness, color, contrast and function. It would be perfect if not for Goldblum’s golden pajamas.
Hair & Makeup
Thor gets a haircut. Eek! Loki’s still a tad greasy. Jeff Goldblum is doing his best Padme Amidala impression. Yawn.
The only thing that would make me care about the planet of junk is if Wreck-Gar somehow emerged from a pile of rubble. That aside, every single moment on Asgard is once again, a beautiful sight to behold.
I know the production design team wasn’t transplanted from Guardians, but man, these folks take “inspired by” to a whole new level. Apparently, every alien world in the cosmos has the same interior decorator.
“Picture” = 22/33
Thor must prevent the end of all things and he gets by with a little help from his friends … and enemies.
Hela, goddess of death, has broken free of her prison and she’s got a bone to pick with all of Asgard, but is there really any conflict? Really? I mean even Thor isn’t too concerned for most of the film which is essentially his journey to get back home to deal with Hela ASAP. It’s not like he’s looking for a special item or developing a special skill that will allow him to overcome his adversary. The only real conflict is the inconvenience of being rerouted to the Grandmaster’s planet in the first place.
Good triumphs over evil which is lame because it’s just so plain. Still, a mainlined, main stream production couldn’t have it any other way.
Excellent character building occurs in every dialogue scene which is as informative as they are entertaining. Highlights are scenes between Thor and Hulk and of course between Thor and Loki.
Thor himself gives the audience a rather tongue in cheek review of what’s happening from the get go, but I must say that this is the first MCU film where you have to be familiar with the films that came before to really get into what’s happening now.
Thor, Loki, Odin and company continue to be as great as they were when we first met them. Angelic warrior of Asgard is now a fall down drunk? + Jeff Goldblum? - Skurge is the janitor? - New CG character Korg? +++
Relating to the characters of Thor: Ragnarok poses a difficult task as the sibling rivalry between the sons of Odin really simmers down so audiences don’t quite have that angst to connect with anymore. But this is merely a microcosm of the larger problem regarding relatability: the relationships among all the characters aren’t particularly intense or thoroughly explored and without that, any viewer would be hard pressed to make any connection with any character.
“Story” = 20/34
Overall MPS Rating: 68/100
Thor: Ragnarok is not a bad film by any means, but it works hard to distract the viewer from its deficiencies, the first of which being that this film is a Guardians of the Galaxy clone. The second, is yet again, Marvel cannot deliver a three dimensional villain for film because the vast majority of the screen time is devoted to further developing a hero we’ve already seen in four previous big budget productions. The third is this film’s complete and utter lack of gravitas thanks to an over commitment to comedic shtick. The fourth is that nothing occurs in this film that brings the franchise closer to Infinity, Thanos and the true fight against the end of all things.
As entertained and amused as I was when this film concluded, I never felt that I went on an adventure where the stakes were high and the consequences dire if Thor did not save the day. It felt much more like a superhero version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where the only real danger was whether the fun would prematurely end.