Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Directed by Taika Waititi

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In a recent podcast interview, director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the ShadowsHunt for the Wilderpeople) referred to this movie in comparison to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours.  In that 1985 film, all Griffin Dunne wants to do is get home, yet the world around him conspires against this goal.  It’s a bleak comedy about a night gone wrong, and Dunne is powerless to accomplish this most simplest of goals.  Similarly, in Thor: Ragnarok, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is just trying to get back home, but he gets stuck in a wild city like something out of that one sequence in AI: Artificial Intelligence and must endure a few wild set pieces before he can get home.

This is really two movies, the one with Thor and the Hulk on an otherworldly planet run by Jeff Goldblum, and the more Marvel-like story about the villain (Cate Blanchett) taking over Thor’s home planet, Asgard.  In act 1, Thor and his brother Loki fight Hela (Blanchett) but find themselves stranded on Ragnarok.  In the second act, Waititi gets to make the movie he wants to make (it seems), and in act 3, we’re back on Asgard for the final battle, a loud and bright affair that seems to end every superhero movie.

Thor is funny throughout, yet it’s the most enjoyable on Ragnarok.  Waititi makes use of a lot of onset improvisation which is frankly kind of surprising for a Marvel movie.  I just imagine the studio would be incredibly strict about their characters and the world because it all has to fit into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe picture.  That being said, Thor, like Guardians of the Galaxy, almost entirely exists in an entirely different world from the other Marvel movies.  It’s like Thor just went away for college.  He leaves the family home, goes a little crazy and does a few bad things, but then he comes back and he’s back to being good ‘ol Thor.

So Marvel seems to recognize that this is more of an excursion away from the overarching Marvel plot line, allowing for a different movie, both in terms of tone and even style.

First off, Thor is ridiculous.  The sets, the worlds, the costumes, the dialogue, it’s all ridiculous.  If you try to make it feel serious or even dramatic, it doesn’t quite work.  I had no interest in the first Thor movie and never saw the second one.  The only reason I saw this one was because of Waititi’s other work.  Hunt for the Wilderpeople might be the funniest movie I saw in 2016.

His characters aren’t just funny, but they appeal to our sense of empathy too.  In Thor, Waititi himself voices Korg, a CGI rock monster who’s one of those comic relief characters that has to be in every superhero or Star Wars movie.  But he’s great in the role, mostly ad libbing lines, and his character comes off as so innocent that you laugh at what he says but then really feel for him on some level.

All of his characters, outside of maybe Blanchett’s Hela, come across as tall children.  Even Thor and Loki, literally gods, are more akin to a child in a coming of age story.  They bicker like brothers, express some insecurity, and they feel more human despite their, again, literally other-worldly strength.  The same goes for the Hulk who actually has a personality as the Hulk.  He’s angry, but that anger is mined to reveal the big green man’s sadness underneath.  And I liked that they let the Hulk be more of a character than just a manifestation of Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) anger.

I also enjoy this pairing of characters, similar to what Marvel has done with the pairing of Tony Stark (Ironman) and Captain America.  I don’t have more to say on this point, I just enjoy it.

The movie jumps between the adventure of Thor and the Hulk and the more grim story of Hela’s takeover of Asgard.  This latter story seems of little interest to Waititi.  It’s just the expected storyline in a Marvel movie.  There’s got to be a big bad villain, though this character isn’t so interesting, despite Blanchett’s strong performance.

Like with Wonder Woman, act 2 feels the most original to what the director wanted to do.  This is where they have the freedom to tell their story, and act 3 is when the movie falls into the trappings of its genre.  It’s hard to be impressed by the grandiose CGI effects anymore, though Waititi does continue to pepper the climactic action with amusing character moments and observations, including one gaffe in which Bruce Banner incorrectly anticipates the Hulk’s arrival.

Though Thor: Ragnarok felt mostly like a standalone film, outside of the action of the rest of the MCU, I will say that I care more about Thor and even Loki and certainly Korg.  It’s nice when superheroes don’t act so much like superheroes, and Thor embraces the silliness of a movie like this.  I mean, for Chrissakes, there are rainbow bridges, and Waititi turns what used to be a self-serious franchise into more of a straight comedy.  I mean, at the end, Thor’s planet is destroyed, and Korg is delivering jokes about the quality of the planet’s foundation.  It’s perfect.  This movie is a strong antithesis to what the Justice League seems to be.

Up Next: The Bad and the Beautiful (1953), Dial M for Murder (1954), Gun Crazy (1950)

 

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