Warning: Depending on your definition of “spoilers”, the following review might contain them.
With a title like “Ragnarok” you might think that the latest Thor movie was finally getting to the good stuff. No more faffing about with elves and Stone Henge, no more wacky “stranger in a strange land” shenanigans about Thor not knowing how pet stores work. This is RAGNAROK, the fabled end of the Asgardian world. Surely now is the time to take it seriously.
But of course, now is not that time. Thor: Ragnarok is another sugary confection from Marvel Studios, a production company that produces cheerful diversions and only occasionally sells a serious dramatic plot point. That’s hardly a problem most of the time. The world is a tense and uncomfortable place filled with things we’d rather not think about, and watching a raccoon kill people to the tune of a 1970s pop jam is certainly a fun way to escape our shared daily drudgery.
That being said, the light action-comedy approach is a serious problem for a film like Thor: Ragnarok, which is about the end of days, in which characters we come to care about die gruesome deaths. Quickly, almost like a joke. There’s no mourning period, there’s no sense of loss. We have to get to the next gag, and we have to get to it quickly, because feeling feelings isn’t cool, I guess. Even though feeling feelings is supposed to be exactly what a death scene is all about.
The plot is about Thor (Chris Hemsworth) stopping Ragnarok in the first few minutes, and then resolving his cliffhanger endings from both Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron in the next few minutes afterwards. Then a whole new movie starts. If you ever needed proof that Marvel Studios doesn’t plan these things out years in advance, watch these three movies back-to-back and tell me that all those big, teaser moments paid off satisfactorily. I dare you.
Finally we meet Hela, played by Cate Blanchett as an oversexed master of ceremonies. She doesn’t walk, she vamps, and she vamps right into Asgard and takes over the joint. Soon she’ll take over the universe, and the only person who can stop her is Thor… but he’s stuck on the planet Sakaar, and thrown into a gladiator arena with his old pal Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), courtesy of his new anti-pal Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).
Sakaar is run by the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum, who seems to be doing a Jeff Goldblum impersonation. Unlike Hela, who kills everyone and everything and is at least a credible threat, it’s never entirely clear why Grandmaster is in charge of Sakaar. He rules like a despot but he isn’t particularly clever or intimidating, and it’s hard to imagine how he ascended to the throne ahead of all the other badasses surrounding him at any given moment. He’s a joke villain, and comes across more like a nuisance than a major antagonist.
None of these critiques are unforgivable but do they stand in the way of a pretty cool story. Asgard is seriously threatened but Thor can’t save it because he has an insurmountable obstacle in his way. That should be frustrating, painful. Serious business. But every single dramatic beat in Thor: Ragnarok is undermined immediately afterwards with a silly joke. It’s a good way to get a laugh but a terrible way to sell important moments, which Thor: Ragnarok has in abundance. Or at least, it would have had them if they weren’t all followed by a metaphoric fart noise.
Thor: Ragnarok is, however, a spectacularly attractive movie. It’s bright and unusual and features designs that seem inspired by esoteric sci-fi oddities like Ice Pirates and Space Truckers instead of just the usual Star Wars riffs. It’s hard not to appreciate the effort that went into making Thor: Ragnarok look so god damned appealing, and credit goes to the cast as well, who fully immerse themselves in this kooky world and look utterly at home there.
Thor: Ragnarok is a whimsical distraction of a movie, and it’s worth recommending on that level, but it clearly had the potential to be so much more. Every Marvel Studios movie has a sense of humor, that’s one of the things we like about them, but the best films in this series know when to tone it down a bit and make with the drama. Thor: Ragnarok has drama in abundance but seems scared of its own emotional grandeur, making what could have been an impressive, epic movie seem small, and borderline inconsequential.
Top Photo: Marvel Studios
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.