By: Paris Wong
Lately I’ve noticed a new trend in the more recent installments from Marvel — one that has become especially apparent after the success of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ It seems like Marvel’s default formula has now adapted to include a killer soundtrack, jokes on jokes on jokes, fresh and colorful visuals and non-stop, fast-paced entertainment.
While there’s nothing wrong with learning from success, the formula only works so well for so long with so much material.
‘Guardians’ was a hit because it was new and different, featuring an out-of-this-world story (literally), never-before-seen characters and a brand of humor Marvel hadn’t yet seen a whole lot of before. ‘Guardians Vol. 2’ fell into a bit of a sophomore slump, trying and failing to achieve the same level of charisma as its predecessor but still managing to power through. Another more humorous venture, ‘Ant-Man,’ was a welcome surprise, but as of now, the jury’s still out on ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp.’
Following that same vein, ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ was an easy success — we’re all just tired enough of a new iteration of Spider-Man coming out every few years or so that we all had to see it for ourselves — but even for all its jokes, there were still strains of classic coming-of-age themes and serious superhero antics that make it difficult for me to fully place it in line with this trend. It had heart.
‘Ragnarok,’ on the other hand, was missing some of those themes and heroics, making it feel less heart, more hollow and, as the title reads, filler.
Picking up some time after ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) rocket up into the sky back to Asgard, the movie opens with Thor in captivity, presumably having followed yet another lead to get to the bottom of Ragnarok — AKA Asgard’s ultimate demise. Then, we actually get to see Ragnarok himself, up close and personal, but any concern for our hero is promptly thrown out the window when Thor starts cracking jokes.
Spoiler: he doesn’t stop.
Don’t get me wrong, it was still entertaining from start to finish — the new additions to the cast were talented and hilarious, but the entirety of the film seemed distractingly set on making light of itself, and for royalty like Thor, this installment didn’t feel as majestic as his story ought to be. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I liked ‘The Dark World’ as it balanced a bit of his goofiness with that sense of responsibility while still allowing for others to shine, too. That, and the villain Malekith seemed a lot more menacing and dangerous than Hela, for all that Cate Blanchett still hit it out of the park. By that I mean that while she’s clearly shown to be extremely powerful, with the constant jokes surrounding her, Thor’s confrontations with her felt less like boss battles and more like family reunions gone wrong.
The unnecessary deaths by her hand felt like an attempt to make her terrifying, but considering ‘The Dark World’ came out in 2013, making the gap between then and now a four-year one with the majority of the audience potentially forgetting the significance of those who died — no spoilers here — it fell flat. Even Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster seemed more sinister.
There’s no doubt that director Taika Waititi’s vision is unique and gorgeous, but unfortunately, something in the story itself was just… lacking. Arguably the best scenes were those featuring newcomers Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Waititi himself), what with Thompson’s amazing presence and Waititi’s own improvisations (apparently the scene between Thor and Korg in the weapons room was mostly improv), and it’s always fascinating to see how Mark Ruffalo’s iteration of Hulk will develop — but most of it felt like it was all a little in vain, so to speak.
Whereas Captain America’s films, for example, have altered the MCU with each turn, Thor feels so far removed from it all that when nothing changes for the other heroes, he feels a little irrelevant. The first two Thor movies had Jane (Natalie Portman) tethering them to Earth, but this one seemed a little more experimental, banking on audience’s interest in Thor alone and taking advantage of it to send his character down a different path. In any case, we know Thor and Hulk make it to ‘Infinity War,’ so ‘Ragnarok’ was essentially just the vessel to that battle.
The film’s standout scene for me was hands down when Thor unleashed an epic new side of his powers on the Bifrost.
The look and feel of the film was more ‘Guardians’-esque than the usual ‘Thor’ story without the benefit of an ensemble with quite as much chemistry. The match-up of Thor and Hulk was funny and refreshing when you think about how little some of these heroes have actually interacted with each other over the years, but compared to all the hype, it felt like a bit of a letdown. Thor and Valkyrie definitely had potential for an interesting dynamic, but that said, even for all the rest of it — the cameos, the gratuitous Loki scenes in which he still never grows up — the important moments were too underplayed.
Maybe that was a conscious decision not to harp on any shock value, or maybe it was an attempt not to slow anyone’s roll, but the film could’ve spent more time fleshing itself out. God knows I would’ve loved to have seen a few minutes more of stunning effects and aesthetics.
All in all, the movie was exciting with an unconventional twist to Thor’s usual, but I would’ve liked to have seen a little more substance to go along with the innovative style that Marvel’s become known for. It definitely played to everyone’s comedic strengths and made for a stress-free watch (I’ll admit, I like not having to worry so much about everyone’s odds of survival — most of them, anyway), but I don’t know that it has that classic, timeless comic-book feel to it. The colors, the epic shots, the music… Technically they were definitely all there, but the storywasn’t as well-formed as I was hoping for.
I might just be a sucker for underdogs though — which, in this movie, as he hits his stride, Thor is most certainlynot.