Does anyone know how many films we’re at now? We’re coming up on ten years of the MCU and it’s been a hurricane of films, TV shows, shorts, games, tie-ins in the actual comics, and desperate, laughable attempts from other companies to try and recreate the Marvel/Disney success that it’s no longer funny when they try. Does it still need discussing?
Well yes. Because as hard as direct rival DC/Warner tries to fight back with their dark and gritty universe built on the back of Nolan’s success with the Batman trilogy, Marvel seems to be reactionarily becoming more comical with their titles. Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, and now Thor have added three of the funniest films to be released this year, and under the “Super-Hero” genre rather than typical comedy. Perhaps it’s just the appeal to the geekier sense of humour that drags me in, or maybe it’s that we’ve become so comfortable laughing alongside some of these characters after years spent in their company.
Thor: Ragnarok is inextricable from the rest of the MCU films, it cannot stand alone but it does not need to do so. Let’s take a look at why…
We Come From The Land Of The Ice And Snow
The power of Marvel’s films is that they are advertised flawlessly. Let it be known that I find advertising despicable but fascinating, the power to make or break a product in under a minute, and I have gone to extensive lengths to find out how and why. The trailer tells you so much and yet so little:
You know that you’re in for a high-paced action comedy! But what’s going on? How do all these bizarre images fit together? Despite the title “Ragnarok” the Viking Apocalypse seems to be a very colourful and joyful affair, and perhaps something of the gravity of the situation is lost to the comedy value of the film as a whole. The jokes start early, from Thor’s expositing his current predicament to a skeleton with whom he shares a cage in Muspelheim, and end with the conclusion of running gag set up expertly by Korg the shameless director cameo. Be assured that the whole “He’s a friend from work” is not the funniest moment in Ragnarok in between times.
You know that Hulk will be co-starring, but how, and why? For a start how did he get to weird 80’s planet (Sakaar), and what role will he play in the events of Ragnarok? In Hulk’s own words, “Quinn Jet! Woooosshh- ~splosh~!” So that’s informative. We find him in a place where the lost and cast out of the universe culminate, cascading through wormholes onto a big 80’s junk heap ruled by Jeff Goldblum, who was not acting that day, he was just on camera at the time.
You know that Mjolnir gets smashed! Thor’s hair gets cut, and he’s reduced to a gladiator in a pit, presumably some time before remembering he can just summon lightning on a whim. But to say that we go through a voyage of self-discovery may be a bit of an exaggeration, more that you feel as if you’ve come to the end of an arc we started in Thor 1… and barely touched in Dark World. He seems to have learned a lot in the company of the Avengers, with Tony and Steve apparently having rubbed off on him, leaving the heir to Asgard becoming more sarcastic and “quippy”, but also more responsible and a better leader of men and gods alike.
You know there are a lot of villains in this film, as well as a bunch of new faces thrown in with the old ones. But how do they all fit together?
He’s A Friend From Work
It breaks my heart that we may never see another Hulk film headlined by the best actor to have ever taken up the role, but we have seen Mark Ruffalo put the part through every angle. In Age of Ultron he was a tragedy, every part the Jekyll and Hyde, hate filled monster and forlorn mortal, now he’s hilarious! To say that all the best jokes go to Hulk may be a little unfair, but it feels that way at times, and it’s amazing to hear him speak coherently. His role however was very disposable, and could have easily been filled by other characters in the narrative, but so far as getting him back to Earth in time for the Infinity Wars, having a Thor team-up makes more sense than hitching a ride with the Guardians.
Oh, by the way, where were the Guardians of the Galaxy? Y’know what, not the point, let me move on…
Fan favourite Loki is a gem, but not quite so heavy handed as he has been in previous films. Looking at you, Dark World! Instead loving brother Loki is busy running Asgard in the guise of Odin, enjoying a play of his noble sacrifice starring Matt Damon, Sam Neill and Luke Hemsworth. Brotherly love is still shortcoming between the Odinsons, but in truth their relationship makes for an amazing character arc for Loki, and I’m sure it won’t be a tremendous spoiler to say that he gets a little taste of redemption as they face off against older sister Hela.
As for Hela… I have to say Cate Blanchett was under utilised, as was Karl Urban for that matter. As a fan of villains I felt something sorely lacking from Hela and Skurge, and yet nothing was missing from either! Hela returns from the Lava Lamp dimension and introduces herself with a dramatic show of power, and we’re left in complete certainty as she lays waste to Asgard single handedly while Heimdal leads refugees to the relative safety of Yggdrasil. Skurge becomes her reluctant stooge, witnessing as she awakens an army of the fallen, and awakens her demon hound (who I think is Fenrir, but I may be mistaken, could have been Garmr, I didn’t hear what she said) and he is slow to swing the executioners axe in her name.
They were both well motivated too. Hela the spurned daughter, the mighty warrior shunned by her father for being too ambitious, and for being a blot on Odin’s name; Skurge the under appreciated and slightly dim-witted soldier just seeking acknowledgement. Spoiler Hela’s threat is fully realised because the only way to destroy her becomes to destroy Asgard itself End Spoiler so as villains they are not missing the essentials, but I found them to be broadly bland and predictable. I’ve come to expect more from a good villain but I have been spoiled by the Golden Age of comic book films. They were never going to compare to the Joker, Kingpin, or even Vulture?
The showstopper in Ragnarok is easily Valkyrie. Lone survivor of Hela’s fury, lost and alone on Sakaar, the world of the lost, trawling through trash for the best pickings. She finds new hope in encountering another Asgardian, although she’s slow to commit to the fight having lost everything to Hela once before. She serves as both an amazing addition to the Marvel line-up who may even be deserving of a bigger role later in the series, and also an amazing hub for other characters to turn around.
Through her we more clearly understand the horrors that Hela can wreak. We see Sakaar through her eyes as one who has lived their for centuries, and the contrast of an Asgardian warrior when pitched against lesser aliens. Her fondness for Hulk gives the big green monster a real lovability, the mutual respect of warriors, and of forsaken souls. I think perhaps Loki’s cruellest act may even be levied against her. Tessa Thompson really delivers on the warrior woman and gives us the best character arc of the film.
I find myself wondering, could Thor be taken more seriously? Should he be taken more seriously? He’s proven to be fantastic comic relief throughout the series, and perhaps putting him in the hands of the director of What We Do In The Shadows, Taika Waititi, and backed by a team of Marvel writers, the God of Thunder may have been in the best of hands. The film was not perfect, as the pace got a little frantic at times, as if rushing to cram in as many jokes as possible and still work in all the characterisation, easter eggs, and yet more building blocks for Infinity Wars (pretty sure Loki stole the Tesseract again) and we were left a little wanting at times, perhaps for some substance, some respite, and occasionally some coherence.
Hugo Strange makes an appearance as if to lend context to his after-credit scene, although his use is somewhat negligible except to accelerate the time spent on earth, and as quickly as he arrives in the story he is gone again. Now you see him…
Hopkins as Odin seems like he could have served a far more profound role, cryptically visiting Thor’s mind every so often to set him on the right path, and yet I feel that much of his story was trimmed, partially due to the fact that the whole Mjolnir-smashing scene does not take place in the same alleyway as it does in the trailer.
Some of the most interesting dialogue and potentially dramatic action seems rushed at times, almost as though the director was tapping his watch at the actors. Perhaps Jeff Goldblum was having too much fun messing around?
And yet, all you need do is ask “Did you have fun?” and yes, I did. I’ve become curmudgeonly and jaded the more cinema I absorb and the more deeply I understand it, but I’m not looking for Blade Runner here. I’ll happily accept a big, dumb, glorious film, so long as it’s better put together than Transformers. TL;DR, go watch Ragnarok, and be sure to stay to the bitter end.
No but seriously, where the hell were the Guardians of the Galaxy tie-ins? I mean… come on!