Film * Taika Waititi * Space-Viking-Heaven Apocalypse? * 2017
I surprised myself by looking up how many Marvel Cinematic Universe movies I’ve actually seen. Turns out, including this one, it’s a majority of them. I’ve seen ten out of the eighteen (!!) that have been released. Of course, I’ve not seen either of the two previous Thor movies, which I assumed would put me at a distinct disadvantage when it came to following Ragnarok. It’s a testament to how interconnected these movies are that I wasn’t at a loss, story-wise. Actually, it’s more that all of the MCU movies are specifically designed to work as stand-alone films. I may not be enthusiastic about these things – I watch them because my wife is into them, basically – but it’s hard to not appreciate the craft at work here. There is definitely a template when it comes to making a Marvel movie at this point, and from a cynical point of view it exists solely to make an obscene amount of money for a massive corporation. However, it’s hard to really dwell on that when the end product is this entertaining. Ragnarok isn’t some monumental achievement of filmmaking, but it has personality, it has an identity, it has a look. Oh, and most importantly, it’s pretty fun.
All that said, I barely know just what in the hell is going on here. Mind you, I’m not talking about the plot itself, that’s pretty easy to follow. Our large blonde hero learns that Ragnarok, which the prophesied downfall of Asgard, is on its way. Asgard happens to be Thor’s home planet (at least I’m pretty sure it’s a planet), and Ragnarok presents an apocalyptic threat which will destroy all the fancy sci-fi buildings where he lives. Thor jets home to find Odin, his dad, so he can warn him and thus save the day. Except that when he arrives, he finds out that Odin has peaced out and Loki has taken over Asgard because he’s such an irrepressible goofball (also, for some reason, my wife wanted to let everyone know that she’s in schoolgirl-love with Tom Hiddleston, so despite the fact that I’m fairly sure he doesn’t read my blog, here you go, Tom). Well, bad news, because Odin is dead and Thor’s evil older sister, Hela, shows up all pissed off and looking to take over. Also she’s much stronger than Thor, and fucks up his favorite flying hammer. The movie is essentially Thor figuring out how to oust his powerful sister. I’m not sure exactly how much there is to “spoil” about a film like this, so I guess I’ll keep the rest of the particulars out of the text until after the break, but suffice to say Thor enlists some familiar faces to help him do battle.
That’s all well and good, but let me tell you straight away that you shouldn’t watch Ragnarok for the plot. The story is there and it’s fine, but it’s not why you’re here. What makes this one of the better MCU movies is everything surrounding the whatever story. Two things jump out right away, and over the course of the movie it becomes clear that they’re actually the pillars the entire thing is built on. The first thing is humor. Now, most MCU movies are pretty good about not taking themselves too seriously, which is important when you have full-grown adults flying around in spandex outfits, you know? Even in the more action-oriented entries like The Avengers or the Captain America movies, there is still plenty of pithy dialogue and interplay between characters which serves to lighten the atmosphere. All existence might be in peril, but that’s no reason to be a downer, you know? Ragnarok takes that usual MCU-humor and runs with it. Honestly, the snappiness of the dialogue is better and the overall vibe works better than Guardians of the Galaxy, and certainly better than Guardians 2. Obviously it helps immensely to have Jeff Goldblum in your movie, but there’s also the second pillar of the film, which is the whole bananas aesthetic. Look, most MCU movies tend to look kind of bland. Like that sick fight in Captain America: Civil War at the, uh, airport. Blah. Thor: Ragnarok says fuck all that, how about some insane Day-Glo splatter-colors and a fuckin’ DEVO soundtrack all up in your face? I didn’t know I wanted that, but yeah, okay, sign me up.
Generally in this section I tend to take a wider, more analytic view of the work in question. Honestly, with this movie, I’m not really feeling it. This is not to say I think Ragnarok has no redeeming value, don’t be silly. I obviously quite enjoyed it. It’s just that for a movie about a world ending there really isn’t all that much that resonates outside of Marvel’s own universe. I mean, Earth is barely in the movie. We go to New York for a scene to help integrate Doctor Strange further into the overall tapestry and that’s about it. Most of the time (or at least what feels like most of the time) is spent on some weird garbage-world. And I mean literal garbage, as in the planet is covered in garbage. The design is actually quite visually stunning, but the setting still leaves us in a kind of story limbo. Usually that’s annoying. If the plot is Thor trying to get his rightful throne back, why have him spend an hour in a whole other storyline? But then Jeff Goldblum shows up and you get distracted. Well, him and all the bright colors and the weird almost-but-not-quite 80’s vibe everything has. Plus the Hulk is there, for what I’m sure are very good reasons, and it turns out that it’s fun to watch Hulk smash shit.
Thor: Ragnarok is very good at distracting you. It kind of has to be, if we’re being honest, and now that I’m writing this in the cold light of day, I have some questions. These might be the result of me not having seen the other two Thor movies, and having zero other context for this stuff because comic books are for nerds. Anyway, that whole subplot on the gladiator-garbage planet hinges on Thor being unable to leave due to a device which shocks him into submission. Now, I might be missing something, but isn’t Thor the goddamn god of thunder? That’s like his whole thing! I mean, if you’re going to use this quite frankly hackneyed plot device, at least toss off a self-referential joke about it. I dunno, that bugged me. Obviously you have to handicap your hero for a while so we can have the cool scene where he finally realizes his potential or whatever, but maybe figure out another way. Also, I’m not sure what the difference between Thor and the other heroes is. If he’s an actual god, his power should probably be unlimited unless otherwise stated. It occurs to me that these answers are probably found somewhere, like why he needs a goddamn spaceship to evacuate his people from his doomed home… world? Dimension? Hmm. I guess there are limits to the whole “every movie must stand alone” thing.
Another thing, is it weird just how New Zealand-y this movie is? I looked up the director, and prior to Ragnarok the most noteworthy directing credit he has is four episodes of Flight of the Conchords, so that checks out. He voices one of the gladiator-aliens and my wife immediately looked him up on IMDB because she thought Rhys Darby was doing the voice. Nope, turns out that the New Zealand accent is just universally hilarious. If that offends any New Zealanders, hush, you live in fucking Middle-Earth for crying out loud, I don’t want to hear about it. Unless you use your goofy accent, then I will gladly listen. Also, speaking of Middle-Earth, that first scene is absolutely riffing on the Mines of Moria scene in Fellowship of the Ring, right? What with all the orcish creatures swarming down the pillars before Thor fights what is essentially a Balrog? Also, tell me that Hela isn’t just Galadriel if she had taken the Ring. Like, you’re already using Cate Blanchett, why not go all the way with it? Well, it works because she’s great and plays the villain with just enough sarcastic menace that I was able to overlook her weird magic antlers. This move, man.