Thor: Ragnarok is a paradox for me. On the one hand it’s been a while since I’ve laughed as much as I did in this movie. However, on the other hand, because I was laughing everything else fell completely flat. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I didn’t enjoy the film, because that feels like lying after laughing so much. Yet it was also a frustrating film to watch because everything was a joke. Nothing was taken seriously, which seems odd in a movie named after the Norse myth about the end of the world.
There was no character growth, no stakes to any of the action, and no drama. Despite being filled with death and destruction, Thor: Ragnarok felt like an episode of Looney Tunes: enjoyable, but you know the Coyote isn’t going to catch the Roadrunner. Had Thor: Ragnarok not included Ragnarok, and instead focused on the adventures of Thor and his friends on Sakaar, this would have been a brilliant comedy.
As it is though, the titular Ragnarok falls completely flat and what should have been a dramatic and cataclysmic event in the Marvel cinematic universe ends up feeling like the punchline of a joke that no one wanted to hear.
Why Am I Laughing?
Asgard is burning. A moment later Surtr drives his fiery sword into its very heart and the home of the Norse gods, Thor’s home, explodes. There is nothing left.
And I was laughing. I was laughing at what should have been the emotional crescendo of Thor: Ragnarok.
What have I done? – Thor, Thor: Ragnarok
Thor cries after the destruction of the only home he’s ever known, the home his now deceased father once ruled. Yet it all fell completely flat because I hadn’t finished laughing at the joke the rock monster Korg had delivered at Asgard’s expense only moments earlier. And I wasn’t the only one, most of the audience was still laughing too.
This was the problem throughout the whole film. In Marvel’s fear of being perceived as “corny” or “cheesy” it made every single emotional scene into a joke, and in doing so turned Thor: Ragnarok into one of the corniest movies I’ve ever seen. There were no stakes to any of the combat, no sense of danger, no character growth. It was just joke after joke. Even Guardians of the Galaxy, which features a wise-cracking Racoon and a man who once danced the villain to death, had more dramatic tension than Thor: Ragnarok. I could relate to Peter Quill at least, who was so afraid of opening his mom’s last gift because doing so would mean accepting that his mom was gone.
Thor has become a clone of Tony Stark. And not the good Tony Stark from the original Iron Man, who came to realize the horrors his weapons inflicted on the world. No, Thor has become the same snarky, sarcastic playboy that Tony Stark is in the latest Marvel films. In fact, most of the Marvel cinematic universe is now just a bunch of Tony Starks running around cracking jokes because that’s the only thing holding this house of cards together anymore. If the audience stops laughing for more than a few scenes they might realize that they’re no longer watching superhero stories.
They might realize that the movies that once gave them genuine characters to care about, like this:
Now give them moments like this:
Thor and Hulk fighting was one the most publicized and marketed parts of the movie, and yet it’s meaningless. They trade some punches and it makes for a cool spectacle, but it doesn’t add anything to the narrative. You could remove the whole scene from the movie and lose nothing. There was potential here for some great storytelling, to grow both the characters of Thor and the Hulk.
Hulk has been Hulk for two years, Banner buried and forgotten in the recesses of Hulk’s primitive mind. Meanwhile Thor is thrilled to see his friend after all these years. Yet they’re forced to fight to the death. It should have been a tense moment. I should have been afraid of the consequences of this fight: could Thor forgive Hulk for trying to kill him and could Hulk forgive Thor for trying to force him back into the prison of Banner’s mind? Would their relationship ever be the same after this fight?
Yet between the slapstick Looney Tunes style violence and the comedic performance of Jeff Goldbloom, this fight was utterly without substance. It was exactly like watching Superman and Zod fight each other in Man of Steel, just two immortal gods punching each other until the director got bored and allowed it to end. Later, after Banner is restored, he tells Thor he’s afraid that turning into Hulk again might result in losing himself forever. Finally I thought perhaps this movie would give us some kind of character development, but just a few jokes later the whole matter is forgotten.
Thor: Ragnarok is a riot, I laughed more in this movie than any other recent comedies I’ve seen. I love the deadpan delivery, the sarcastic quips, the fun. So why is my review so negative?
Thor: Ragnarok Doesn’t Have the Courage To Admit It’s A Comedy
Despite its title Thor: Ragnarok isn’t about Ragnarok, it’s about Thor’s Adventures in Garbage Land. Hela’s rise to power seemed to be nothing more than a vehicle to get Thor to the garbage planet of Sakaar. The sad thing is that had this latest installment in Thor’s story been a fun, campy romp through a weird world I probably would have loved this story. The problem is that, in typical Marvel fashion, they try to have their cake and eat it too. I have a feeling Waititi, the director, wanted to make this a comedy-adventure because that’s what he does best (his performance of Korg is amazing). Marvel, on the other hand, wanted to include the seemingly requisite Big Fight full of CGI and thousands of characters floating around being vaporized. So the Adventures of Thor and Friends became Thor: Ragnarok.
The problem is that Ragnarok is a Norse myth about the end of the world. On a practical level Ragnarok is about the destruction of Thor’s home and represents some dire consequences for the Marvel universe. Several Norse gods, and close friends of Thor, die in this film and, unlike Loki, I doubt any of them are coming back to life (with the possible exception of Obi-Wan Odin.) These events are completely incompatible with the tone the movie is setting, I shouldn’t have been laughing at the destruction of Asgard. Nor should I have been bored watching Hela kill off most of the population of Asgard.
If this was just Thor’s story, then this wouldn’t be that big a deal, so the drama doesn’t hit the mark, big deal right? The problem is that this all now exists in Marvel’s cinematic universe and in the upcoming Infinity War the destruction of Asgard will have consequences for the whole universe. In a future scene, some character will doubtlessly come to mourn the loss of Asgard in a scene that will be hoping to evoke an emotion. But it’s now destined to fall flat because whenever someone mentions Asgard, all I’ll be able to think about is Korg making a joke about it.
None of this is to say that a comedy can’t be emotional. In fact some of the most cathartic and emotional stories I’ve read and watched have been hilarious. Using humor to explore dark themes and emotions is a tried and true method of storytelling. I’ve not seen any of Taika Waititi’s other works, but based on the reviews of his Search for the Wilderpeople, it seems like he’s a storyteller that knows how to blend comedy and drama.
Which again, leads me back to Marvel. Taika Waititi wanted to make The Adventures of Thor but Marvel has a checklist that must be in every Marvel film regardless of its setting or theme, even in the face of common god damn sense. Big battles, lots of CGI, and a big threat to life as we know it. I’m beginning to wonder if the reason some of the funniest lines are during its most dramatic moments is because Waititi resented having to add this boring Ragnarok storyline into his fun adventure romp.
All in all, the latest installment of Thor’s story isn’t a complete failure because it’s fun and full of laughs. Yet the movie is filled with so many important events: the destruction of Mjolnir and Asgard, the death of Odin, finding the Hulk, Thor uncovering his inner power. These events deserved a movie that gave them the dramatic gravitas they were due.
The deserved better than to be dismissed with a quick joke and a knowing wink.