In the Norse myths of old, “Ragnarok” is a story of death and tragedy. It is a war so cataclysmal that it plunges the world into ice and fire, burning and breaking away the old world, and letting the new world be born in its ashes. Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok” is an action comedy. It works about as well as it sounds.
Deep down, “Ragnarok” is a messy movie. The grand drama of Asgard’s conquest and fate clashes so poorly with the over-the-top colors and story of Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) exile on the alien gladiator planet of Sakaar. The story concerns Thor being banished from Asgard by Hela, Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett), ending up stranded on a sci-fi trash world known as Sakaar, battling as a gladiator against Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and trying to claw his way back to Asgard with the help of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).
Truly, a tragedy disguised as a comedy.
The movie really separates itself from the last two Thor movies by being a comedy half heartedly trying to be a drama as opposed to a drama with occasional witty banter, and it quite genuinely does not work. The film is very obviously trying very hard to be “Guardians of the Galaxy” with director Taika Waititi going so far as to make Thor into a quippy, quick-witted guy like Peter Quill as opposed to the self-serious, nigh Shakespearean medieval god he used to be.
The worst thing about “Thor: Ragnarok” is the fact that it is not good only because of this strange fixation with being both a dark fantasy epic and a bright eighties throwback space adventure. In fact, while I watched it, I could see the bones of a good movie through the transparent flesh of one-liners, garish colors and inappropriately-placed jokes. In a good movie, the comedic aspects and the emotional ones are separated. They can interweave, yes, undercutting a heavily dramatic scene with a joke to lighten tension or throw heavy drama in a funny scene to give the audience a sense of abruptness are both tried and true forms of storytelling.
And I can say with full confidence that this is the first Marvel film where I didn’t care about any of the events in the movie.
However, when both of the film’s most emotionally charged scenes, scenes where the audience should be moved and on the verge of tears were either bludgeoned to death by an action scene or quietly murdered by a somewhat predictable joke. And while the movie did succeed in getting a laugh from the audience, it really failed to connect with me on an emotional level. I realized halfway through the Thor and Hulk fight that, in all the trailers I felt something. This movie made me feel what is by far the cardinal sin of moviemaking. I did not care about any of this. While I have not watched every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I have seen most of them. And I can say with full confidence that this is the first Marvel film where I didn’t care about any of the events in the movie.
It is a sad day when I have to say this, but it is something that must be said. Not even Jeff Goldblum saved this movie. Truly, a tragedy disguised as a comedy.
- Good action
- Occasional funny moments
- Bad jokes take away from drama
- Weak characterization fails to hook viewers
Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios