After Thor: The Dark World, things could only get better. I’m glad that Marvel is opening up to slightly auteur directors like James Gunn and Taika Waititi, it has at least made for superhero films that aren’t all exactly the same. While Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was a bit of a letdown, it still had more personality than many of the other films in these powerhouse franchises. Thor: Ragnarok is very much in the Guardians vein, going for a nostalgic style and tongue-in-cheek approach. It might not work for everyone and certainly isn’t perfect, but Thor: Ragnarok was at least watchable.
Naive or not, I was optimistic about this entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Having loved Waititi’s previous two films, What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, I hoped he might just pull a rabbit out of the hat and make the Thor film franchise worth giving a damn about. If the cinema I was in is anything to go by, people are finding this entry a vast improvement. Much of the runtime was accompanied by loud guffaws. But here I sit with my harsh critic’s hat on and deride the easy-to-please nature of the general populace. I was not so easily pleased.
It’s the end of the world as we know it
Ragnarok is the prophesied fall of Asgard. The film opens with Thor supposedly thwarting the being meant to bring it about. He returns to Asgard triumphant, only to find Loki posing as Odin. As the brothers head to Earth to track down their father (and make an entirely unnecessary detour via Stephen Strange), they learn that the threatened end of their world is not so easily beaten. Secrets and lies have long been the way of the gods and the boys find that their father was no different. They have another sibling, a sister… Hela, the goddess of death. And she will stop at nothing to take back Asgard for herself.
Lord of thunder
Waititi excels at quirky comedy. He is undeniably funny. While he does well to bring a lot of his comedy chops to the table, it occasionally feels forced and occasionally out of step with the character of Thor. At times the jokes take over everything else and the film begins to feel like a string of decent jokes strung together at the expense of plot. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the nod to the Australian classic The Castle (how many of the international viewers will pick up on that one?), and there were plenty of jokes that made me laugh out loud. There was also a good number that made me cringe and wonder at why Waititi stooped to such low hanging fruit.
As a general rule, I’m actually a fan of a meandering plot. I find that Hollywood suffers from a very strict adherence to structure – a templatised approach to creativity. Ragnarok doesn’t stick to a well-trodden plot, but it goes too far the other way. At times it feels like a loosely connected set of vignettes, a collection of tangents that don’t really progress the plot and sit more within the realms of basic ‘throw rocks at your main character’ storytelling. This approach does nothing to mitigate some of the characterisation issues, particularly with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie whose motivations and character growth are very ‘convenient’.
At least I can look good doing it
The film leans heavily into the 80’s nostalgia aesthetic that is all the rage at the moment. The soundtrack works very well and the bright colours give the film a strong visual personality. And while I do enjoy this style, I had to wonder if there was a bit too much style and not enough substance. There were too many plot holes and logistical questions (I know, it’s a comic book film, but things still need to make sense!). The fun atmosphere falls to the wayside a bit in the third act, reverting back to more bog-standard superhero film battles, the film started to drag significantly as a result.
I know I have picked a lot of holes in this one, but it really was much better than the majority of superhero films I’ve seen. The trouble is, I keep wanting them to do better. Is it really so much to ask to have a truly good film come out of a comic book IP?
Verdict: Thor: Ragnarok is a lot more fun than the previous two installments and offers plenty of engaging entertainment. Award-worthy it is not, but how many of us really go for a superhero film for well-crafted plots and characters with interesting story arcs?