“You will always be the God of Mischief, but if you tried you could be so much more”
Thor’s most recent piece of advice to Loki seems appropriate for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The comedic elements have begun to feel a little incongruous lately (particularly the awkward gags of Doctor Strange) and in Thor: Ragnarok they feel a little intrusive. Any sense of threat or scale tends to be undercut by the gags.
It is, however, difficult to be too frustrated by this when the jokes are actually quite funny. Early in the film, one of the main antagonists is giving a rousing speech whilst Thor dangles helplessly from a chain. The villain’s speech is then interrupted as Thor involuntarily twirls away from facing the villain and they must wait for him to do a complete turn. It’s a great visual gag, and one of many throughout the film. One joke that does become tiresome though is the idea of incongruity. A character will offer an American colloquialism in a highly fantastical setting. This is often done at the expense of character logic, with everyone able to become Tony Stark at the drop of a hat when needed.
New Zealand director Taika Waititi also brings some of his comedic regulars with him. This is almost entirely successful except for the comic relief character Korg, voiced by Waititi himself, whom I found very irritating. The entire concept of the character is that he’s just an average Kiwi guy who happens to be a giant rock monster. There’s therefore a comedic dissonance between his appearance and his behaviour which I found to be very one note. There’s a shortage of genuine wit in most of the dialogue, leaning instead on character based comedy.
This character comedy succeeds when the more interesting characters are together. Pairing Ruffalo’s Hulk with Helmsworth’s Thor is a very interesting move. The two have barely interacted before and have only a shared history to draw upon. It’s therefore wonderful to see Thor attempt in his clumsy way to bond with both Bruce Banner and The Hulk. Thor is a much more fully realised comic character in this film. He’s the well-meaning jock who speaks in a lofty tone but is arrogant and clumsy. Waititi is far more successful than his predecessors in playing this for laughs.
Hulk is also a much more interesting character. Previously just a manifestation of Banner’s rage, it’s interesting to see actual dialogue scenes with Hulk speaking and expressing his own thoughts, feelings and concerns. It suggests a much more complex situation for Banner/Hulk which I really look forward to seeing explored.
Other characters have their moments though there are few standouts, with the very definite exception of a fabulously camp Jeff Goldblum who steals the entire film with his Goldblumery. It’s unlikely that Cate Blanchett’s Hela will be perceived as an exception to the rule of bland Marvel Villains, though she certainly has more fun than Christopher Eccleston as Malekith. Loki returns, of course, and is as entertainingly slippery as ever, though his arc is a little inexplicable. There are some really fun cameos, particularly those to be found in an acting troupe near the start of the film (a gag seemingly lifted from Game of Thrones, though Thrones made much more interesting use of the play-within-a-play conceit).
The film does, however, struggle with dramatic moments. Deaths of somewhat important characters from the previous Thor movies are given very little gravity. Considering the apocalyptic portent of the title it would have been nice if these deaths had felt more significant. Even the momentous, universe changing event at the films finale is given very little time to land before Korg makes another joke.
Where the film excels itself is in its visual presentation and action. I was reminded during the film of just how impressively robust the Marvel Universe really is. In the first act of the story Thor visits a blighted hellscape, a fantastical magic kingdom, modern day New York City and a sprawling dystopian crime city that looks like something out of a Mobius cartoon or a Luc Besson film. The worlds are gorgeously designed as always.
Some sequences are absolutely beautifully filmed by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, in particular the startling flashback to the last ride of the Valkyries and a fight upon the Bifrost Bridge. Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song plays at key moments of the story, usually perfectly accompanying the epic visuals on screen.
The most enticing prospect of re-watching Thor: Ragnarok is to return to this bright and extraordinary world that the film is set in and to relive some of the funnier jokes. It’s just a shame that the film didn’t slow down a bit more to offer some emotional engagement in the story. A mischievous film that could have been much more.
3.5 / 5
Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing.