Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Thor! King of the impossible!

by Benjamín Harguindey

The third in Marvel’s string of so-so Thor flicks, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) makes a hard right for slapstick and giggles, aping the juvenile tone and humor of the more successful Guardians of the Galaxy movies while foregoing any and every pretense of seriousness whatsoever. This makes for more palatable, bubbly action-adventure, and certainly makes the earlier movies look even duller by comparison.

The shift may also be due to the fact that there isn’t much to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as a character. In concept he is a feisty, jolly warrior who relishes battle and enjoys a good half-time. That’s about that. Having schooled him in a bit of humility in the first movie, and then some more on the value of teamwork in the first Avengers roundup, there isn’t much else to do with the character. He’s simply not that versatile. So Marvel sets him loose in “Ragnarok”, to float away into comical misadventure in the more colorful, wackier crevices of an alien universe.

On the other hand you have his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), once a villain of some repute, now turned into Thor’s sidekick and comic relief. That’s another character Marvel has milked for all its worth, but the vitriolic comedy act he shares with Thor is still worth some chuckles, and credit goes to both Hemsworth and Hiddleston for fully embracing that kind of silly, self-deprecating humor.

The plot sees the brothers confront a returning third sibling, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who promptly destroy’s Thor’s signature hammer Mjolnir and banishes them from their homeworld of Asgard and into the decadent wasteland of Sakaar. Here the brothers are enslaved by the so-called Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), a cartoon hedonist who keeps Loki as a fixture of his court while turning Thor into a gladiator for his colosseum.

The bulk of the movie consists of Thor – and by proxy Loki – trying to make it back to Asgard to oust Hela and prevent the apocalypse known as Ragnarok. Structurally it’s not a terribly compelling adventure: it feels like two halves of a cutscene with a whole much of nothing going on in the middle. Waiting for the characters to catch up to the plot is simply not very compelling; Thor’s slavery never comes across as anything other than a minor, circunstantial obstacle stretched out by chance.

Joining Thor in his plight is Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), albeit trapped for the most part inside that green brute Hulk. One of the main attractions is watching the colosseum fight between Thor and Hulk, courtesy of that old “Who would win in a fight?” superhero rhetoric, but if we’ve learned anything from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) or Captain America: Civil War (2016) is that watching the heroes duke it out just isn’t very interesting. We’re rooting for both sides and so are they, so what’s the point? The duel is meaningless and, like a large portion of the movie, pointless in that it doesn’t add up to the climax.

Here I harp about the weak plot and the triviality of most of the scenes, characters and subplots. But that would be missing the point of the movie, which is to evoke the pulpy sci-fi of Flash Gordon and John Carter. Thor himself is as alien as the creatures he encounters, yes, but a running gag has him being constantly out of his element, belittled and overwhelmed by every situation he finds himself thrown into. And while there’s nothing much going for that indistinct clutter of CGI towers that is Asgard, Sakaar looks like how the movie feels: colorful, playful, charming and trashy.

The comedy is hit-and-miss: the chemistry between Thor and Loki, and some of the quirkier newcomers – chiefly Goldblum doing his shtick, and director Taika Waititi as an impossibly laid-back rock monster – provide routine laughs. There is one kind of gag that gets overused, though, which is interrupting someone who’s about to say something serious or do something heroic with the rough equivalent of blowing a raspberry.

Blanchett is wasted in yet another underwritten, forgettable villainous role that frankly doesn’t give her much to do throughout the movie. In many ways she’s written like a poor videogame antagonist, showing up at the beginning to establish her might and then again at the end to test the hero’s. She doesn’t get to do much in the middle other than sass her hesitant minion Skurge (Karl Urban) with lengthy monologues about what is rightfully hers and provide some vaguely humanoid cannon fodder for our heroes to massacre shamelessly during the climax.

Tessa Thompson plays Valkyrie, an alcoholic warrior turned slaver waiting for the right pep talk to make her join Thor’s cause. Idris Elba crops up here and there as Heimdall, tasked with leading insurgent Asgardians into safety in scenes of stupendous banality. Whoever wrote that clause about absolutely having to show every civilian in any wartorn city be led to cozy safety during the climax of every superhero movie as of Man of Steel (2013) deserves a good talking to.

This is probably the last stand-alone Thor movie, and as a send-off it ends on a pretty casual note. But hey, Thor’s new groove is catchier and way more fetching than the meandering self-righteous claptrap that preceded it. You can do worse for fleeting popcorn entertainment.

BenjaBenjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).

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