Give me a lifetime and it may not be enough for me to prepare for and accept a comedy featuring Thor, the god of thunder. Yes, I jumped onto that small wagon of whiners that feel Thor: Ragnarok should have been a little more restrained instead of trying to be too funny. I am acquainted with director Taika Waititi’s quirky sensibilities. What we do in the shadows; now that’s a funny film – witty, taught and focused.
Ragnarok aspires to be a full-blown comedy but there is a certain deficit in imagination, and thanks to the terrible trailers, I already had a read on the comic beats and some character dynamics so that Guardians of the Galaxy wow factor was not going to show up to elevate this film. The Guardians of the Galaxy influences are noticeable, with the soundtrack, colour and punk energy. But “Taika Waititi’s application to direct Deadpool” is what runs through my head when we first meet Chris Hemsworth’s Thor.
Our favourite Asgardian is chirping on about what he’s been up to since Captain America: Civil War to us and the skeleton he shares a cell with. He has been searching for the infinity stones and now finds himself imprisoned in the lair of the fire demon Sutur (Clancy Brown). The demon tells him that his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is no longer on Asgard and that his home will soon face the prophesied Ragnarok apocalypse. Familial tensions again come to the fore and before we know it, Thor’s exiled big sister, Hela the goddess of death, (Kate Blanchett) shows up to take over Asgard in her imposingly regal malevolence.
When she enters combat mode, she exchanges her dark here for some kind of horns (?) and conjures up blades which almost always end up in the guts of her foes. Hela’s first encounter with Thor is largely triumphant as the god of thunder ends up on the waste bin planet of Sakaar and she is firmly on the throne. Sakaar is home to the gladiator pit where Thor reunites with the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in painful fashion, but I’m sure you knew that. The Hulk is a massive a local celeb and the Grandmaster’s (Jeff Goldblum) gladiator champion.
Sakaar offers some of the few refreshing bits of Ragnarok character-wise. Goldblum and his blue lipstick don’t disappoint. Wry and aloof whilst serving as the conduit of some dark humor and the film could have done with more of his sardonic charm. Sakaar also serves us with the tough-talking no-nonsense heavy drinking Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). She seems to dominate every scene she is in possibly because she is a first timer and feels much more original than Thor and Hulk, who are constant reminders of the sharp tonal shift handled not entirely delicately by Waititi.
The weasely trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is a mainstay of proceedings, and like Jason Statham’s character in the Fast and Furious films, he is all of a sudden inexplicably a good-ish guy. Not that Loki isn’t likeable, but he’s much more of a joy to watch as Thor’s foil and not his partner in battle. Besides, he partook in some pretty genocidal stuff. But that’s just me. We also meet a weasel of a different kind in Karl Urban’s Skurge who sells out and becomes Hela’s right hand and executioner but retains a certain guilt for turning his back on his people. I was never sure how I felt about him though.
My stubbornness to Waititi’s approach softened in the more toned down moments of the film, where anus gags and slapstick weren’t being forced down I throats. But those moments are far and few between. Instead, I had to contend with the massive character shifts that negate the serviceable chemistry and still has my head ringing from whiplash. There is no emotional resonance to some of the more critical plot points, especially those surrounding Odin. Rufallo in the Banner incarnation just wants to make skinny trousers jokes amid some lukewarm angst over his Dr. Jekyl-Mr. Hyde conundrum.
Of course, the final set piece is loud tedious and laden with CGI and battles with faceless armies. towering edifices fall to raging mammoth entities. Hulk battles a giant wolf that is dripping with menace but does nothing all film. And year, you’ve seen that unnecessary final shot from one of the trailers so you get the point. Thor turns into Raiden, which made wonder if Mortal Kombat reboot was in order, and more tellingly, confirmed that Waititi really has no interest in Thor as a character.
Everything seems to be sacrificed for attempts at humor; depth, a sense of adventure, character coherence. I have no doubt Waititi would have worked imposing his vision on a new property but I felt here, he just pretended it was 2015 and he was directing the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, which managed to make me cry. Let me note that Ragnarok is generally well done, and again, Sakaar offers sweetest visuals by way of production design, costume but the film’s aesthetic never really comes off as striking.
But even as a comedy, even if I was to buy into the idea of Ragnrok as a comedy, its humor is still limp, despite aiming for the absurd, and I reckon this film has been overrated because we decided the joy deficit in the world so the masses have to be force fed some escapist cinema junk food. Fair enough I say. But if we want some more joy, just give Waititi the keys to a new original project. Hey, at least we get a Beta Ray Bill hint.