Eric Bay-Andersen offers a different opinion to Anghus Houvouras’ claim that Thor: Ragnarok is the best Marvel film ever…
There have been several superhero films this year where my opinion has greatly differed from the general consensus – I found Wonder Woman decent rather than exceptional, and I thought Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 was just as good, if not better, than its predecessor. Logan and Spider-Man: Homecoming were exceptions (I loved both of them), but the one superhero film that I simply cannot understand all the praise for is Thor: Ragnarok – it’s the most underwhelmed I’ve been by a Marvel film since Iron Man 2, and in this article I shall attempt to explain why (meedless to say, spoilers ahead).
The humour: yes, Chris Hemsworth can be funny, but that’s no reason to completely change the character of Thor to give him time to vamp – those kind of moments belong in the bite-size ‘Team Thor’ skits, not in a feature film where story and character should be the main focus. Lightness and humour are part of what separate Marvel’s films from DC’s (although Wonder Woman went some way towards remedying that), but without emotional weight they would amount to nothing more than meaningless fluff, which frankly is all Ragnarok felt like to me. If Thor doesn’t act or react the way he should in a given situation for the sake of a joke (such as being mildly annoyed to discover his father has been kept prisoner for two years, rather than outraged) then I’m taken out of the moment and the joke falls flat anyway. I was staggered to hear people proclaiming this to be the funniest superhero movie ever – maybe in every other screening of the film people laughed their heads off, but in the one I went to there were four or five chuckles from the audience, tops (and also, haven’t you all seen Deadpool?).
I could maybe excuse the transition from ‘funny superhero film’ to ‘out-and-out comedy’ if the jokes were at least funny or clever in their own right, but I didn’t think any of them were. Improvised comedy can be painful to endure at the best of times (anyone who’s sat through the last few bloated Judd Apatow movies will attest to that), and ‘jokes’ like Thor’s remark “is the room red or white, make up your mind!” are exactly the kind of sub-par Seinfeld-esque material that should have been left on the cutting room floor, before Taika Waititi decided to re-insert half an hour’s worth of them back in. Give me a well-written, character-based Joss Whedon zinger over the tired, improvised efforts of a bantering cast any day – and it says a lot about the quality of a film’s dialogue when the best line (the instant-classic “He’s a friend from work”) was suggested by a child who was visiting the set that day!
The film is full of moments that have the potential to be emotional and meaningful, but it’s almost like they’re avoided on purpose. I know Jane Foster was no one’s favourite character (Natalie Portman included), but her and Thor’s break-up could have been the painful price he paid for committing himself to tracking down the Infinity Stones, like how Pepper’s absence in Civil War was a result of Tony’s addiction to being Iron Man, which further fuelled his character’s motivation in the film to be more responsible. Instead Jane’s absence is tossed away in a scene where two girls say “sorry Jane dumped you” while they grab a selfie with Thor, somehow failing to notice Loki standing right next to him (He’s the guy who destroyed their city! And come on, who would dump Thor!?). Another example: the scene where Hulk turns back into Banner after seeing Natasha’s message could have given a great actor like Ruffalo some real pain and confusion to work with, but no, instead they made him gibber like a third-rate Woody Allen, more concerned over whether or not he won a fight he can’t remember.
And speaking of Loki, remember when he did stuff that mattered? Having spent three films establishing their fractious relationship, Thor barely seems to care what Loki does anymore. “Well, you killed a bunch of people and wrecked an entire city, but it’s cool bro, you can come back to Earth with me, I’ll smooth things over with the others” – such disregard for dramatic consequences actually cheapens all the previous films in the series, one of the worst things a sequel can do. And you’d think that Ragnarok – the end of EVERYTHING! – would warrant at least as much importance or emotional impact as Friga’s death in Thor: The Dark World (a film which was also less-than perfect, but which did a lot more things right than this one) but the Asgardian extras don’t seem too upset about the destruction of their world – the fault of bad writing and directing, not theirs. It’s all very well to excuse the decision to let said destruction happen by saying ‘Asgard is a people, not a place’, but I doubt those people are happy about losing their homes and all their possessions! I wonder if their suffering and loss will be given as much attention in Avengers: Infinity War as the people of Sokovia’s was given in Captain America: Civil War? Well, it’s being made by the Russos, who seem to understand dramatic storytelling better than Waititi, so we’ll see!
Now I’m not a big Cate Blanchett fan anyway, but come on, she was a pretty pathetic villain. Much like Whiplash in Iron Man 2, Hela makes a good first impression (I have to admit, destroying Mjolnir was pretty badass), but then she gets parked for the better part of an hour while the main character messes around elsewhere. And when she does show up all she does is strut around like Enchantress from Suicide Squad, spouting generic power-hungry villain lines in that slightly-slower-than-normal cadence Blanchett first trotted out in The Lord Of The Rings. And they could have shown a flashback or something to when she and Odin fell out, but of course they didn’t – yet another opportunity for emotional character-building (for her and Anthony Hopkins) squandered. That being said, compared to Valkyre, Hela is a mushroom cloud of charisma and substance. Tessa Thompson said she based her performance on Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor – a peculiar source of inspiration since, as I recall it, Sarah Connor was a focused, determined warrior, not a moody, petulant bore (whose sadness at seeing an unnamed fellow warrior die in battle is apparently enough to qualify her as a LGBT character). And as awesome as Jeff Goldblum can be, he looks as uncomfortable here as he did in Independence Day: Resurgence, and has about as much luck injecting fun into the proceedings – his end credits scene surely ranks among the most unfunny Marvel has ever done.
Sometimes a movie can gloss over it’s dramatic shortcomings by being aesthetically pleasing, but Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t even do this – the cinematography is flat and dull, the fight scenes are uninteresting and the direction is uninspired. It doesn’t fare much better in the music department either – the cool factor of having Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ is diluted through overuse, and the 80s synth felt completely (and ironically) alien when only used twice in an otherwise generic action/fantasy score. From the moment the first teaser trailer landed people commented on how similar this film looked to Guardians Of The Galaxy, but those films juggled humour, character, emotion and spectacle infinitely better than Ragnarok does – for the life of me I can’t understand why it has been so lauded, and I can only hope that when the hype has died down and people catch it again on DVD in a few months time they’ll see see past the so-called surface ‘fun’ the and realised what a misjudged, half-baked and generally unsatisfying film it actually is.