Okay, so I think I’m going to try something new here. Rather than pretend like the world judges Marvel movies on the same scale as the rest of the cinematic landscape, I am going to split this review into two sections, with two separate review scores. The first section will be on my normal Rant Reviews Scale, and I will judge Thor Ragnarok as I would any other film. The second will be on an adjusted, heavily curved Marvel Cinematic Scale, for people who just want to know how it stacks up against the other MCU movies, within the context of that selection of films only. Also, the Rant Review will include spoilers, while the newly coined MCR (Marvel Cinematic Review) will avoid them. Sound good? Neat.
Rant Review Rating: 5/10
Have you ever seen a marvel movie? If so, you’ve seen Thor: Ragnarok. That is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you expect from the films you choose to watch. If you go into a movie expecting well written characters, a well thought out plotline, or original ideas, then perhaps it’s a bad thing. If all you want is to shut your brain off, let a movie happen to you, and be entertained enough to justify the ticket price, then this is possibly the best news you’ve heard all year. Ragnarok is just as entertaining as any other Marvel film. Unfortunately, it is also just as safe, predictable, and focus-grouped as the rest of the lot too.
This time around, its clear that the fine people at Marvel realized that Thor was far and away their least popular franchise. For my own part, I thought Thor was watchable, and Thor: The Dark World made me want to gouge my eyes out. I can only imagine that they decided to take a look at the more popular sub-franchises in their catalogue, and eventually landed on the runaway success that was Guardians of the Galaxy.
The influence of Guardians should be apparent from the first frame of the film. The colors are suddenly vibrant (as opposed to the incredibly muddy and miserable Dark World). The soundtrack now includes recognizable retro music in multiple sequences, and a heavy synth score. Both of these additions help keep the film feeling light and enjoyable, but certainly do not help it on the originality front. Easily the most obvious Guardians inspired element is that all of a sudden, every single character in the film thinks they are Starlord. The problem with this is not that Starlord isn’t funny, it’s that Thor is not Starlord. Say it with me again, THOR IS NOT STARLORD.
Just as notably, Chris Hemsworth is not Chris Pratt. Pratt has a proven track record in comedy, whereas Hemsworth is far more notable for looking broody and having chiseled abs. The problems with the cast, sadly, do not stop there. The entire lineup (with the notable exception of Jeff Goldblum who is, admittedly, a delight to watch in his role as “The Grand Master”) is not at all well equipped for comedic acting. Mark Ruffalo in particular turns in a remarkable performance as the worst actor in the world. Seriously, I thought he was supposed to be a good actor. But this… this was hard to watch.
In no way am I complaining about the increased levity of the film in comparison to its two prequels – if anything the addition of humor makes this the most watchable and enjoyable of the Thor films. That having been said, very rarely does the splatter-paint approach to comedy (just making every line a punch-line and hoping a few of them land) actually work. Airplane worked. Thor does not.
In Guardians, this worked because it made sense for the characters, the humor all flowed from their individual personalities, and many of the stereotypical dramatic beats were subverted in interesting ways through this character focused humor. In Thor, it mostly seems like characters grew senses of humor only to deliver sophomoric lines of “funny” dialogue every fifteen seconds, or engage in some genuinely cringe-worthy attempts at slapstick. A fair number of moments worked well enough, but at no point did it ever feel like a natural way for these characters to be acting, and at no point did the jokes ever feel fully earned.
Furthermore, the comedic elements are constantly in conflict with the more dramatic or weighty elements. Typically, the movie just resorted to the good ol’ “play string based orchestral music underneath the serious moments so the audience knows how to feel” trick. I cannot tell you how frustrating this is to see over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, ad nauseam in films. I understand that it’s far easier to just queue up the soundtrack than actually deal with actually writing scenes that give the audience a legitimate reason to feel a certain way, but then again when has Marvel ever displayed any understanding of that?
Okay, I think I’ve harped on the comedy enough. Now it’s time to harp on the plot. From here on out, spoilers shall abound, so be prepared.
The movie is called Ragnarok, but has next to nothing to do with whatever the hell Ragnarok actually is. The film opens with Thor punching a fire monster because his crown is supposed to be the thing that triggers Ragnarok. Naturally, our hero prevails, and locks the crown in the vault of mysterious artifacts. The story then proceeds to not make any mention of Ragnarok, whatever/whoever it is, until it’s needed as a convenient way to kill the overpowered villain.
This is apparently related to some prophecy that was referenced for the first time in the exposition dump of dialogue at the beginning. In the end though, we’re left with only a vague understanding of what Ragnarok is/means/refers to, and even less of an idea why this was important enough to name the movie after it, aside from the fact that whatever Ragnarok is destroys Asgard. Except not really, because thirty seconds before Asgard is destroyed, Odin (wearing an outfit from Elder Beerman’s fall line) tells Thor that Asgard is not a place, it’s the people. So did Ragnarok destroy Asgard or not? Did Thor trick Ragnarok into thinking that Asgard was a place? Why is this so unnecessarily convoluted and poorly thought out? None of this makes any sense.
Speaking of that villain, she fits perfectly into the Marvel canon of boring, over-powered, and characterless baddies. She kind of has motivation at least, so that’s a step in the right direction. Odin is her father, making Thor and Loki her brothers, and she wants to take over the universe again because the death of Odin freed her from dimensional exile. If that sounds confusing and contrived, don’t worry, it is. It’s all just a vehicle to get you to the punching. Thor needs somebody to punch, right?
It also raises questions about why Odin is such a monumental idiot all of a sudden. Why would he conquer multiple realms and then suddenly decide to stop? Why would his solution to covering up this past be to literally pave over it? How does literally nobody remember the extended period of time where Odin and Hela were gallivanting about the realms of the universe conquering them? Why would he tie the exile of the goddess of death (Hela is also the goddess of death because the film needs stakes) to his own lifespan? Could not he have just told his sons about this so they could be prepared when an all-powerful space-Blanchett comes out of a hole in the sky? The entire conflict of this film could have been avoided if people just spoke to each other like actual people do. But no, it’s far easier to just pretend that this is how people actually act, ignore how little sense it makes, and just let the movie happen to you.
You already know whether or not you’re going to like Thor: Ragnarok, because you’ve already seen it. In fairness, Ragnarok is inherently enjoyable, as are most all of the Marvel movies, but as with most all of the Marvel movies, it fails to introduce anything new whatsoever, it fails to display more than a basic understanding of how to write likable characters, and it fails to create anything particularly memorable. There are certainly worse movies in the MCU, and in the Thor series itself, but that does not change the fact that when looked at outside of the MCU context, it is a thoroughly mediocre film.
Disney’s™ Marvel’s™ MCU™ Review Rating: 7.5/10
This is most likely going to be short and sweet, because as I said, you probably already know whether or not you’re going to enjoy this movie. If there is one thing I’ve learned (particularly with Marvel/pop culture movies), it’s that level of enjoyment is almost completely separate from actual quality. The good news here is that as Marvel movies go, Thor: Ragnarok is among the more entertaining.
The more humorous take on the character certainly does help the film feel far less dour and dull than either the first Thor, or The Dark World. In addition, all of the set pieces are fairly memorable, the fight choreography is pretty well executed, and the gladiator fight between the Hulk and Thor is pretty entertaining, even if it was spoiled in the trailers.
Series newcomer Tessa Thompson does a solid job as Valkyrie, although she is relegated to a supporting role. Not to nit pick too much, but it would be nice to finally see a Marvel movie focused on a female character. Obviously a Thor movie should be about Thor, but there is an incredible vacuum of female leads in these films. But enough criticism, back to the movie.
Cate Blanchett’s Hela is about par for the course in terms of Marvel villains, but if dull enemies haven’t scared you away yet, it’s unlikely to do so here. At the very least, she has a neat spiky Maleficent headdress, so that’s something.
If nothing else, Thor: Ragnarok proves how solid the formula set into place by Guardians of the Galaxy really is. It not only produced the most entertaining film in the MCU (the first Guardians), but it also brought a much needed energy to the Thor franchise. Derivative though it may be, it is undeniably effective in breathing new life into the least liked series in the Marvel Universe.
If you like your movies unchallenging, colorful, and filled with punching and easy jokes, then Thor: Ragnarok is an easy recommendation. In fact, I suspect that most die-hard Marvel fans will very much enjoy this film, perhaps even as much as they did Spiderman: Homecoming. Within the MCU, Thor Ragnarok stands as a fun, lighthearted, and energetic entry into the canon, and will most likely please the vast majority of fans. Just sit back, watch the flashing colors, and listen to the retro soundtrack. The less you question what you’re seeing, the more fun you’ll have.