'Thor: Ragnarok' Review

Cosmic comedy with a Jack Kirby coating

November 3, 2017

There's quite a bit to like about Thor: Ragnarok. The sixteenth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe features winning performances and amusing battles and all that jazz. But I can't help but think there's something just a little bit off about the way the film handles its title character.

The first Thor (2011) worked because it mined the absurdity of its premise for solid fish-out-of-water humor from its surprisingly funny lead, Chris Hemsworth. Thor wasn't a comic figure, exactly, but he was funny. Think back to the scene in which he smashes coffee cups in the diner while demanding more of the hot beverage, a sort of Viking-by-way-of-Nighthawks. Joss Whedon's take on the character in his two Avengers flicks slid him further toward being a figure of fun ("He's adopted"; the Mjolnir-lifting scene).

However, even Whedon's japery worked because there was still a gravitas to Thor, a bearing in his manner and his language that rang true for a character modeled on ancient, divine royalty. Thor: Ragnarok jettisons that, reducing the character to someone who spouts common vulgarities like "pissed off" or screams in wide-eyed terror when an aged barber begins to cut his hair. It's funny, I guess, and, again, Hemsworth really is an underrated comedic talent. He was the funniest thing about the Ghostbusters reboot, and by a fairly enormous margin.

But it still feels wrong. And that feeling of wrongness pervades much of director Taika Waititi's film, which sees Thor returning to Asgard after doing battle in the heavens only to find Loki (Tom Hiddleston) impersonating Odin (Anthony Hopkins) on the throne. Annoyed that his adopted brother has entranced Odin and left him to rot in a nursing home on Earth, Thor is just about to put a beat down on the trickster god when, as if from the ether, Hela (Cate Blanchett) appears.

The goddess of death—sporting makeup a Goth mallrat would envy and moving with a lasciviousness that suggests she takes a sensual pleasure in murder and mayhem—Hela's goal is to retake Asgard and use it as a base from which to launch a conquest of the galaxy, spreading death and destruction everywhere she goes. Blanchett also plays her role with an ironic wink, a suggestion that we aren't merely to mine the absurdity of this premise but revel in it.

In order to stop Hela from taking over Asgard (and the rest of the galaxy), an enslaved Thor must find a way to escape an exceedingly strange planet run by the exceedingly strange Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who forces the Asgardian to do battle with The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in gladiatorial combat. There's a lot of quirkiness—Jeff Goldblum is very quirky, you guys, all side-eye grins and open-mouthed grunts and semi-stuttered dialogue—and banter and jokes and it's all wrapped up in an art-designed world that looks like someone traced the sets from Jack Kirby's cosmic backgrounds. Bright primary colors dominate, divided by stark lines that serve no real purpose other than looking pretty neat. It's more "New Gods" than "Thor," to my mind, but King Kirby was a bit before my time, so I may be mixing things up.

People really seem to be enjoying it. And, look, if you're into the whole Marvel thing you probably will enjoy it as well. Just keep in mind that it's closer to Guardians of the Galaxy than, well, Thor. But the farther I got from Thor: Ragnorak, the less it worked for me.

Published under: Movie Reviews