Thunder, Death, and Weird Jokes
“Thor: Ragnarok” is blessed with a phenomenal cast and eye-catching action scenes and cinematography, but it's quality is hindered by its inability to uphold a serious tone.
Reading Time: 4 minutes
“Thor: Ragnarok” had a lot to prove as the finale of the Thor trilogy. The first two movies, though well-received, were unsuccessful in dazzling their viewers and are not recognized as popular fan-favorites. “Thor: Ragnarok” was Marvel’s last chance in defining Thor movies as a memorable, spectacular superhero trilogy instead of a collection of three decent movies. To do this, it had to be bold and thrilling, and its plot both complex and of a scale large enough to be fitting for a movie named after the end of the world in Norse mythology.
The film, directed by Taika Waititi, revolves around Thor (Chris Hemsworth), god of thunder, and his quest to stop his older sister and goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), from conquering his kingdom Asgard and the universe. Along the way, he is captured and held captive in Sakaar by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who forces him to participate in his gladiatorial contest. There, Thor collaborates with his stepbrother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), his new friend Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and his old fellow Avenger Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), or the Hulk, to escape Sakaar and defeat Hela.
The greatest aspect of “Thor: Ragnarok” is its cast. The actors manage to add depth to characters that are generally portrayed as one-dimensional.
Hemsworth chooses to emphasize Thor’s vulnerability that results from his dependence on his magic hammer, Mjolnir, to feel worthy, instead of focusing on his tough side. This emphasis lets Hemsworth portray Thor’s character growth in becoming a leader who is confident enough to step up to protect the people of Asgard more effectively.
Hiddleston manages to keep Loki’s status as the most complex and interesting villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He constantly switches Loki’s demeanor from friendly to devious and back, almost as if he is choosing to convey Loki as two different characters: a teammate and a foe. This creates confusion, among the viewers as well as the characters within the film, regarding his true nature.
The juxtaposition of the Grandmaster’s jokester personality and malice, shown through his willingness to force innocents to fight to the death for entertainment, is hard to pull off. Nevertheless, Goldblum depicts the Grandmaster as humorous, but not too campy—dangerous, but not too one-note. Thompson’s combination of Brunnhilde’s grief over the loss of her fellow Valkyrie and strength as a female lead gives her character a lot of unexpected depth.
Yet, despite its flashy action scenes, stellar cast performances, and vivid cinematography reminiscent of retro sci-fi fantasy, “Ragnarok” feels less like a superhero film and more like a comedy.
Its comedic moments never fail in getting a laugh out of the viewer and arguably makes “Thor: Ragnarok” the most fun movie of the Marvel franchise.
One such example of a comedic moment is the use of the “get help” strategy, where Thor rushes in frantically while supporting a supposedly injured Loki, yelling “Get help! Please! My brother’s dying!” before throwing Loki to bowl over a group of enemy guards. Despite the serious discussion about their relationship as brothers preceding this moment, the very fact that Thor chooses to throw his brother, and the contrast of Loki’s humiliation and Thor’s jubilation that follows, come together to form a scene that is impossible not to find at least somewhat amusing.
Waititi uses other formulas similar to this throughout the film in order to guarantee that viewers find humor in scenes he designates to be comical.
But the extremity of this comedic tone causes all attempts of seriousness to fall flat.
Korg (Taika Waititi), an ally Thor made on Sakaar, represents one aspect of the film’s biggest flaw. Korg’s only purpose in the movie is to provide comic relief. Aside from that, he has no character development and does not do much to influence the plot. The fact that a character like Korg, whose role is purely to serve as comic relief, is a main character of the film only further serves to make the jocularity of the film so great that it cancels out all the film’s solemnity.
Another aspect of this flaw is Waititi’s habit to follow any moment with potential to have a great emotional impact with humor. The viewer sees this with Bruce Banner’s decision to sacrifice his very identity in order to let the Hulk take over and help the people in ways Banner cannot in the final battle.
Ruffalo does an excellent job showing Banner’s inner conflict of his fear of the Hulk taking permanent control of his being and his feelings of duty as a former Avenger. However, Waititi chooses to turn his final decision into a punchline by having him initially fail to transform, which causes Banner to crash-land onto the bridge in front of two armies. The resulting secondhand embarrassment the viewer experiences creates hilarity, which takes away the gravity behind Banner’s preceding determination and gives it less of an emotional impact on the viewer.
Thor’s decision to initiate Ragnarok in order to summon Surtur, the only being that could defeat Hela, even though this meant the land of Asgard would be destroyed, could also have had greater weight. Thor’s claim that “Asgard is not a place, it’s a people” is meant to justify his willingness to give up the well-being of the land in favor of the well-being of that land’s people.
Yet after leaving Asgard to be destroyed by Surtur, Korg mentions that he had accidentally stepped on his best friend Miek, which would have been considered a much more serious concern had he not said it so nonchalantly. When Miek wakes up a few seconds after he says this, Korg exclaims, “Oh, wait! Miek’s alive!” with a much too delighted tone regarding the circumstances.
Waititi’s attempt to lighten the mood right after the most destructive event of the film is the most prominent example of how “Thor: Ragnarok” is unwilling to darken its tone by any amount, even if darkening the tone could have elevated its status from a simple comedy to an outstanding superhero movie.