In the past few months, I’ve seen 4 movies. Thor Ragnarok, and Blade Runner 3 times and where Blade Runner feels likes a four-course meal that is a journey with every bite, Thor Ragnarok is more like a big bacon cheeseburger. It was in thinking about that analogy that I started to realize, except for the Guardians of the Galaxy films, it’s becoming more difficult to find anything interesting to say about the Marvel movies, by their cheeseburger assembly line. Even the efficiency of their quality has become a redundant statement at this point. The Thor movies have always felt like a bit of a strange anomaly in the Marvel universe. The three movies couldn’t be more different from each other.
The first, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is a Shakespearean drama about two brothers warring for their father’s love. Thor the Dark World is about…uhm…well I don’t remember what the Dark World was about. There’s some red oily thing? And some elves. And Uhm…Natalie Portman? I remember liking the second one once I managed to turn my brain off completely and just bathe in the movies wonderful visuals and art design. Even if it was at times, confusingly derivative right down to it’s Portal 3 ending.
In Ragnarok, Hela, the Goddess of death returns to take over Asgard and Thor and Loki find themselves kicked to the Gladiator planet Sakaar, run by Jeff Goldblum. Thor is pressed into combat and, as you’ve seen in the trailers when he gets there is the first opponent is the Hulk. Thor Ragnarok is by far the best of the three and might crack the bottom of my list of top 5 Marvel movies. It knows not to take these Norse Gods in tights too seriously. It has a comfortable plot that keeps things moving.
There are the expected charismatic performances across the board. But what makes Ragnarok shine is the direction by Taika Waititi. After Edgar Wright left Ant-Man because he said he didn’t just want to be a director for hire, Marvel has gained a reputation for only hiring directors who will fall in step. And their homogenized quality might seem to support that idea. Except for one problem.. Perhaps, no one was paying attention when James Gunn wandered on set and made Guardians, a movie that felt fresh and interesting just when the Marvel formula was beginning to harden. And we all loved it.
I think Ragnarok might be a little less broadly innovative than people are giving it credit for. You can see the Guardian’s influence here. Ragnarok is working with a bright color palette that doesn’t shy away from pastel purples and neon yellows. It distinguishes between its two primary locations symphonically, using an 80s synth techno for the gladiator planet Sakaar, and a pretty standard orchestral score for Asgard. But the area where it surpasses Guardian’s and every other Marvel movie is its humor.
This is by far, the funniest film in the Marvel universe, a great comedy carrying what might otherwise be an average Marvel plot. And I think that is primarily due to New Zealand director Taika. Whose previous directorial works include Flight of the Conchords and What We Do in the Shadows, both of which I loved. And boy does this feel like it was cut from the same dry humorous template as those two. Right down Korg, a giant monster felt as though he was assembled from the rocks of New Zealand and taken directly to Sakaar. Which makes sense, given he’s voiced by the film’s director, Taika Waititi.
Given his background, it’s no surprise then that the director and cast interviews I read estimated that anywhere between 80 to 90 percent of the movie’s dialogue was improvised, much of it by Taika himself yelling suggested lines from behind the camera. Now that can be a complete disaster in the hands of a poor director, but man does Taika hold it together, unusual to see a satisfying big-budget action movie that might be the funniest this year. And that’s what I find remarkable about the film. As with any other average or better Marvel movie, the rest is a mixed bag of really good or meh.
The finale on the rainbow bridge made for a fairly satisfying conclusion. Despite a lot of questionable green screen, there are a few moments throughout of astonishing beauty that had me trying to take in the entire composition on screen. Despite the clever use of music to separate locations in the movie, I never really heard a memorable piece of score. The film is stacked with nothing but charismatic actors and you can tell they’re all having fun.
Though Jeff Goldblum does play Jeff Goldblum, and Cate Blanchett’s Hela, while I loved the character’s design, ultimately ends up in the same bucket of forgettable Marvel heroes that can’t hold a torch to Hiddleston’s Loki. But these are all quibbles and bits, like counting the number of sesame seeds on the bun of a cheeseburger. Should you pay to go see it? I think so. Who doesn’t love a good cheeseburger? Thing is, a lot of the setup here requires that you know the previous movies. And if you do know about the previous films you probably already know whether Ragnarok is for you or not.