Thor: Ragnarok is a messy film. It’s main villain Hela (played with scenery-chewing glee by Cate Blanchett) is side-lined for most of the film. As is Asgard, the place that is in mortal danger from the Goddess of Death that is Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) sister.
Do not be fooled. This is the main conflict of the film’s plot. But, for the most part, Thor and pals are relegated to another world entirely.
Thor and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are left stranded on this planet, Sakaar, but they are stranded in drastically different positions. Loki has positioned himself, through his smarmy charm, amongst the Sakaar elite. Thor, on the other hand, has been captured by former Asgardian Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and pitted into a Gladiator-style deathmatch with his former friend Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), aka the Hulk.
This side plotline is most of the film. Thanks to director Taika Waititi’s knack for comedic timing, this plot is, dare I say, Hela fun. However, it barely counts as a movie.
The smoke and mirrors game of Thor: Ragnarok is its comedic prowess. With Chris Hemsworth, Taika Waititi, and Jeff Goldblum in the mix, the film manifests itself as a comedy film. Clearly, it is not merely thus. It is a Marvel property that must function as an action film, a comedy film, and a franchise film.
To be fair, a handful of shots in the action sequences are executed well. But these shots are few and far between in action sequences that are few and far between. And as a franchise film, it does not even feel necessary. While this is not an inherent problem, it leaves the question hanging as to why this film was made in the first place. Was it to give Thor another outing after two tepid movies? Or was it to hold fan interest while the real Infinity War show waits in the wings?
Either way, Thor Ragnarok feels like a placeholder. Don’t get me wrong, the film reads great as a comedy. It is perhaps the most self-aware Marvel film of the lot, even more so than Guardians of the Galaxy. That doesn’t mean it succeeds in what it is trying to do.
The comedy of the film is the strongest aspect. Who doesn’t want to see Jeff Goldblum square off against Rachel House from Hunt for the Wilderpeople? Or see Chris Hemsworth stretch his comedy muscles for two-thirds of a giant studio film?
But the film otherwise fails tremendously. Begin thinking about it from a storytelling perspective, and you realize giant holes that keep the film from being anything truly memorable. The film sets itself up with a drastic attempt at maintaining relevancy via a cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange and the death of a “major” Thor character.
But this setup is then ignored until the final act of the film, that obligatory final boss fight. Sure, the middle of the film is fun and whimsical, but it has nothing to do with the main story that the film establishes. Through this, the stakes of the film are replaced by humor, given that we dawdle too long where the stakes do not matter.
This lop-sided approach feels nullified by the film’s tone. Yes, the light tone of the film makes it approachable, but really it just makes the film feel less important. Less memorable.
Sure, Thor: Ragnarok is fun. If you’re a casual comic book movie fanboy, then you will find enjoyment in this installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, below its surface, it loses so much. It loses depth of storytelling. It loses depth of character. It loses cinematic relevance.
Thor: Ragnarok: C
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)