On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the most colorful, campiest Marvel movie to date, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok!
When they discover their long-lost sister is also the Goddess of Death, Thor and Loki will have to work together to save the Nine Realms from total destruction in Thor: Ragnarok.
RISK AND REWARD
Director Taika Waititi presents us with what is arguably Marvel’s most ambitious production yet.
And it’s rather fitting, really. Thor’s first cinematic outing was also the riskiest of Marvel’s first phase of movies. That movie took audiences away from the relatively grounded world of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and even Captain America. It exposed audiences to Marvel’s larger, stranger concepts of magic, super-science, gods, and the greater cosmic landscape.
Now, those first two entries in the Thor series of films may not have been the most successful for Marvel Studios. Nor were they the best received, especially Thor: The Dark World.
Both movies were criticized by many for a variety of reasons. The first was too focused on an expected but not entirely welcomed romantic subplot and lacked the sort of scope fans were expecting, with little of the mystical realm of Asgard being shown. And in the case of The Dark World, the movie was plagued by an incredibly underwhelming villain and under-cooked story.
RISK AND REWARD
That said, both movies have their fair share of fans. And even if The Dark World is largely considered to be the closest thing Marvel Studios has made to a cinematic misfire, it’s still a watchable and enjoyable movie. It simply pales in comparison to its abundant sister films.
More so, both films were and still are some of Marvel’s most ambitious, riskiest movies. Even long after fans have been exposed to the colorful cast and many worlds seen in Gunn’s pair of Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
Because while many fans might be turned off by Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and the love story between her and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, it remained a welcome change of pace to the usual mix of overtly macho stories presented in Marvel’s other movies. They were the closest thing the studio had made to a traditional Rom-Com.
And Thor: Ragnarok is no different in that regard. But rather than being a romantic-comedy that also happens to feature colorful superheroes and villains, Ragnarok is the closest thing Marvel has made to a traditional buddy comedy.
No matter what is happening on screen, the movie is constantly cracking jokes. Whether it’s a callback to previous movies, some shenanigans between Thor and Loki, or Jeff Goldblum stealing the show with his scene-chewing as Grandmaster, the not-so benevolent ruler of a planet inhabited by the castoffs of the universe and gamemaster of the gladitorial-like Contest of Champions.
And while Thor: Ragnarok obviously lifts some visual cues from James Gunn’s work on Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie also maintains its own personal style. Of course, that style is very close to those seen in movies like Flash Gordon and Heavy Metal, with this emphasis on camp, humor, and the strangest, coolest art and music design seen and heard in a major Hollywood blockbuster.
WHAT IN THE HELA?
That said, failing to be wholly original might be the only thing Thor: Ragnarok fails at.
Because compared to its sister films, Waititi infuses the black sheep of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with some much needed structure, character work, and fun.
There is no romantic subplot. There is no moment where the jokes and action fail to shine. The main villain, Hela, is not only developed just enough but also brought to life by Cate Blanchett’s insane desire to be the MCU’s most dangerous and alluring foe to date. She even manages to give Goldblum a run for his money when it comes to chewing the scenery–and I do mean that in the best way possible.
And Karl Urban’s sympathetic not-quite a villain, Scourge–Hela’s hand-picked lackey looking for a chance to prove his worth to somebody, anybody–is proof that even smaller roles are better fleshed out than anything seen in the previous two movies.
RAGNAROK & ROLL
More so, it also opens up Marvel’s approach to movies in a way it has yet to do.
The humor isn’t new. Nor is the color palette. But Thor: Ragnarok does show that Marvel is now opening itself up to the idea that these movies don’t need some major crossover event to bring in other notable characters, even if only for a few brief scenes.
More than ever, you don’t need to have seen either The Incredible Hulk or Doctor Strange to understand who they are or why they appear in this movie. Knowing they exist at all certainly helps, but it’s not necessary to enjoy their scenes or contributions to the rest of the movie.
Now, could Thor: Ragnarok have done without Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange? Yes, and easily so. But his appearance also doesn’t feel forced. Instead, it’s a nice way to show that these characters do know each other, that they and their worlds do collide–that such a thing can happen at any time for any reason. And, more importantly, this can be done without derailing the film.
A major complaint by even the biggest fans of Marvel’s movies (and their comics) has often been the logical issue of this world of interconnected superheroes who never show up to help or even fight their friends outside of The Avengers or Captain America: Civil War.
Sure, characters like Tony Stark have appeared in movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming. But he also served a major, recurring role within the context of that film. He was important to the development of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker.
But in Thor: Ragnarok, Dr. Strange pops up to help drive the plot forward, and then just as quickly takes his leave. He’s treated like any other ancillary role might be in any other movie. But because we do know the character–because the character has had his own movie at some point–what might have been an unimportant, forgettable role is instead greatly improved. And on the same note, fans no longer have to wonder why these characters fail to cross paths more frequently.
IF HE BE WORTHY…
Now, the movie isn’t without its faults. The most glaring of which is how its apocalyptic scenario is undercut by the movie’s emphasis on humor over dramatics.
There are, of course, some deadly serious moments to be found in the movie, but they feel less impactful–even if intentionally so–than they could have been. “Ragnarok” should conjure up images of death and destruction on a cosmic scale, and the movie does give us as much. But it will likely ring a bit hollow for some.
The movie, in a way, does make light of things like dictators, violent fights to the death, and, yes, the end of the world itself. All these things are present in this film. But they’re presented in a comedic light. Again, Thor: Ragnarok is a comedy first and anything else a distant second.
For some, this might prove to be a disconnect that is difficult or even impossible to overcome. It might taint any fun that might be had with the movie.
But for those looking to escape the world for two hours and go on a colorful, hilarious ride across the cosmos that also features some great visuals and action scenes, Thor: Ragnarok is more than worthy of your time.
I definitely suggest you CHILL with Thor: Ragnarok.