This is my review for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.5 Thor: Ragnarok.
There are two main things that piss me off about this movie.
First, somewhere in this thing, there is a fantastic story, but it’s buried beneath a veritable mountain of forced humor, bad writing, and missed opportunity.
Second, mass audiences are probably going to love this movie, even though they shouldn’t. And therein lies the problem.
Thor: Ragnarok is my new example of a film that is tailor made for contemporary moviegoers, where everything must be fun and funny and anything that has weight or feels authentic is dismissed with an ironic smirk and derisive scoff.
I love humor. If something can actually make me laugh, I value that very highly because almost no “comedy” these days can, because it’s mostly either crude or stupid. But where Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 walked the line of having too much humor, Thor: Ragnarok leaves that line so far behind it can no longer be seen. Every single moment in Ragnarok that should have had some emotional or dramatic weight was ruined by a forced joke.
This is not an exaggeration. Every. Single. One.
I’m not saying that everything has to be completely somber and dour in tone. But neither should everything be a comedy, especially a movie that is supposed to be about the Norse apocalypse.
I’m also not saying Ragnarok isn’t funny. It is. There are several genuinely funny moments in Ragnarok, moments that literally made me laugh out loud. But for every joke that lands naturally, there are five or ten that are forced, come at exactly the wrong moment, or simply fall flat. This happens so often it completely overrides any other mood, tone, or atmosphere the movie was trying to establish. The drama suffocates under the sheer weight of the so-called comedy.
And for a movie called Ragnarok, a movie about the fall of Asgard, we see very little of what actually happens in Asgard. Most of the events there are glossed over. The invasion of Asgard at the hands of the villain and her forces, the fleeing of citizens to safe haven, the crushing of the initial resistance, and the rise of the greater revolution – all of this either happens completely off-screen or is glossed over so quickly it is robbed of any meaning at all.
Instead, the movie spends far too much time on the gladiatorial planet Sakaar, where Thor randomly drops after he falls from Asgard (where the Hulk just happens to be). This is where we spend the bulk of the movie – in a subplot. From there on it is as I feared: this is more a planet Hulk movie than it is a Thor movie. In fact, this whole affair feels very little like a Thor movie at all.
Much of the blame for that can be placed on the choice of director.
To this day, the first Thor is my favorite Marvel movie. It was a movie about honor, about family, about community. It told a great story while also being genuinely funny. The first Thor is not only a great superhero movie or comic book movie. It’s a great movie. Period. It’s something really special.
Do you know who directed the first Thor film? Kenneth Branagh, a classically trained, lauded, and celebrated actor, writer, and director.
Do you know who directed Thor: Ragnarok? Taika Waititi. Primarily known for writing and directing quirky, screwball indie comedies. Which, if that’s his thing, if that’s your thing, that’s fine. But he has absolutely no business getting his hands on a franchise like Thor.
Thor: Ragnarok is the evidence. There are some very noticeable special effects problems in T:R, mostly involving green screen. There are long drawn-out scenes of nothing but character’s throwing quips and one-liners at each other, contrasted with moments that should have been meaningful turning points for the characters or the story that were either glossed over so quickly it robbed them of their weight, or cut away from completely. And none of this is even directed particularly well. The movie consistently gives screen-time to jokes and meaningless banter, but short-changes the drama and meaningful moments.
But the real icing on the cake is this: Director Taika Waititi not only puts himself in the movie as the CGI rock monster Korg, but it is exactly this character that consistently oversteps his bounds and ruins dramatic moments with his misplaced and goofy jokes. It’s one thing for a director to cameo in his own film. That’s not uncommon. But it’s quite another thing when the director not only shoe-horns himself into the movie, but consistently interrupts the dramatic flow of the story to showcase his unwelcome brand of offbeat humor. That blatant self-indulgence is a sin I will not let pass. It’s egregious. And it’s gross.
The cast does what they can with the material they’ve been given. Most of them give great performances, including Cate Blanchett who is given little more than stereotypical bad-guy one-liners. But she’s so good that she can elevate bad writing to a higher level.
But the thing that I absolutely cannot forgive this film for is the huge missed opportunity of the story. A story about restoring lost honor. A story about trust betrayed and faith renewed. A story about the bonds of family and protecting your home. A story of overwhelming invasion and desperate revolution. A story about a king learning that his kingdom is more than the buildings within it, and taking his rightful place on the throne to lead his people.
But we don’t get that story.
What do we get? Jokes.
Remember how Loki was secretly sitting on the throne of Asgard last time we saw him? And we spent several years wondering how that sinister subplot was going to be dealt with? Glossed over in two minutes, with almost nothing but jokes.
The death of three characters that we’ve been familiar with for several previous movies (glossed over in seconds).
The death of Odin (glossed over, and with bad special effects).
The arrival of Hela, goddess of death (ruined by bad writing, bad green screen work, and the female-equivalent of mustache-twirling).
The defeat of Thor as he falls and loses his kingdom (Thor does not seem particularly upset about this, spending most of the movie in this state, with jokes throughout).
The epic return to valor for Valkyrie (glossed over in seconds).
The fiery fall of Asgard (ruined with a joke).
A late-game pep-talk between Odin and Thor, where father reminds son who he really is (ruined with a joke and cheesy dialogue).
Thor finally taking his rightful place on the throne of his kingdom (ruined with jokes).
Thor deciding where and how to lead his people (ruined with jokes).
Are you seeing a pattern here?
All the key elements for a great story are here. But the execution is all wrong. What’s so unbelievably frustrating is that there are very real glimpses of the greatness that could have been.
Was I supposed to feel something during all this mess? Any moment of emotional depth or weight is immediately stolen from the audience.
I’m not saying a serious movie should be devoid of humor. I’m saying the opposite. It is precisely serious movies that most benefit from humor, because humor is a great tool for alleviating tension and accenting the drama. But the filmmakers don’t understand that function. The balance between humor and drama in Ragnarok is so skewed the story itself is wasted.
Based on the trailers, I had some concerns going into this movie. I didn’t have high expectations, but it failed to meet even those. It’s not like Thor: Ragnarok is a bad, boring, or unentertaining film. It’s funny, and at times, it’s fun. But it is not even in the same galaxy as what it should have been. It’s a movie made to pander to the modern mindset, for mass audiences who want everything short, fun, and funny. They had the opportunity to do something truly epic in scope, had the building blocks for a stirring and dramatic story, had the genuinely funny jokes to punctuate that story, and the chance to bring Thor’s trilogy to a resounding and thunderous conclusion. They blew it.
I do, however, expect that many people will disagree with me and this review.
But the thing is, even Hela the goddess of death seems to be in on the joke:
“Funny, I expected more.”
Me, too, Hela. Me too.
Thanks for reading.