Sep 23, 2019
Countdown to Infinity War: Revisiting Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
When they announced the title for the new Thor movie, I was intrigued. Ragnarok is one of those stories that’s constantly revisited in Thor’s comic. It’s always hanging over Asgard and I think the joint has been destroyed several times over the decades because of it. So having Thor deal with what’s supposed to be his home’s greatest potential disaster was a great idea for a plot and it would explain where he had been for the past couple of years.
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But I wouldn’t say I was excited to see the movie; interested, sure. I figured I would probably see it in the theater. Then that trailer dropped…
Has there ever been a more perfect fusion of sound and vision than this trailer, with Led Zeppelin being played behind the awesome visuals of this film? No, I didn’t think so. In fact, I would say this was one of those times where the trailer was so awesome that the film was incapable of living up to the hype it generated. And believe me, the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok stirred up a ton of hype and excitement. It broke records for YouTube views, people wouldn’t shut up about it on Facebook, and it looked like it would be the most awesome Marvel movie of all time.
But was it? Well, let’s take a closer look.
The plot: After two years of searching for Infinity Stones, Thor has come up with nothing, save for a run-in with Surtur…
…the being destined to destroy Asgard. After dispatching him, the God of Thunder returns home to discover Loki has taken Odin’s place. With the help of Doctor Strange, the brothers track down their father, only to discover he’s dying, and his death means the return of Thor’s long-lost sister Hela…
…Goddess of Death, and Odin’s former right-hand woman who joined with him in mass slaughter to pacify the Nine Realms. Hela, who had been exiled due to her murderous appetites, has now returned and destroyed Thor’s hammer and cast him and Loki away to another world, one ruled by the Grandmaster…
…who places Thor in gladiator games for his amusement, pitting Thor against his former teammate, the Hulk. Can Thor and Loki set aside their differences and gather allies old and new in order to return to Asgard to save it?
Thor: Ragnarok definitely borrows from the beats laid down by the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise; it’s loud and colorful, and the action (when it doesn’t involve Hela) is funny as, well, hell. Sometimes it feels like two different movies with two very different tones, like director Taika Waititi is suffering from some sort of directorial schizophrenia; I can imagine him coming into the editing room and staring at footage he didn’t remember shooting the day before. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though, if Waititi could have separated the dark moments from the light, and understood when it’s appropriate to deliver a joke. Sadly, this isn’t always the case in this movie. For example, there was one scene that really took me out of the action and that was when the rock person Korg (voiced by Taika himself, who’s also an actor)…
…talks about how they can rebuild Asgard, just before the place explodes. The destruction of Asgard really should have been handled with a little more gravitas rather than it becoming a punchline. With that being said, I do feel that’s probably the most egregious example of inappropriate humor, and I didn’t let it ruin the movie for me, which I think is a helluva fun ride. The film moves at a fast clip, sending Thor on one adventure after another without giving him much chance to breathe. And Chris Hemsworth does a remarkable job giving us a God of Thunder who’s worlds smarter than the arrogant frat boy we saw in the first film. The character development is spot on, as for years now, Thor has forged his own path and has thought for himself, and Hemsworth delivers in a compelling and believable fashion. Some of the best moments of the film are Thor interacting with his old frenemy, the Hulk.
The Hulk never got much of a chance for character development in the Avengers films, so it was nice to see him given a touch of depth. As for the green one’s alter ego, Bruce Banner…
…Mark Ruffalo does a solid job, but man, they really gloss over the sheer horror of him being the Hulk for two years. I appreciate that Banner looked like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but they really downplayed the implications of Banner not being around. He didn’t even ask about Natasha. It’s almost as if Marvel wants to forget the Banner/Romanova relationship as much as we do. As for Loki…
…he’s an interesting case. Tom Hiddleston plays him as selfish, and almost doing the right thing despite himself. Loki is one of the most complicated characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and someone whose selfishness seems to be at war with a desire to do what’s right. Loki is complex and contradictory, and Hiddleson and Hemsworth have some fantastic moments together, as brothers who have been at odds off and on for so many years and now in a new phase of their relationship. I’m very interested in seeing what Loki’s fate will be in Infinity War.
As for Cate Blanchett’s Hela…
…Man, what a performance. Hela is just so badass, arrogant, and powerful, with a massive chip on her shoulder due to Odin once again proving to be a really, really crappy father. I mean seriously, look at the man’s track record. Thor grew up to be an ass, Loki a treacherous little troll, and Hela a murderous sociopath. I really wonder where Momma Frigga was while her kids were turning into a pack of headcases.
But back to Hela. Blanchett is a wonderful actor and she imbues the Goddess of Death with power and majesty. Unlike the lame Malekith in the prior film, I believe she’s a legitimate menace to Thor and all of Asgard. If I have one complaint, it’s how easily Hela took down the Warriors Three, but I can understand how the filmmakers would have wanted her to appear to be a genuine threat. All the same, I’m betting Jamie Alexander was glad her work on NBC’s Blindspot prevented her from showing up in this movie, otherwise she probably would have just been just one more corpse to add to the pile.
Karl Urban’s Skurge is one of those reasons I wish Thor was a cable/Netflix TV series, and not a motion picture.
Urban is a great actor and I appreciate that he was given a little meat for what’s essentially a role as Loki’s henchman, then Hela’s lackey. But even with what little I saw, I really wanted to see more of him. I’ve always liked Urban, be it his role in Star Trek as Dr. McCoy, or as Judge Dredd, or even that short-lived FOX series where he played a police detective in a cyberpunk future. Honestly, when they were putting together the Revengers, I sort of wish he had gotten on the team somehow, rather than having his face turn in the climax just before he sacrifices himself (which is a call out to Skurge’s fate in the comics, complete with his use of M-16s).
But instead of Skurge in the Revengers, we got… Valkyrie.
Tessa Thompson just didn’t deliver in my opinion. Her character is really not that interesting, and I found the coincidence of the last Valkyrie living on the Grandmaster’s planet where Thor and Loki just happen to run into her just a little too convenient for my tastes. Maybe if they had implied somehow that Thor had unconsciously led himself and Loki there, that would have been interesting. It would have suggested Thor’s powers had begun to awaken the moment Odin died, as if Thor had inherited his father’s abilities. But setting aside the poorly conceived coincidence, I didn’t find her character to be at all compelling, and it just made me miss Jamie Alexander all the more.
Jeff Goldblum is his Goldblumiest here, and frankly, that’s not really a good thing. A little Goldblum goes a long, long, long way with me, and I think they could have really toned it down a bit. This character is supposed to be the ruler of a world and I never, ever took him seriously as a major villain. He was pure comic relief, and for that reason I never felt like Thor was in any peril. What was especially annoying was that final post-credits bit with Goldblum; I threw my hands up in disgust, thinking about the time I had wasted sitting there waiting for something significant to happen. I don’t know what else we could have seen, but Jeff trying to pass off a lame joke was not what I was hoping for.
Despite some of the disappointing casting choices, I thought the action was amazing. The visuals are stunning, and Waititi knows how to handle the over the top fight sequences.
As to the movie’s soundtrack… Look, I can respect a composer going their own way, and doing their own thing. Decades ago, Jerry Goldsmith took a lot of daring chances when he composed the 1968 Planet of the Apes score, and it’s now considered one of the most groundbreaking pieces of music in cinematic history. The Black Panther soundtrack is to my ears fantastic, because it enhances the film and helps to paint a picture of Wakanda. Michael Gianncanno’s Doctor Strange score does its own thing and it’s great. So I respect a composer who goes out of their way to try something different in order to create a score that to their mind reflects the look and tone of the film.
When I saw Thor: Ragnarok with my brother, we watched the end credits and the composer’s name came up: Mark Mothersbaugh. He went “huh”, and I asked him who that was, and Donald said, “He was in Devo.” Ah, I thought. Yeah, that makes so much sense now.
Ragnarok’s soundtrack relies heavily on this ’80s synth sound, and I found it to be really distracting. I’m not saying it was in every scene; primarily, it was used to set the tone for the Grandmaster’s world, so I guess you could say what you’re hearing is the Grandmaster’s theme, and like I said, a little Goldblum goes a long way. I respect Mothersbaugh daring to do something different, and I get what he was intending. If every composer played it safe, then music would be sadly generic and wouldn’t contribute much to a film or television project. I just feel like in this case, it was a failed experiment. There’s a really good reason why we left this sort of music behind; if you ever watched the original Fright Night, you’ll see what I mean, where nearly every scary scene is undermined by that synthesized nonsense.
A few weeks ago in the comics, a chapter in Thor’s history was wrapped up with the death of Jane Foster, who had taken on the mantle of Thor. She died heroically and I have no problem with that; if she was going to go out, then let her go out in grand fashion. What upset me were the things that led up to Jane’s demise, mainly in the way the original Thor was treated. Jane taking over as Thor was nothing new; in the ’90s, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern were all replaced, and in three out of the four cases the swap only lasted a year or so, and the goal was to remind people of just how awesome the originals were by showing how inferior the new guys were.
Over at Marvel Comics, James Rhodes replaced Tony Stark as Iron Man and he proved to be adequate in the role, but it was obvious Stark was meant to wear the suit and he was only without it so he could go through hell to work his way back up to fighting Obidiah Stane, the man who destroyed his life. Why am I bringing this up? Because the Thor we know was dragged through the mud just so Jane Foster could look better as a result.
After Thor found himself “unworthy” to wield the hammer, we discovered during the time he was with Jane he had cheated on her, so his character was assassinated. And in the Secret Empire storyline, like a complete idiot, he sided with Fascist Captain America in taking over the world, even though Cap was using super-villains as foot soldiers. And Mjolnir could do things for Jane it never did for Thor, making her seem to be an even better Thor. On top of all this, Jane was Thor a lot longer than Rhodey was Iron Man, by about a year.
It’s going to take some time for people to tell just where this run is going to stand in the grand scheme of things, but I thought it was terrible. Thor didn’t need to be turned into a joke to make Jane look better. Odin didn’t need to be written as a complete ass so it could look like it was Jane taking on the patriarchy. And I don’t know who’s to blame, writer Jason Aaron or the editors who insisted the hero be made into a complete joke in his own comic, but a new creative team will be coming on board in a couple months, and Thor will have a new glittery golden hammer to match his quasi-bionic arm. But it’s just not going to feel the same after everything he’s been through.
Next up: Marvel at long last gives its most famous black superhero his own movie and smashes box office records, in our final Countdown to Infinity War review.