So I recognize that, while I do try to provide you all with my latest updates on the progress of my writing projects and other things, it doesn’t necessarily translate to my posting all that often. In fact, it’s probably only once every few months right now, if that, and if I’m trying to raise my profile, I should probably start trying to write things on a more regular basis. Plus, it’s just good practice for me, and it allows me to share my admittedly awesome opinions about things with the world.
Okay, that last part was sarcasm. I know you can’t really tell in writing. But the point is, I’ve decided to exercise my love of writing combined with my love of books, movies, TV, and all things fictional by starting a new “Review of the Week” column on this site. Each week, I’ll pick something I’ve seen or read and share with you my thoughts, feelings, and takeaways from it. Maybe this will give you enjoyment. Maybe it will inform you as to things you were thinking about seeing or reading, or even open your mind to new opportunities you hadn’t yet considered. But while all of that is certainly nice to think about and a good general goal, it also is somewhat selfish in that it satisfies my need to talk about these things and just gives me more constant content. So in that spirit, I’d like to lead off this new segment of mine by taking a look at the most recent Marvel movie to hit theaters, being Thor: Ragnarok.
As you may have guessed from the trailers for the latest Thor movie, the one thing Marvel seems to have taken as an overall lesson for everything they’ve done so far is “Wow, people really liked Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s pretty much everyone’s favorite movie of ours. Let’s make all our movies more like Guardians.” Meaning, of course, that they’re looking to apply Guardians‘ really out-there, bizarre, high-concept sci-fi premises melded with goofy, character-driven humor, and a tendency to make lots of pop-culture and meta references, particularly from the 80s, to every single movie they make. The first real test of this, I suppose, is Ragnarok, and if the reviews are any indication, it was a smashing success.
I hate to throw a bucket of cold water on things, though, but I honestly did not enjoy this movie nearly as much as I thought I was going to. On one hand, this shouldn’t really surprise me. The problem with Thor as a character, and with the Thor movies in general, is that Thor has never been accurately portrayed as a human, fallible, vulnerable being in the ways that really matter. He kind of went from Shakespearian dramatic in his first film to being an outer-space bro in Ragnarok, a transition which, while amusing, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, even if he has spent time on Earth. But more importantly, come on. He’s a god from Asgard. He’s got superhuman powers galore. Why should I care about any of his problems, or see any threat to him as realistic in any way?
Ragnarok took a step toward fixing that, in a way, by humanizing Thor a lot more than he has been in the past, and adding the emotional punch of taking away his father Odin. But it took two steps back in other ways, namely never making as much of the relationship between Thor and Loki and the antagonist, Hela. Sure they make some half-hearted attempts at small talk and diplomacy, but there’s never any indication of true familial bonds between them and she’s just another villain for Thor to smash. Kudos to the film though for finally making good on his name as God of Thunder. Seriously, it took three movies and him losing the hammer to finally sling some lightning around?
All of that griping aside, there’s certainly a lot of reasons why you might consider Ragnarok to be a Marvel triumph. It melds two very different storylines in very interesting ways, and there’s a lot of fun and humor to be had along the way. I laughed a lot during this movie, I’m not going to lie. The team-up between Thor and Bruce Banner/The Hulk, when things got there, was pretty funny because there’s such a sibling-type rivalry between them as the “Strongest Avenger”. But is it wrong that I liked the Banner parts a lot better than the Hulk parts? Mark Ruffalo is just such a joy to behold in these movies, and I resent that his acting talent and character sometimes gets buried and forgotten underneath the giant green wrecking ball that is his alter ego. It was nice though that we got to see Banner tackling some problems in this movie that Hulk wouldn’t have been able to solve on his own. Put that brain to work, man!
Also, credit where credit is due to the supporting cast in this movie: Scrapper 142, a.k.a. Valkyrie, was quite good, as was, predictably, Karl Urban as Skurge, who had a satisfying if somewhat predictable redemptive arc. Jeff Goldblum was brilliant as the Grandmaster, really nailing the oblivious, over-the-top, above the fray kind of bad guy with some killer lines. And finally, the highlight of this entire film in my opinion was the ten minutes we got with Dr. Strange: his whole “I know who you are and I don’t care” thing with Thor and Loki was great, and just how unimpressed he was with their nature and powers was jus the kind of counterpoint I was hoping for more of given Thor’s nigh-invulnerability as a hero. And Tom Hiddleston is just, well, Tom Hiddleston. More Loki is never a bad thing, especially as this film served as a long-delayed redemptive story for him, too. Sure he tried to screw over Thor and company a few times, but in the end he stood by them and did what was right. I’m hoping to see him become more of an anti-hero going forward and less of an out-and-out villain. But maybe that’s just because I have a soft spot for those kind of characters.
A lot’s been made about Cate Blanchett’s performance as Hela, and trust me, while I love a good hammy, scenery-chewing bad guy, she just kind of fell flat for me. No particular reason for it, I suppose. The fact that she didn’t really spend a whole movie interacting with Thor (she probably got a third of it, if that) didn’t help. I think they could have done her a lot more justice by exploring her anger toward Odin, Thor, and the Asgardian family and maybe how she had been hurt by them, but it was generally just generic “I’m angry at the world and want to destroy it because I’m evil and that’s what I do” stuff. There was no subtlety in it, but then again, nothing about this movie is subtle.
Finally, thank God that movie finally returns some sense of stakes to the Marvel universe. I mean, Asgard pretty much blew up in the end. That was intense. I’ve been getting the sense for a while now that there’s really not much change in the Marvel world despite the enormous things that appear to happen (Civil War was a prime example of this failed opportunity to change the status quo), but this movie definitely delivered on that front. It’ll be interesting to see a bunch of Asgardians settled on Earth and what happens with that…assuming of course, given that credits scene, they ever get there. Which seems unlikely.
And of course, the soundtrack for this movie was sweet. I don’t know what it is about Thor facing an army of monsters, but it makes “Immigrant Song” sound just that much more awesome. Let’s get more classic rock into Marvel movies, okay? Okay, okay, the action was pretty good, too. If you’re looking for just a pure action movie from your Marvel, look no further. This one had epic battle scenes for days, from start to finish, with great special effects that really brought Asgard and the new world of Sakaar to life. It’s too bad we probably won’t get to see any more of either now.
The drawback to all of this, however, is that Ragnarok had all the humor and action of a Guardians movie, but with none of the heart. The thing I really like about Guardians is that while the heroes are powerful, they are all fallible, flawed, imperfect beings, with genuine backstories that inspire you to really feel for them and root for them in the ways only the best-created characters do. I have the same problem with Thor that I do with Superman: you’re pretty much perfect and unstoppable paragons of virtue, so no matter how much you emote about your problems, I’m only going to feel so bad for you. I just can’t connect with them on the same level. For that reason, all the jokes in Ragnarok didn’t feel earned, and the action felt somewhat empty and without meaning or consequence. That’s not a reflection on the filmmaking necessarily, but it’s at least in part due to the nature of the character. I’m just never going to be as invested in Thor as I would be with someone like Spider-Man, Iron Man, or the Guardians for example.
My Rating: 7/10
Sure, Thor: Ragnarok was far from the worst Marvel movie ever, but it also wasn’t the best, and won’t be making my top five anytime soon. The writers made me invest a bit more by bringing Hulk into the mix, but that only goes so far as how much Banner shows up, because the Hulk to me suffers from much the same issues as Thor does, and Banner was only in maybe half the movie, if that. It was a nice try, but I think if Marvel plans on adopting the Guardians of the Galaxy formula in future films, they would be well-served to note that people don’t just like them because there’s a lot of jokes and they don’t take themselves seriously: it’s also because the genuineness of the characters comes across in a very believable way, despite their insane and crazy circumstances. I certainly didn’t look at my watch during Ragnarok, but I wouldn’t be beating down the door to see it again. If I could have one takeaway from this whole movie, it seriously would be that Chris Hemsworth looks a hell of a lot better with short hair. And that Viking-style gladiator helmet was sick. Is it too much to ask for him to keep that permanently too?
So, that’s my first Review of the Week. Let me know what you think! Should I do more? I mean, I probably will anyway, whether you liked it or not, but I hope at least I made you think or gave you some reason to see this or not. And if you disagree, comment or something and let me know so we can talk about it! After all, I have been known on very rare occasions to be wrong before.
That was another joke. I really hope you people are getting my sense of humor here.