By Jim Slotek
Believe it or not, there was a time when job one in making a superhero movie was getting people to take it seriously. Consider that Marvel entered this century giving a franchise character to an art-house director with the dour Ang Lee’s Hulk.
But somewhere around the time The Avengers ordered those shawarmas, the pendulum started swinging so hard toward comedy that Thor: Ragnarok was the inevitable result.
As if trying to out-do Guardians of The Galaxy for wisecracks-per-minute, Thor: Ragnarok oxymoronically takes one of the most dire Norse concepts (Ragnarok, end-of-days, Armageddon… you get the picture) and turns the idea of final-reckoning into a romp with a barrage of broad jokes and slapstick.
How broad? Would you believe a quip about The Hulk’s appendage? Or a space singularity/escape-route nicknamed The Devil’s Anus? (Don’t think they didn’t milk that joke). Or a rock-like alien who makes Rock-Paper-Scissors jokes (how an alien would know an Earth reference is the kind of left-brained question you might ask when you don’t know that the joke is now more important than the story).
Or how about just even having Jeff Goldblum play a villain?
Not that this was unexpected when it was announced that Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows) would be directing. His glib hand is all over the script (as well as the uncredited work of, for all we know, the editorial staff of Cracked magazine).
Yes, I laughed. A good percentage of the gags manage to land. But then, I’m a lifelong comic book nerd. People who aren’t might feel cheated at the lost references. But heck, this has been a pretty lame summer for comedies, so let’s celebrate one that works (even if it isn’t advertised as such).
As the movie opens, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is chained up in the clutches of a fiery demon named Surtur, whose bony crown is capable of igniting Ragnarok once united with The Eternal Flame (yet another world-destroying talisman that Asgard keeps in its vault, along with the Tesseract and – also key to this movie’s plot – a magic sword).
But I digress. The real villain in Thor: Ragnarok is Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, more powerful than Thor and his quasi-villainous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) combined. Their first encounter with the invader goes so badly that – what are the odds? – they are flung by said Devil’s Anus to a planet of gladiator entertainment, run by a hedonistic clown named Grandmaster (Goldblum, playing the role as if his only direction was, “Just do Jeff Goldblum.”)
Grandmaster promises the captured Thor that he will be released if he defeats his Champion in the arena. That champion turns out to be – what are the odds? – Hulk.
(I should mention that, apart from losing his hammer, the captive Thor suffers the humiliation of a haircut and a beard trim, that leaves him looking like he should be ordering a kale salad at a vegan resto).
A disputed fight later, the two oddly compatible Avengers have some alone time for a soul-bearing “Hulk has no friends” talk. Yes, this is a chatty Hulk, reminiscent of the earliest days of the comic in the ‘60s. I’ll admit, these quiet moments were my favourite in the movie.
The whole gladiator plot is a distraction from the Hela plot, one that serves only to reunite Thor with Hulk and enlist a rogue Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to join them. And yet, it’s the part of the movie that breathes. Blanchett is a pretty standard villain, and her screen time is actually slight, serving only to bookend the movie with death, noise, and explosions.
Again, lots of laughs. But it’s kind of an odd state of affairs when a Spider-Man movie is the most serious Marvel offering of the summer; Spidey being the designated quipster throughout Marvel’s history.
I’m hoping by the time the Avengers battle Thanos, it doesn’t end up being the superhero equivalent of a Friar’s Club roast.
Thor: Ragnarok. Directed by Taika Waititi. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Jeff Goldblum, and Tessa Thompson. Opens wide November 3.