“Thor: Ragnarok” is akin to consuming a Happy Meal from McMarvel’s – and then getting film poisoning.
Levity has always been a part of McMarvel’s fast-film recipe: Tony Stark’s snark, the Avengers’ jests and jabs, and, of course, the Guardians of the Galaxy. “Ragnarok,” however, is full-on slapstick comedy. And it’s not funny.
That’s clear from the first minute of “Ragnarok” to the last. Every dire situation, every glimpse of emotion is undercut by some stupid joke or gag. In the first “Thor” – easily among Disney Marvel’s best – director Kenneth Branagh incorporated Shakespearean tones with complete sincerity. In “Ragnarok,” director Taika Waititi brings in more “Spaceballian” ones.
And if Mel Brooks is the genre’s Hulk, Waititi is its Bruce Banner. Almost everything about “Ragnarok” is weak.
The story is a tale of two retreads: an attempted takeover of Asgard while its god of thunder is asunder. The former plot line has far more promise but receives considerably less focus. Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett is not only wasted as the villainess Hela, but her acting chops are cheapened in conforming to Marvel’s childish tropes.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), meanwhile, is stuck on Sakaar, an apropos planet for “Ragnarok” in that it’s full of garbage. There, he’s forced into a galactic gladiator match with fellow Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), whose senseless inclusion could’ve at least been a pleasant surprise had it not been spoiled by “Ragnarok’s” trailer.
The alien arena’s Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) does elicit a few laughs but only because of the sheer ridiculousness of what his role apparently requires. Stumbling upon Goldblum’s scenes alone without any context of the complete picture one might think they were watching “Zoolander 3” rather than a superhero flick. His movie’s direction is that “derelicte.”
Indeed, according to Waititi, 80 percent of “Ragnarok’s” dialogue was improvised. The result is what feels like a big inside joke among the cast. Apparently, the Disney-Marvel juggernaut has become so immune to underperformance it doesn’t even have to wink at the audience anymore; its actors now can do so among only themselves.
Their environment looks just as detached. From gold-plated Asgard to technicolor Sakaar, “Ragnarok” has the visual depth of the Star Wars prequels; i.e., it looks fake. Even an attempted touching scene among Thor, brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has little feeling, as what appears to be the family in a green field was clearly created via green screen.
Some visuals and characters do rock, however, in “Ragnarok” – in one case literally. The Led Zeppelin-synced action sequences bring much-needed rhythm, whereas soul is provided by the always excellent, and underutilized, Karl Urban and Idris Elba. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie also hits the right notes, including her Zack Snyder-looking backstory.
Overall though, “Thor: Ragnarok” is Fruity Pebble-looking filler toward Marvel’s continually bigger serial-storytelling plans. What once was super is now just sugary, soggy satire.
2 out of 5