I love Marvel Studios. I can always rely on them to deliver on a good time at the very least.
But with the release of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Spiderman: Homecoming,” I started to worry that enjoyable but ultimately disposable movies is all that Marvel Studios is willing to offer. Their newest addition, “Thor: Ragnarok,” is a good enough offering of superhero fun, but it lacks staying power and emotional resonance.
Picking up two years after Thor’s last appearance in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the mysterious disappearance of Odin threatens to cause the apocalyptic Ragnarok, the Norse end of days. While looking for Odin, Thor is swept up in a wormhole that sends him to the planet of Sakaar, where he’s forced to participate in a gladiatorial arena as his only means of escape. Meanwhile, the goddess of death, Hela, liberated from her imprisonment, takes over Asgard alongside her accomplice, Skurge the Executioner.
As a die-hard fan of comic book lore, it’s sometimes hard for me to accept the changes made to Marvel’s source material when it’s adapted into film. Still, if executed well like it was in “Captain America: Civil War,” I’ll gladly accept them.
In “Ragnarok’s” case the changes made to Sakaar were done well, especially in the art direction. It’s a beautiful trash heap with interesting character designs everywhere you look. I also have to mention Jeff Goldblum’s pitch-perfect Grandmaster, who’s pretty much just Jeff Goldblum in silly clothing. Tessa Thompson also surprised me as Valkyrie, who I enjoyed watching more than I thought I would.
My praise ends there, though.
Cate Blanchett and Karl Urban are completely wasted as Hela and Skurge. Hela is one of the most forgettable characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. As the goddess of death, her powers amounted to...summoning pointy objects? And of course, her evil plan was fairly shallow and derivative.
Then comes Skurge, who’s relegated to a glorified cameo role. He’s absolutely butchered in the film compared to his badass comic book counterpart. He’s portrayed on screen as a coward lacking the stoic fealty that makes him such an interesting character in the comics. I wouldn’t have minded these changes if they made for a compelling character on the big screen, but Urban was sadly forgettable at best in the role.
For a film centered around the epic apocalypse of Norse mythology, “Ragnarok” doesn’t take itself very seriously. This shouldn’t come as a surprise for fans of director Taika Waititi. I didn’t mind the heavy comedic angle, and I certainly didn’t feel as violated by an excess of unfunny jokes as I did watching “Guardians Vol. 2.” In fact, I laughed a lot throughout “Ragnarok.” Chris Hemsworth really benefits from this comedic approach as a quippy, self-aware Thor. This also holds true for Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, who totally outshone his meaner, greener counterpart.
All said, the movie ultimately feels like a glorified “Saturday Night Live” sketch. There’s very little substance to be found aside from the wacky banter between Waititi’s characters. A really interesting narrative was hinted at in Asgard’s bloody colonialist past, which could have made for a relevant critique on the glorification of past imperialistic kingdoms — especially given the prevalence of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in the film’s marketing.
That vein was never tapped though. Unfortunately, it seems Marvel Studios offers little food for thought, but instead chooses to give viewers a fun but shallow movie.
Fun, but whatever:
Hector Valverde is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He primarily writes movie reviews. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hpvalverde.