Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
One upside to the fact that nearly half of all major studio releases these days seem to be superhero movies is that at least we’re getting lots of different kinds of superhero movies. In just the last year we’ve seen the superhero movie as a John Hughes–style coming-of-age story (Spider-Man: Homecoming). We’ve seen the superhero movie as a Clint Eastwood–style gritty Western (Logan). And we’ve seen the superhero movie as a pop-culture-skewering, Bugs Bunny–style cartoon (The Lego Batman Movie). (And that doesn’t even begin to address how we might categorize Guardians of the Galaxy).
Now, with Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel gives us the superhero movie as a slapstick buddy comedy.
From its DayGlo aesthetic to its screaming guitar soundtrack, Thor Ragnarok is a 1980s power ballad of a film—entertaining as all get-out despite being totally ludicrous. If you’re looking for serious subtext or coherent mythology, look elsewhere. This is a story that takes Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and his ally/nemesis brother Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) to an alien outpost run by Jeff Goldblum at his most Jeff Goldblumish.
Given only the name of “Grandmaster,” Goldblum collects strongmen throughout the universe and pits them against one another in a gladiatorial battle to the death. His current champion also happens to be an abductee from Earth.
Meanwhile, Odin’s weakening hold on life unleashes his firstborn child, Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett), on Asgard.
But really, Thor and Loki’s battle with their sister isn’t the point of the movie. The real point is allowing the bickering pair—along with a couple of new, loveable sidekicks, including an alcoholic Valkyrie and a wisecracking rock pile—to lob one-liners at each other. And on this score the movie succeeds wildly.
Fans of the Netflix series Stranger Things and anyone who misses the gonzo fun of Flash Gordon are going to love this funniest entry yet into the Marvel Universe. And, with some reservations, Ragnarok seems tailor-made to be an afternoon outing for dads and older kids. That said, those reservations are noteworthy.
Officially, the movie is rated PG-13 for comic book violence and thematic material. What that really means is that along with a smattering of profanity (or barely cut-off profanity), you can expect plenty of blue humor, like a quip about a spaceship being used for the Grandmaster’s orgies, as well as a glimpse of the Hulk’s enormous, green backside. There aren’t as many off-color jokes as in Guardians of the Galaxy, but there are enough to give some parents pause. And, of course, the entire arc of this series is based on a pagan religion. For the most part, the film is so preposterous and so thoroughly grounded in the superhero context of the Avengers, its source material is entirely trivialized. Except for Blanchett as the Goddess of Death.
With her white pallor and towering black antlers, Blanchett certainly looks the part of a demonic nightmare. Though her campy performance undercuts the disturbing nature of her appearance somewhat, her character may be a bit too dark for some viewers.
The rest of this romp, however, is as light and frothy as superhero movies—or buddy comedies—come.