There will come a time many years from now when film historians will analyze Marvel Studios, and some of them will rightfully conclude that Thor: Ragnarok won over critics and fans despite its forgettable script. Producers gave the world a $180 million stick of cinematic bubble gum and the world cheered.
Once upon a time, superhero fans watched Thor movies in which actor Chris Hemsworth and his supporting cast attempted to channel literary classics like Beowulf. Director Kenneth Branagh infused Thor (2011) with tinctures of Shakespearean tragedy, while Alan Taylor churned out similar work on Thor: The Dark World (2013).
All that is over with the arrival of director Taika Waititi, who has the first “family-friendly” Marvel Studios/Disney movie that drops an “orgy” reference into a scene involving the cosmic equivalent of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s infamous “Lolita Express.”
Thor: Ragnarok is essentially two movies mashed into one. Half of Ragnarok involves a ancient prophecy in which Asgard is captured by Thor’s sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) and ultimately destroyed by a giant demon named Sutur; the other half deals with an exiled Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) fighting as a gladiator on a planet ruled by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The god of thunder and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) end up stranded on the planet as well, but they soon find a way to escape through “The Devil’s Anus.”
The two brothers are helped along the way by a disillusioned Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and the whole thing is tied together by a series of jokes that often follow (i.e., undermine) dramatic scenes.
In short, Ragnarok is a film that doesn’t take itself seriously — even as it sometimes asks the audience to do so. It is a movie that is seemingly so terrified of being parodied at the MTV Movie Awards that it decided to deny them the opportunity. Chris Hemsworth, at times, seems as though he’s parodying himself playing Thor. Potential moviegoers simply need to imagine a Batman movie in which the actor was required to alternately channel Joel Schumacher’s notorious Batman Forever (1985) and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008).
“Even when you had two eyes, you still only see half the picture,” Odin (Anthony Hopkins) says to Thor during a near-death experience. “Are you ‘Thor, the god of hammers’? Hmmm? That hammer is to help you control your power — focus it. It’s not your source of strength. […] Asgard is not a place, never was. This could be Asgard. Asgard is where our people stand. Even now — right now — those people need your help.”
“I’m not as strong as you,” Thor replies.
“No. You’re stronger,” says Odin.
The exchange is meant to be poignant, but it comes after nearly two hours of improv and slapstick comedy — it’s hard to appreciate Hopkins’ turn as Odin when the audience is still wondering how a thinly veiled masturbation joke involving Thor’s hammer made it into the finished product.
The question that fans of the genre need to ask themselves after the joke-a-minute Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 and now Ragnarok is this: If a superhero movie struggles not to inject a gag of some kind into every heartfelt moment, then what does it say about the audience? What does it say about our culture?
If you’re looking for a Marvel movie that most closely resembles Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), then run out an see Ragnarok before it leaves theaters. If you expect your god of thunder to possess a Game of Thrones gravitas, then stay far away.
Editor’s note: Check out my “Thor: Ragnaflop?” live-stream if you want to hear almost two hours of Thor-talk.