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Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok” exceeds expectations

By Noah Harper

Section: Arts

November 10, 2017

Jonah: So, “Thor: Ragnarok.” It’s pretty good. It’s easily the best of the solo “Thor” movies, but that’s a pretty low bar to surpass. If I had to rank it within the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings, I’d say this is better than “Ant-Man” or “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” but it’s not up there with the first “Iron Man” or last year’s “Civil War.” More than anything else though, it’s a Marvel movie, and we all know what to expect: it’s going to be funny, the villain won’t leave much of an impact, and you’ll leave the theater with a smile. One of the reasons Marvel is so freaking successful is this formula, because it leans so heavily on compelling characters. That’s why the first two “Thor” movies were so underwhelming: Thor just isn’t as interesting as Captain America or Tony Stark.

“Ragnarok” was a big step in the right direction in terms of Thor’s characterization. Chris Hemsworth is back as the not-quite-god, but he’s much more self-aware than we’ve ever seen him before, and as a result a lot more entertaining. He also has a terrific cast with him: returning Marvel players Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo are as incredible as ever as Loki and the Hulk, respectively, and newcomer Tessa Thompson is great as the almost-Han Solo of the movie, Valkyrie. Jeff Goldblum also makes his Marvel debut, and he is used to great effect. I can’t help but feel, however, that a lot of my enjoyment was based on my pre-existing investment in the Marvel movies and universe. That’s why I’m really intrigued by what you thought of it, Noah, because you haven’t seen a Marvel movie in a few years (or either of the prior Thor solo outings). What did you think? Did the movie work for you? How invested were you?

Noah: Let’s be honest here Jonah, I don’t think Marvel movies require that much investment. Admittedly, this was my first Marvel movie since “Ant-Man” (and my first “Thor”), but came at it from a different angle. I’m a big fan of the director, Taika Waititi, and I’ve seen all his films. He’s from New Zealand, and he’s done all of these quirky indie movies that I’ve loved, and part of the fun of seeing this movie was seeing how well (or terribly) he could fit the Marvel movie mold.

Like you said earlier, there’s a formula to these things, and any time you bring in anyone with pre-established creative vision, there can be conflict. So I watched “Thor: Ragnarok” with that in mind: could it be a Taika Waititi movie and a Marvel movie?

My biggest complaint about these kind of franchise movies is that they naturally have constraints. You’re going to need a big battle with faceless minions at the end—but Waititi worked within these constraints, making me forget (most of the time), how restrictive they can be. And, for the most part, it felt like a Taika Waititi movie and a Marvel movie, which is no small feat. But was it too “out there” for you, Jonah?

Jonah: Well hang on there, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss all the Marvel movies. I think the constraints (i.e., not having total creative control) exist with really any movie that isn’t a tiny indie movie. And here’s what I’ll say for the Marvel movies as a whole: people like them because on the whole, they keep getting better. It took them three tries, but they finally made a good “Thor” movie. “Dr. Strange” was better than “Ant-Man,” and each of the “Captain America” movies is better than the last. Don’t get me wrong, there are some bad Marvel sequels, but in general, I think they have improved better since 2008 when this whole thing started. Part of that improvement has to be that they have taken more risks; that’s correlated with a lot of their success.

So to answer your question, no, the movie definitely wasn’t too out there for me. Waititi is great, and I thought his specific brand of humor fit well into the Marvel mold (if we have to call it that). One of the things I think Waititi brings that helps this movie is that the first act moves extremely fast. There’s no time to be bored, even though a lot is being established (the first act also has that great Matt Damon cameo). The energy continues through act two, which is where this movie shines. What Waititi can’t really fix is the third act, which does end up devolving into cookie-cutter Marvel action. There’s two-thirds of a great movie here, and I wish they could have stuck the landing. My only other critique is that Waititi doesn’t quite have a knack for directing action sequences, and I found a lot of them to be somewhat dull.

But still, the film is entertaining, has two great acts, and is one of the better Marvel movies. I’m excited to see where Thor goes next, which is not something I would have said before this movie.

Noah: I think Waititi was much more successful than I thought he was going to be. What “Thor: Ragnarok” proves to a cynic like me is that the Disney/Marvel movie industrial complex doesn’t necessarily have to destroy the artist. There was an interview in the Verge where Waititi said that Marvel let him do whatever he wanted. I’m sure he was exaggerating things, but for the most part the movie feels free (except for that third act, and I’d say, some of the first), and takes risks and gets pretty weird.

I like weird, which is why I think this might be my favorite Marvel film—I don’t think you can get more out there than this. But still, it feels grounded, and, like you said, I came to care more about Thor (and his relationship with the Hulk), than I ever thought I would.

So, in conclusion, “Thor: Ragnarok” gets a thumbs-up. I hope that more studio films in the future have the freedom to be this creative for $180 million. I might have to actually go see more Marvel movies now.

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