Whenever a new film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) comes out and a director with a distinct voice and style is attached, people always hype it up that this one is “finally going to be different”. Here we have a new Thor film, with New Zealander Taika Waititi, a comedy director known for his witty and highly absurd humor, taking the reins. A low budget, foreign comedy director making a big budget comic book film may sound strange, but it’s the tried and true formula Disney and other studios have been performing for years. A lot of smaller directors want to direct big films to boost their career, but since they have no clout at this time, the big studios have complete control over their vision. It’s just a matter of how much their distinct style can shine throughout all that corporate mud. 

In Thor: Ragnarok, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is doing Thor things by traversing around the universe and looking for the McGuff- er, I mean Infinity Stones, or whatever. When his evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) returns to Asgard and takes over, Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) find themselves banished to a distant planet. Here, Thor runs into old friend Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) aka Hulk, who has sought refuge from planet Earth. With Asgard on the brink of destruction, Thor, Loki, and Hulk put their differences aside in order to work together and save it. 

Well, it certainly doesn’t sound much different, because it isn’t. It’s an MCU film through and through. There was nothing about this that felt different from any other film in the series. It honestly feels like a subpar Guardians of the Galaxy film, mostly because it has the same cosmic aesthetic and tone in regards to humor. They even take a page from their book of “Using Classic Rock Songs to Make Your Scene Seem Cooler”. The rock songs in Guardians had a thematic point, though. While it is fun to see Thor take down dozens of baddies in ridiculous ways to Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”, it still came off as incredibly forced. Sure, the lyrics talks about Norse mythology, but that doesn’t mean the song fits the film. Not to mention it’s used twice, making it feel even more cheap. Led Zeppelin is one of my favorite bands, but I should be enjoying the moment because I’m invested in the film, not just because there’s a song I like. Just give me more of Mark Mothersbaugh’s killer synth score, please. 

That’s becoming the main issue with all of the MCU films. There’s too much emphasis on humor, fun, and style. Look, I understand these are comic book films and they’re accurately portraying their source materials, but would it kill them to have even an ounce of sincerity? Since characters are constantly cracking jokes, even while the world is ending around them, I never felt any high stakes, or genuine emotion. I’m a big fan of Taika Waititi’s work, especially What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The films are comedies first and foremost, and they succeed at being absolutely hysterical. The laughs have to come from somewhere, though, and both of those films had fantastically realized characters played by great actors, with a lot of heart to boot. They were zany comedies that also had an honest story to tell. There are probably three scenes of genuine drama here and they’re all quite good, especially one with Thor and Loki talking about their history and relationship. Too bad the focus was more on the plot and spectacle, than the characters. It’s telling that Waititi didn’t have a hand in the screenplay here, as the humor and heart are nowhere near the level of his previous efforts.

As the first two Thor films displayed, Thor is just not an interesting character. In his first two films he at least had a motivation, but here, he’s just an arrogant, wise-cracking deity. The filmmakers certainly noticed that Chris Hemsworth was the only funny part of the Ghostbusters remake and utilized his great delivery and timing here. The guy is certainly funny and pulls off the character well, but he’s a completely passive protagonist that doesn’t do much more from go from plot point to plot point. There really just doesn’t seem to be much to do with the character and he works much better in an ensemble dynamic. He’s really just a vessel for us to experience the story through, which is fine, but that means the other characters need to have something going on. The only character with any real depth is the Hulk, whose character seems to have finally resolved the “Am I a man, or a monster,” dilemma that’s plagued him the whole series. Since there’s an actual character there, I would have much preferred another film about him, but unfortunately the Hulk doesn’t make as much money for Disney as the rest of the heroes. Nobody else gets much to do, especially Cate Blanchett in totally ineffective and underused villainess role. This franchise is a master of wasting true talent. 

The best thing to come out of this project is hope that it’s a stepping stone for Waititi to bigger and better projects. Aside from an admittedly clever way of resolving the “world ending” issue during the film’s climax, Thor: Ragnarok still feels like everything we’ve seen before in the MCU. Not telling a clear story with a lack of stakes, forced humor that constantly undercuts drama, underwritten villains, flat cinematography that looks like a network TV show, and bombastic action sequences; it’s all the same. It’s fun and nice to look at, but I never actually feel anything. The film having a different color palette and more irreverent humor doesn’t make it any more “unique” than the rest of the films in the franchise. At this point, the only saving grace for me are if the characters are strong. That’s why Spider-Man: Homecoming was the best film in the series since Ant-Man. They both fit into the larger cinematic universe, but they use it it to tell their own stories with real characters. Ironically, for a cast of characters consisting mainly of gods here, they’re all incredibly weak.


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