Marvel has us eating out of its palm and Thor: Ragnarok is just another bite

Once you're over all the superficial stuff, here's what strikes you hard about Thor:Ragnarok — the plot is just pointless.

Manas Mitul November 06, 2017 13:53:13 IST
Marvel has us eating out of its palm and Thor: Ragnarok is just another bite

I'm just going to cut to the chase and say that Thor Ragnarok is a pointless film.

There is no reason that it should exist other than checking off a number on the list of Marvel films. It disguises itself pretty well to distract everyone, but if you actually pay attention you can see through its flaws.

Marvel has us eating out of its palm and Thor Ragnarok is just another bite

Chris Hemsworth attends a special screening of Marvel Studios' "Thor: Ragnarok" (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

The truth about Thor in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is that nobody cares about him. Sure, Chris Hemsworth brings levity to Marvel films and is the go to 'bro guy' in this decade-long action/comedy/CGI/superhero/comic book orgy that we have been voyeuristically peeping into — popcorn and 3D glasses in tow — but, really, who cares about Thor?

Well, Marvel does, because Hemsworth's abs. That's as good a reason as any for three solo Thor films to exist. And it's not that I hate Thor; Chris Hemsworth has always done a good job with the character. He is likeable, no doubt. It's more of a Marvel thing than a Thor thing. Thor: Ragnorok would be half-decent if it was a standalone film with no ties to anything else but itself. But when put in the context of 16 pre-existing films, it becomes laughable.

Thor: Ragnarok, directed by Taika Waititi, has been well received and loved by fans. It's in fact one of the best reviewed films in the MCU. People have praised the change in tone from previous Thor films and are saying that Marvel is breaking formula. But then this is the formula now: make everything funny like Guardians of the Galaxy. If nothing's working, let's just add a few laughs to it.

It is clear that after years of mythologising the genre, Marvel is now going burlesque. They saw how well Deadpool and Guardians... did and they know that the audience will get bored if they keep making the same film over and over again for a decade. Yes, film genres keep transforming over the years because they know that stagnation is death. Westerns turned into Revisionist Westerns, horror turned into horror/comedy and black and white Noir dissolved into the grey Neo-noir over the years.

With Iron Man, the Superhero genre took birth. Superhero films existed long before Iron Man came out, but the MCU gave them a physical form, a definition. But unlike other genres, Superhero films reached redundancy in double quick time due to the sheer number of them. So, yes, Marvel had to freshen it up. But the thing with Marvel becoming self-aware is that they know that if they pretend that they're not taking themselves seriously, they will be spared the criticism they absolutely deserve.

It's like they're laughing at themselves so that that we can't laugh at them. That bothers me a lot. Because that kind of burlesque comes with a plasticity, a phony-ness that you can spot if you're not busy ogling at the CGI porn unfolding on the screen. Thor: Ragnarok is the ultimate pretension in that sense.

From the first minute Thor: Ragnarok tries pretty hard to tell you that it's unlike any Thor film you've seen before. For starters, there are a lot of jokes. And I mean, a lot. It's as if they were incapable of writing an actual script with an actual story that had actual weight and actual consequences, so they just went ahead and hired a bunch of comedy writers.

And yes, it is funny in varying degrees depending upon the viewer. I was laughing at the jokes too, but then I started laughing at the film because the comedy writers Marvel had hired could literally write just one type of humour: reversal of fortune. Almost every funny moment in Thor: Ragnarok comes from the film setting you up for an epic thing to happen, only for it to switch and show a stupid thing instead. And I'm not even kidding, literally every joke in the film follows that structure.

Consider these examples: Thor says an epic oh-I'm-about-to-kick-your-ass dialogue and raises his hand in tandem to time the arrival of his hammer with his badass dialogue, but the flying hammer is delayed leading to an awkward "hold on". Haha; Thor says another epic dialogue about escaping and taking revenge or something and he throws a heavy ball at a glass window to break out of his prison, but, oh-shit-it's-so-funny, the glass doesn't break and the ball bounces off it to hit Thor in the head. Haha; Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner jumps off a spaceship into a raging battle and we're all expecting him to turn into Hulk and kick some ass as he lands, but would you believe it, he doesn't turn into Hulk and lands flat-faced into the ground as everyone gives him a puzzled look; Haha. You get the drift. It's almost like they forgot to add a laugh track in the background.

Marvel has us eating out of its palm and Thor Ragnarok is just another bite

A still from Thor: Ragnarok. Image from Twitter/@ComicBookNOW

The humour became so predictable that I totally knew Banner wasn't going to turn into Hulk in that last scene I mentioned. And I laughed when he didn't; not because it was funny, but because you could see it coming from a mile off. That is just terrible writing.

Everything in Thor: Ragnarok feels so contrived and specifically designed to make it seem like it's all different, folks. You don't care about Thor, well now you do, because he has a trendy new haircut. And oh, his hammer broke into pieces, how epic was that? And Loki is being Loki again, he's up to some shitty mischief, but we'll keep him likeable enough because Tom Hiddleston has a sizeable fan-base. And, Hulk's awesome right? He was gone for two years and you missed him didn't you? Here's him smashing things and talking adorably. And here are some jokes to cover up the cracks that are showing, isn't that funny? And oh, here's some 80s techno-synth music that you all loved from Stranger Things to fill in the gaps with nostalgia or whatever.

Once you're over all the superficial stuff, here's what strikes you hard about Thor:Ragnarok — the plot is just pointless. It doesn't move the overall MCU story even an inch forward. Right from the first act where you're supposed to feel sorry for Thor and Loki even though they're making stupid jokes all the time, to the horrible plot convenience of the middle act where somehow Thor, of all the stupid planets in the nine realms they keep yapping about, crash lands on to the same planet where Hulk crash landed two years ago, Thor: Ragnarok lugs forward without telling an actual story. And then Thor is found by a scavenger, Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie, who is also from Asgard. How bloody convenient? Marvel treats its audience as if it's as dumb as their writers: "they won't care about it; they're a bunch of nerds". Not only is this infuriating, but it is insulting.

Despite it being terribly convenient and formulaic, the middle act is easily the best part of the film. It is just like every other middle act in every other Marvel film, where all the characters hang out and engage in banter. Marvel has figured out that people like this kind of stuff. The less that is said about the third act , the better. They even end it with a Deus Ex Machina. What a cop out.

Hemsworth is reasonably likeable and good at playing Thor, it's just that I found it hard to digest such a high degree of change in the character from the first two films. Hiddleston's Loki is more Loki than any Loki in any Marvel film. Everyone likes his mischievous grin and greasy hair, so everyone will like him again. And Hulk talks a lot more. It's as if he's been taking English lessons for the last two years. Cate Blanchett's Hela was a terribly disappointing villain. She is supposed to be the Goddess of Death and the film gives you some exposition about her history but you don't really get to know the character. It's like she's evil because the plot needs her to be. And her only discernible superpower, aside from her fighting skills, was that she could fashion blades out of thin air. It was just ridiculous. One would expect the Goddess of Death to be a little more deathly.

However, no one was quite as bad as Tessa Thompson's character, Valkyrie. Thompson's character is a cringefest throughout the film; right from her ridiculous drunken entrance, to the times when she tried to be funny with some banter with Ruffalo's Banner and that vomit-inducing slow-motion-walk-into-the-battle-because-it-looks-badass scene towards the end, with fireworks going off in the background. Why the hell are you smiling and walking into a horde of enemies like it's Paris Fashion Week? It was hilariously bad. And it's such a disappointment because Thompson is a really good actor and she could've brought some genuine weight to the character if it was written well.

Don't even get me started about the mid and post credits scene. It is about time they were made illegal.

Thor: Ragnarok isn't the worst Marvel film; that title goes to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. But it is a Marvel film and most of us know what to expect from them. They are reasonably enjoyable, if not palatable. But it's not like Marvel can't put a little bit of effort to elevate them to something more than just a 'Marvel flick'. Every Marvel movie that has released since Captain America: The Winter Soldier only makes me respect the 2014 sequel even more.

Marvel has us eating out of its palm and Thor Ragnarok is just another bite

The poster of Thor: Ragnarok

In Captain America: Winter Soldier, characters had depth and their motivations felt real and believable. There were actual stakes and the plot didn't feel like it was serving itself. Sure, there were flaws; it was a Marvel film after all. But Winter Soldier.. is still easily the best of the lot till now.

Marvel is the most profitable movie franchise in the world and it's a juggernaut that will keep on rolling and we will keep going to the theatres and we'll keep on waiting for the stupid end credits scene. I know I will. We all know we're not off the hook until Avengers: Infinity War. But I'm no longer under the delusion that Marvel films are 'films'. They're not. They're just skits that make a billion dollars.

Marvel reminds me of a line from the 1976 Alan J Pakula masterpiece All the President's Men. In one scene from the film, Harry Rosenfeld, the editor of The Washington Post during Watergate (played by Jack Warden), talks about Charles Colson, special counsel to President Richard Nixon and a person of interest in the newspaper's investigation. He describes Colson to Robert Redford's Bob Woodward: "There's a cartoon on his wall. The caption reads, "When you've got 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."

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