One of the cool things about keeping myself up to date about the world of cinema is that we’ve actually watched the films that established the career of director Taika Waititi before he hit the big time with this latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Having watched both What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, it was possible to recognize the director’s voice role in here but also cameos from his usual cast and numerous influences from his native New Zealand.
Having spent two years unsuccessfully searching for more Infinity Stones, Thor learns of the absence of Odin from Asgard and the approach of Ragnarok. After quickly defeating the fire demon Surtur, he deduces that Loki has been impersonating Odin for some time and unmasks him. They set off to find Odin and, following an interruption by Dr. Strange, learn that he is dying and his death will release Hela, their sister. Sure enough, Hela makes her appearance, easily overpowers the two brothers and destroys Mjolnir. Amidst the confusion they are banished to the alien planet of Sakaar controlled by the Grandmaster who delights in organizing massive gladiatorial fights. As we all know by now from the trailers, Thor reconnects with the Hulk there and he must find a way to return to Asgard and defeat Hela.
As you can tell from this synopsis, this is a busy film indeed with nary a quiet moment for you to take a breath as it blazes through characters, locales and plot points. I’m rather impressed that as many turns as the plot takes, everything more or less makes sense and they do a wonderful job of mining Marvel’s rich trove of less well known characters. I would never have imagined that characters like Fenris, Skurge and Valkyrie would one day make it onto the big screen. The action scenes are satisfying, the characters written to be true to their natures, and no one can fault the script for its willingness to shake up the status quo and carve new paths for future stories. I love how it fully embraces the Steve Ditko version of Marvel and manages to establish the Asgardians as space aliens amidst a fantastically diverse universe without being utterly ridiculous while more or less staying true to the spirit of Norse mythology. From here on out, I would no longer be surprised by characters like Rom Spaceknight or Beta Ray Bill showing up in the movies and that is just incredible.
This presumably final installment of the Thor trilogy was widely hailed as being first and foremost a comedy. I don’t think this is quite true. Instead, I would say that it is determinedly light. It refuses to take itself seriously and fully owns all of the fun and silliness inherent to the superhero genre. It makes this film very entertaining to watch and there’s no chance of it feeling draggy but I wouldn’t want every entry in the MCU to be like this. My favorite Marvel films have always been those that do have some emotional depth in them and to achieve that you do need to have some dramatic weight in the story. There is a lot of tragedy and huge loss of life in Thor: Ragnarok but all of it is quickly glossed over. Odin dies, the Warriors Three are sacrificed as mere cannon fodder, untold numbers of Asgardians are killed and yet none of it seems to really weigh on the characters. Indeed they gleefully kill large numbers of enemies as a sort of joke and would be horrifying if you could see red blood flowing out of all those bodies. Thor: The Dark World is a decidedly inferior film than this one but it still managed to give some weight to the relationship between Thor and Loki.
All in all this offers a fantastic spectacle and it’s really cool how Waititi mines his native New Zealand for a touch of extra exoticism. It continues to impress how they can keep reinventing Marvel’s more obscure characters in intelligent ways. However I can’t love a film that refuses to have any emotional weight at all and as fun as the occasional romp like is can be, I would really hate it if every MCU film were as light as this.