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– by Brian Jasper

 

Like many of you, I went to see Thor: Ragnarok this weekend. I enjoyed the movie thoroughly and, seeing it with my teenaged kids, it was a hit. It also scored with my friends circle, a bunch of guys my own age who see nearly every comic book movie that hits the big screen. Almost instantly, one declared it the “Marvel Movie of the Year.”

Uhm, wait a second. Better than Spider-Man: Homecoming? Which gave us the most enjoyable and angst-free on-screen Spider-Man since the very first movie? And better than Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the uber-fitting sequel to one of the most hyped superhero films of all time?

RELATED – Thor: Ragnarok – Chris Hemsworth Credits Kevin Smith For Encouraging Him To Change The Character

(Hot take: I’m not sure it’s even the best Thor movie, but I’ll leave that alone for now.)

Guardians 2 is a good comparison for Thor: Ragnarok. Both ostensibly operate as comedies first, propelling their plots forward with humorous exchanges to make the dramatic stuff a bit more palatable. But the way in which each uses humor made Guardians 2 one of my all-time favorite Marvel movies and gives me pause about a re-watch of Thor: Ragnarok.

Let me start off by saying that one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen is Planes, Trains and Automobiles. It’s a movie which, at a young age, told me almost everything I needed to know about good comedy: characters drive it and their reactions drive the laughter. In that film, Steve Martin and John Candy are stuck together on a long road trip and Candy’s oft-obnoxious behavior drives Martin up the wall. The tension that the audience feels, constantly switching sides in their minds between sympathizing with Martin or Candy, is expressed through laughter.

Or for an even-more-pop-culture-friendly example, the original Ghostbusters is still an amazing work of comedy. Note that in this film, there are ghosts aplenty, but other than Slimer, they aren’t played for much laughs. Instead, facing down some spooky ghosts, the Ghostbusters engage in some hilarity because their characterization drives the film that way. Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman is the guy who can’t help but crack a joke at the worst time and there is a lot to laugh at as the other Ghostbusters try to cope with his particular comedic traits.

So, back to Thor: Ragnarok. (Spoilers ahead!) We start with Thor at the end of a long chain. He looks in dire trouble as the evil god, Surtur, villainously monologues. But Thor can’t help but to humorously interrupt the flaming foe as he dangles in and out of view of Surtur. This scene starts the movie off with a funny bang and it works because we perceive Thor to be supremely confident in a way that one must be in order to act so goofy right in front of an enemy. And this proves to be the case because Thor soon breaks from his chains and has a quick boss fight to victory. Back to Asgard!

The film propels through its plot from there, barely taking a breath, and there are hilarious moments throughout. I won’t for a second contend that the movie isn’t immensely enjoyable. But like an old scary movie that doesn’t frighten you anymore with its repetitious jump scares, much of Thor: Ragnarok‘s comedy comes from surprising you with glee when you would expect drama.

For instance, Thor quickly realizes that Loki has usurped the throne. This would seem like a grave error on Loki’s part, but it’s played for laughs and the two bicker through a journey to Midgard and fan-pleasing scene with Doctor Strange. Then we follow that scene up with some real heavy stuff: the death of Odin and the destruction of Thor’s magical hammer, Mjolnir. Thor is soon imprisoned and enslaved. Bummer.

Except the movie doesn’t treat this with the gravitas it deserves. Thor, attached to a chair, is taken through a Willy Wonka-esque journey that trades hilarity for what should be a moment of dark reflection. Then we get another chair-bound prisoner executed via melting and Thor just can’t help but jest about the smell. We meet Korg, the high-pitched rock guy who is very laid back despite being a slave who must nightly fight for his own life. And finally, Thor, with the fate of all of Asgard (at least) resting on his shoulders, gives us our “We know each other from work!” joke which, to be honest, the trailers have ruined for me.

In Ragnarok, Thor goes through some seriously deep stuff and they are things which have been building up over the course of four preceding films. But Taika Waititi, concerned that the audience will have even a moment to take it all in, uses humor to bash us through plot points in a stunning display of distrust for the audience’s emotional acumen. Ragnarok becomes that bender a person might go on after a loved one passes away. Except at the end of the bender, that person will still have to deal with their friend or family member’s death. With Ragnarok, the movie just ends and we’ll never get a satisfying moment of catharsis with Thor over the troubles he’s faced.

Conversely, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 fittingly got us to this moment. The movie wrestles with deep ideas of family throughout, not only with Star-Lord and his father, Ego, but with Nebula and Gamorra, and particularly with Rocket and Yondu. By the end of that movie, we see sacrifice and we feel loss. The end of Guardians 2 is particularly touching, and all the moreso because we laughed through many of the preceding scenes. James Gunn trusted his audience would understand the characters as he himself does, that we would want to spend time with them when they bicker and when they mourn.

The humor of Guardians doesn’t rest on giving us laughs when we should be crying, it arises from the fact that a human scoundrel shares his life and living space with a green-skinned assassin, a tattooed alien without much awareness of sarcasm, an explosives-obsessed raccoon and a tree … thing. But these characters’ reactions fit mostly with what we would expect when confronted with danger and loss.

In Ragnarok, Thor’s reactions fit those of a toddler — no depth and focused on only the latest thing to get his attention. This is fitting, too, because our other heroic lead, Hulk, has quite literally the mind of a toddler. Whether you like this incarnation of Hulk or not, it is these scenes which have perhaps some of the best humor in the film simply because it is a moment for us to watch two super-powered infantile characters going at it in a way we don’t get to see often. Mark Ruffalo attempts some appropriate reaction to essentially being in a coma for two years soon after this but, again, Waititi has no patience for it.

In summary, after you’ve watched this movie a few times, “We’re friends from work” will wear off. “Devil’s Anus” will stop being funny. The cameos will be notable, but won’t elicit the same sort of laughs they did at first sight. And we’re left with a one-eyed, fatherless, hammerless Thor without one clue as to how those losses are being processed or have impacted one of the leading characters in a beloved film franchise (Actually, terribly in some sense, we only get that these losses have made him more powerful, with lightning now coming out of him – a slapstick, cartoon result of true dramatic stakes).

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  • 2 Left Thumbs

    I’ll give you that Guardians 2 had more heart, but I strongly insist that the humor in Ragnarok is better. The were genuine laughs from the characters riffing off one another. Guardians 2 was a bunch of drawn-out poop jokes and random inserts.

    • Rad4Cap

      Actually the Thor humor felt incredibly forced throughout.

      • Kindofabigdeal

        Yeah, I kinda got that. I think both films tried to recapture the magic of Guardians 1, except Guardians 2 had the heart to back it up[.

      • M@rvel

        I would say the Guardians humor feels waayyy more forced than the Ragnarok humor. Ragnarok humor was more observational-type humor and Guardians humor is just calling people names and making fun of each other….

        • Darklight

          Totally agree.

        • Rad4Cap

          Guardians 2 this is probably closer to the truth. But even the name calling and digs didn’t feel forced (save for Batista who always seems forced). And all the humor in Guardians serves the plot – whereas most Thor humor was essentially random.

          • M@rvel

            I see where you’re coming from. Maybe it’s just an issue of humor preference. To me, the humor in Ragnarok was more sophisticated than the Guardians 2 humor. Like when you compare Korg’s discussion with Thor about his intimate relationship with his hammer to Yondu calling Rocket a “professional asshole” or Drax talking about how disgusting Mantis is….. it’s like night and day to me.

          • Rad4Cap

            Korg’s entire character was a mindless characature. It wasn’t even close to real. No one would act like that. Most of the humor was unreal humor: ex the whole exchange between Thor and Banner, sitting on the side of the street was a ludicrous waste of time that simply wasn’t funny but instead was painful to watch.

            I agree the whole thing about Drax was stupid – but at least it fit the character. And all of it was behavior one sees all the time in people.

            I am not trying to claim that Guardians is any form of comedy masterpiece. I’m not really a fan of either of them. But at least the comedy fit the story and the characters rather than undercutting them all the time and mocking the story and characters.

            As to Yondu calling Rocket a “professional asshole” that wasn’t humor (at least not to me). That was crude camaraderie (which is the point of the series – these are the opposite of ‘perfect beings’). What WAS painful to watch was Rocket going on about “Taserface”. THAT sequence felt forced in the same way a lot (though not all of course) of the Thor humor felt.

          • Good analysis!

          • M@rvel

            That’s funny that you mention the Taserface scene, cause that’s actually one of the only scenes I found funny lol.
            And how do you know no one would act like Korg?? Have you ever met a rock monster from outer space?? lol I think not.
            I’m not sure why you think the scene on the street where Banner is freaking out is a waste of time…. wouldn’t you be freaking out a little if you were a passenger in your own body for the last 2 years only to find out that you’re on some random alien planet??? You think banner should have been totally okay with it and they move on without a second thought?? Man I don’t get you….

          • Rad4Cap

            “How do you know no one would act like Korg”

            If you believe they where trying to create a character that behaved like no human ever, great! They succeeded.

            “Wouldn’t you be freaking out”

            You miss the point. It’s not the freak out. It’s the CONTENT of the freak out.

          • M@rvel

            “it’s the content of the freak out”. no where in your previous comment did you explain why the CONTENT of his freak out didn’t work, so obviously i’m not going to understand your point if you never explained it.
            How is it forced humor?? I feel like I may have pinched a nerve with you lol. Thor and Korg are in the weapons room getting ready for the contest of champions, so it’s only natural that Thor would reminisce on his old hammer that he literally JUST lost. How exactly is that forced? It was a natural discussion that occurred.

          • Rad4Cap

            Actually Korgs response there was heartfelt (and one of the few places he didn’t ring false). It was Thors setup to it that was forced.

    • Part of this is for sure subjective to one’s opinions. In my mind, I’ll still love Guardians’ characters and their hilarious interactions in five years – the same way I do when I watch Planes, Trains & Automobiles. I’m afraid much of Thor will fail to engage me in the same way.

      • 2 Left Thumbs

        I’ve still only seen GotG2 and Thor 3 once each. So I’ll have to see in a few years after repeated viewings whether or not I still feel the same.

  • RX178

    Ragnarok is going to be my Saturday night VHS tape viewing with some pizza and beer. It’s not just the humor for me, but the setting and atmosphere.
    In retrospect, it’s hard to pick a “favorite” right now. GoG2, Homecoming, and now Ragnarok… It’s been pretty sweet.

    • Definitely! What a great year for movies in general!! You could fill a library with 2017’s movies and be just fine for a while!

  • TheOct8pus

    Thor -in the first 2 films- was a meatheat. He gleefully, cockily races into battle, picks the biggest foe and knocks him down with his hammer. I guess his banishment in the first film was supposed to bring him back to earth (literally and figuratively) – and it sort of worked as a character arc – especially when he falls for Jane Foster…but at the end of the day (or at the beginning of Thor 2) he’s still a musclebound meathead with a hammer. In Joss Whedon’s Avengers movies, he’s more of a medieval goofball, but he’s portrayed as super-square and basically is there so that Stark can make fun of him. If you ask most people who the best character from Thor or Thor 2 is, they’ll most likely reply “Loki” (same goes for The Avengers). Thor, the star, has essentially taken a backseat to his more charismatic brother in 3 of the 4 movies in which he appeared.

    Enter Waititi, who has seen all these iterations of Thor…his mission is to make Thor a whole, complete character, who’s not just “there” while Loki has all the fun. Being a giant goofball himself, Waititi channeled his humor and sensibility into every character. So what if Thor didn’t mull his past over or “process” all the tragedy? That’s not what makes a movie good. Did Indiana Jones have to process his trauma after watching people’s faces melting, or a dude getting his heart torn out? No. He was too busy going on awesome adventures. Thor doesn’t need gravitas. He’s a ridiculous character (he’s a Norse god from outer space!!) and his movies should be ridiculous…

    • Haha, “He’s a ridiculous character and his movies should be ridiculous.” If that’s the level this movie works for you, I have no problem with that! As escapist, disposable entertainment, I agree that Thor Ragnarok works great! It’s only bored entertainment bloggers who try to fit it into some sort of high-society cinema canon lol.

      • TheOct8pus

        That’s not my standard for all ridiculous characters. Look at Batman – a rich playboy who wears tights and dresses like a bat – that’s pretty ridiculous, but the darkness and ninja-like skills work perfectly with that character.

        With Thor, Marvel already tried the heroic, knight-from-another-world thing with the character (more than twice!) and that didn’t work to its full potential. Somehow, the goofball Taika Thor works.

        I suspect it’s not so much the character but the actor playing Thor that makes comedy work better as opposed to Shakespearean drama…

  • Kronx

    I loved Ragnarok, but you’re not wrong. A defter hand could’ve given us more emotional impact.

    The theme of the film is learning not to let the past define our future and to move forward with our scars. The main characters all face this challenge, but each arc feels about one or two beats away from really nailing it.

    Honestly, Hulk/Banner have the deepest, most emotional character arc, and most of it is implied. Banner has been “trapped” in the Hulk for two years because he’s having an existential crisis. It’s easier to let the big guy drive, and be loved, and be a champion, than it is for Banner to face the idea of a lonely future.

    On Sakaar the Hulk is happy, playful and energetic. He’s like that friend who just turned vegetarian and wants you to do it, too. There’s no sadness. There’s no lonliness. But it’s also a facade, which is why the Hulk can’t let Thor leave. And when Hulk sees Black Widow’s message again, the walls crumble.

    When Banner comes back, we see a man on the edge of annihilation. The Hulk is his escape, his drug. But his situation peaks his curiosity, and we start to see the old Bruce back. He starts to believe he can have a life. But to do so he will have to take a leap of faith to see if he can really control the Hulk again.

    • Yeah, great points … funny thing about Ragnarok is that I *really dug* its story! It’s a confusing thing almost for me that its humor doesn’t support that story as well as I’d like.

  • Rad4Cap

    “Thor’s reactions fit those of a toddler – no depth and focused on only the latest thing to get his attention”

    Like ‘the Big Blue Boy Scout’ Hollywood and cynical society today in general can’t handle characters w strong moral codes to which they steadfastly hold w integrity. Black and white is not only ‘boring’ but ‘abhorrent’ to them. As such they usually choose to either abandon that characterization (as we’ve seen w Supes) or make fun of it (as they do w Thor).

    • I really like that take. Thor was never a really strong character – he seems ill-used in the first two movies, but he loses much of what I thought defined him in the preceding movies. The fact that he never dwells on his losses is mind boggling.

      • M@rvel

        I think you may have missed some lines in Ragnarok…. In the scene where Hulk and Thor are arguing in Hulk’s penthouse, Thor has a line where he mentions he’s sad or mad (can’t remember which one) about his father being gone. and wouldn’t you become a little numb after mourning your brother’s death only to find out he’s been masquerading as your dad for the last 2 years?? I would have thought it was weird if he reacted more emotionally when he found that out to be honest… Also Thor has a line to Loki towards the end of the film where he says life is about growth, and how he’s realized Loki hasn’t changed. That’s why his actions no longer phase him. Maybe you need to watch the film again to catch everything?….

        • Maybe. But just saying he’s mad or sad is awfully brief, and if my dead brother came back after two years? The reaction would be way different than mild annoyance and a light-hearted, everything’s back to normal jaunt through Midgard lol

  • Jason Tyler

    couldn’t disagree more.

    Thor 3 is a way better movie than Guardians 2. The fact that you wrote an article saying Thor 3 is bad after multiple viewings is LRM reaching to just have something to write about.

    Another Day, Another Horrible LRM editorial

    • Kindofabigdeal

      I don’t know, I watched Thor 3 and enjoyed it, but still think it’s getting more praise than it deserves. And it wasn’t better than Guardians 2.

      • Jason Tyler

        I think Guardians 2 got more praised than it deserved, and I will be the first to tell you I’m a marvel fanboy. I enjoyed the first Guardians, but with 2, Gunn went too gooftroop for me. Without Nicole Perlman, who co-wrote the first one, Gunn just went overboard imho.

        To each is their own though.

  • Nay sayer!

    Personally I despise Guardians 2 with a passion. Bad jokes, awful plot, arrogant, and just completely pointless.

    • Darklight

      I completely agree. I was very disappointed and loved the first one.

      • Nay sayer!

        Yeah the first one is in my top 5 MCU films

  • HORSEFLESH

    Does it have to?

  • Saranac

    Sure, its no Guardians, but – would you prefer this or another Dark World? I said this somewhere else, but this one seemed to justify the other films in the series.