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With Thor Ragnarok, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has found its “Spaceballs.”
Or maybe its Batman & Robin, or maybe a little bit of both. Nonetheless, this latest Thor installment feels like a straight-up comedy that nods at everything in sight, joking at the superhero tropes that have earned the Marvel flicks roughly a trillion dollars and counting.
Hey, it worked for Deadpool, right?
On one hand, it’s quite refreshing to see that the moviemakers have loosened up and decided to not take themselves too seriously, particularly with Thor, who is literally on another planet from the rest of the Avengers crew. On the other hand, they do so with detached, self-referential dialogue that comments on itself as it’s commenting on itself, creating a wormhole of meta-irony that sucks the movie into a black hole of nudge-nudging.
Thor Ragnarok is essentially a goof, making fun of its existence and acknowledging the goofiness of its existence but never saying it shouldn’t exist. Surely, it should exist, it’s Thor’s turn for a film, and there’s money to be made. But it’s like no one knew what to do with Thor (the last Thor film was 2013’s The Dark World), so the three screenwriters (including University of Michigan grad Christopher Yost) decided to come up a ton of jokes.
Thor Ragnarok has no shortage of gags, even if in 2017, its Shake Weight and you had one job famous lines sound quite moldy. Even its gangly title is a wink to the silly space-words that populate the lines of superhero stories.
Directed by New Zealand comedy ruler Taika Waititi (best known for “What We Do in the Shadows” Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Thor Ragnarok establishes its tone in its opening credits, when Thor (Chris Hemsworth, dressing up as the Norse God once again), trapped inside a cramped cage, opens up to the audience. Oh no, Thor’s in a cage! How did this happen? he says. You know he’s going to find a way out of the cage, he knows that you know he’s going to eventually get out of the cage. But you’re stuck with him so it’s like he’s trying to entertain you, like a passenger on a road trip.
The crazes and bolts of Thor Ragnarok involve Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death (as well as Thor and Loki’s older sister), who wants to rule Thor’s home planet of Asgard. The God of Thunder teams up with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), his allegiance-shifting brother, and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a boozehound bounty hunter, to stop Hela’s evil plan. Along the way, he pairs up with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who is kept as a slave warrior on the planet of Sakaar while a bunch of other familiar faces show up. The movie is so glib that when Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange briefly shows up and Thor tells him he doesn’t know who he is, you half-expect Strange to hand him a Blu-Ray of last year’s hit Dr. Strange.
Jeff Goldblum, looking like a make-up trial for Stanley Tucci’s character in The Hunger Games, plays Grandmaster, a kind of emperor/party host on the planet of Sakaar. You would wish the film was having as much fun as Goldblum, who looks like he’s at a happy-hour of his own making, but Thor Ragnarok tries too hard to reach the same level of effortless, carefree magnificence. You can see it trying hard to be cool.
Thor Ragnarok — its title is a reference to the fall of Asgard — carries on, Ruffalo for some reason wears a Duran Duran shirt for most of his sequences, and nothing is taken very seriously. Which it surely shouldn’t be, it’s a Thor film, but it seems like you’re watching an extended cast party, rather than a film itself.
By the time the climatic point takes its characters through a vortex called The Devil’s Anus, the film — and probably the entire Marvel Universe — is sailing high above that proverbial shark in the sea. Thor Ragnarok is supposed to bring laughs, but it looks like the joke is on the audience.