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Thor: Ragnarok Doesn’t Quite Pull Off Its Attempted Guardians of the Galaxy Make-Over, But It’s Fun Watching It Try

Posted on the 03 November 2017 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

Thor: Ragnarok left me with the overwhelming urge to re-watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. What does James Gunn get about how to make one of these movies that Taika Waititi doesn't, I wondered.

Because on the surface Ragnarok seems like an overly obvious attempt to course correct the Thor franchise by making it more like Guardians of the Galaxy. Lean into the weirdness. Up the day-glo fluorescents. Get out of Asgard and onto strange, new planets and inside spaceships. Give Thor his own team of misfits, dubbed The Revengers since he makes the name up on the spot. Maybe give him several colorful mo-capped co-stars. Toss in some classic rock, albeit just the same Led Zeppelin song played two different times.

Thor: Ragnarok Doesn’t Quite Pull Off Its Attempted Guardians of the Galaxy Make-Over, But It’s Fun Watching It Try

Most importantly, make him funny. Unshackle Chris Hemsworth from any semblance of caring about his character's Shakespearian familial drama and just let him loose to improvise his ass off. As a result, Ragnarok seems determined to have a good laugh every two minutes, usually by making both Thor and Loki the butt of the joke. In fact, I've never seen a sequel which works so hard to undercut both its hero and prior villain.

And it actually works.

Well, almost.

Ragnarok is hilarious. More than that, pretty much all of the new characters, from Cate Blanchette's badass Hela to Tessa Thompson's fierce Valkyrie to Waititi's lovably genial rock monster named Korg, enhance the franchise and earn their screen time even though it means old supporting characters like Heimdall have less to do. Hela's backstory [as revealed in the film's first 20 minutes] of being Thor's secret older sister who was imprisoned by Odin and erased from Asgardian history contains an undercurrent of toppling the patriarchy that has a likely unintended relevance. The frequent outbursts of splash page visuals are breathtaking to behold, even if most of them have already been teased in the trailers.

But Guardians of the Galaxy this is not, mostly because Taika Waititi isn't James Gunn. That's not always a bad thing. Waititi's comic sensibilities are different and more random than Gunn's, which gives Ragnarok's humor a slightly quirkier feel. Korg, for example, matter-of-factly saying something like "I tried to organize a rebellion, but I didn't have enough pamphlets. So, no one showed up, except for my mom and her boyfriend" is a very Waititi-style joke, one which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with What We Do in the Shadows (2014) or Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016). However, Gunn has a proficiency for action choreography and discipline for drama Waititi simply doesn't, at least not at this level of blockbuster filmmaking. As a result, Ragnarok 's action sequences are disappointing, hard to follow and let down by surprisingly subpar CGI. Plus, the drama too often feels half-hearted.

To be fair, Gunn had two movies to get it right. With Vol. 2 he had the benefit of following through on storylines and character arcs he set up in Vol. 1. Plus, his movies never actively make fun of themselves. Ragnarok does, relentlessly, a direct result of Waititi being a hired gun brought in to inject his goofball style into what has been Marvel's most malleable franchise. Kenneth Branagh was all dutch-angles, shiny visuals, fish-out-of-water comedy, and Shakespeare-in-space on the first movie. Alan Taylor brought a more lived-in, gritty Game of Thrones and doomed romance feel to The Dark World. And now Waititi gets to blow all of that up and do something completely different,which goes out of its way to mock the high fantasy/drama of its predecessors.

Thor: Ragnarok Doesn’t Quite Pull Off Its Attempted Guardians of the Galaxy Make-Over, But It’s Fun Watching It Try

The plot combines the "Ragnarok" and "Planet Hulk" storylines from the comics. Ragnarok is the Asgardian apocalypse, and it has functioned in the comics like a built-in continuity reset button. Here, it is presented as a prophesized apocalypse brought about by Hela, who takes over Asgard with astonishing ease.

This is the part of the film which feels the most phoned-in, the most "here because it has to be, but it's not what anyone was truly excited about," which is a shame since it wastes a potentially transcendent turn from Blanchette on an ultimately half-baked story. Plus, you forget Karl Urban as her henchman the second he leaves the screen.

Thor: Ragnarok Doesn’t Quite Pull Off Its Attempted Guardians of the Galaxy Make-Over, But It’s Fun Watching It Try

Then there's "Planet Hulk," a gladiator-in-space story which has long been the #1 choice for a solo Hulk movie. For complicated legal reasons, Marvel can't actually make a solo Hulk movie again, but they can put him into Avengers and other team-ups. Thus, they just threw "Planet Hulk" into Ragnarok, trapping Thor and Loki on the planet Sakaar. The former is forced into combat, and the latter quickly buddies up to the boss (Jeff Goldblum's, um, Goldblum-esque Grandmaster) because of course he does. There they meet Valkyrie, a fellow Asgardian ex-pat who has gone local and drinks her pain away, and discover the Hulk, assumed dead after Age of Ultron, is the planet's beloved gladiator champion.

Ragnarok takes longer than expected to get to this part of the story, but once it does the creativity flying at you is overwhelming. There is just so much to look at, from the piles of colorful debris to giant statues depicting former gladiator champions (look there for Easter eggs, Thor comic book readers) to the orgy of color that is the Grandmaster's palace and wardrobe.

Thor: Ragnarok Doesn’t Quite Pull Off Its Attempted Guardians of the Galaxy Make-Over, But It’s Fun Watching It Try

This section of the film also affords Hemsworth the opportunity to do another spin on Thor 's fish-out-of-water comedy, but this time in a place as foreign to the audience as it is to Thor. Crucially, there are no audience surrogate figures, no Jane Fosters, Dr. Selvigs or Darcy's around to react to him being weird on a planet he doesn't know. Instead, there's Hulk, a surprisingly verbose Hulk at that. Mark Ruffalo does eventually get to come out and play and has several amusing interactions with Thor, but Hulk and Thor - the two strongest, yet stupidest Avengers - make for the more purely entertaining buddy duo.

There is an energy imbalance, though. The film feels more invested in the "Planet Hulk" story than "Ragnarok" and then leans a little too hard into comedy. The script does the smart thing in attempting to make the world-ending Ragnarok less about the stakes and more about it what means to Thor, personally. It's less about saving the world, more about finally finding peace with his brother, coming to terms with the truth of who his father was and accepting the responsibility of his birthright.

We don't feel any of that as deeply as we should because Waititi's stated goal was to make something that could play like the first film in the franchise as opposed to the natural conclusion of a trilogy. As a result, no one here seems as invested in the outcomes as they should be. Instead, they appear more interested in simply mocking everything about Thor's admittedly goofy mythology. A mournful Tom Hiddleston facial expression here, a heartfelt Chris Hemsworth line carry the emotions. It's enough to get you through the movie and out the theater having had a fun time. But, as Thor tells Loki at one point, it could have been something more.


Thor: Ragnarok plays like a series of highly improvised comedy bits tied together by Jack Kirby-inspired slow-mo action scenes. The odd combination makes for one of the most purely entertaining efforts in Marvel Studios history. However, it feels like they were going for a Guardians of the Galaxy-style franchise make-over and didn't quite carry over all of the emotions which make those movies so effective.


First one? Yes. Second one? Oh, God no.

Thor: Ragnarok Doesn’t Quite Pull Off Its Attempted Guardians of the Galaxy Make-Over, But It’s Fun Watching It Try

As of this writing, Thor: Ragnarok is RT's highest-ranked comic book movie of all time.


Now it's your turn. Take to the comments below to let me know how wrong or right I am.

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