Thor lite

Marvel’s once pompous superhero turns playful in Ragnarok

Posted: November 3, 2017 at 1:55 a.m.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is forced into gladiatorial competition in Thor: Ragnarok, the 17th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is forced into gladiatorial competition in Thor: Ragnarok, the 17th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

One of the more striking elements to this film, Marvel's newest addition to their -- seemingly endless -- Cinematic Universe, is the abundance of bright, primary colors. Not at the very beginning, as we have a short intro with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) wrapped up in chains and hanging in midair in some sort of demonic dungeon, being antagonized by the fiery demon Surtur (voice of Clancy Brown).

Dispatching him, however, Thor returns to Asgard, his beloved homeland, and that's when you first get hit with the bubble-gum pinks, fire engine reds, lime greens and eviscerating oranges that extend the palette of cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe to particularly disconcerting levels. This mad color rush does not go undetected among the characters either: At one point Thor himself complains about the color scheme of a brightly lighted red-and-white corridor, "Choose one!" he bellows.

Thor: Ragnarok

87 Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Taika Waititi, Rachel House, Clancy Brown, Tadanobu Asano, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Sam Neill

Director: Taika Waititi

Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

There is more, of course, at work in this comic-book vision, a punchy, slapstick quality brought forth in abundance by New Zealand director Taika Waititi, whose previous films, including What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, also tend to play up his particularly deadpan comedic flourishes. It's the Kiwi way, as it happens -- a style of humor all too aware of its oddity, but toned way down in delivery, like watching a thunderous guitar solo with the volume turned way down.

In this way, he's clearly the right man for this particular job. It's pretty clear that Marvel Studios is aware of the potential for audience burnout. We're 17 films in at this point, with another seven already announced in the hopper. As much as audiences have flocked to the multiplex to this point, it's pretty clear we may have already hit peak Marvel box office with the first Avengers movie, which made a startling $623 million domestically.

By contrast, summer's much-hyped Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 ($389 million) and Spider-Man: Homecoming ($333 million) did well, but fell far short of the clubhouse leader, a film released in 2012. In order for Marvel to stay relevant to this newer generation of fankids -- and adults -- it seems open to new influences. Here, under the watchful eye of Waititi, the film is played for more laughs -- including countless moments of clumsy physical humor -- than any other film in the Marvel oeuvre.

Thor, historically pompous in the original comics, with a propensity toward faux-Shakespearean purple prose ("Thou shall feel the smite of my hammer, foul Loki!"), has always been subtly undermined in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the Aussie Hemsworth's straining attempt at British inflection adding to the sort of ridiculousness of the character, but Waititi has turned him into an outright buffoon in certain moments, losing his balance, knocking delicate things over in a quick Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) cameo, clonking himself in the head, repeatedly, when the rampaging Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) isn't doing it for him.

The story involves the death of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), father to Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and the subsequent return of their evil sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, who wants to return Asgard to its former prominence as the dictatorial empire of the galaxy -- apparently, it was only later in life that Odin turned away from such brutish ambitions and instead crafted the realm as an enduring, peaceful province. Shattering Thor's hammer, and dispensing with the brothers, she takes the throne in Asgard, and with the mopey help of a wayward local, Skurge (Karl Urban), subjugates the citizenry to murderous horror. Meanwhile, the boys end up on a planet run by the vaguely disdainful Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), where Thor is forced to do gladiatorial combat against the planet's reigning champion, the Hulk.

Eventually, of course, Thor manages to free himself of such constraints, and with the help of Loki, his ever-treacherous brother, the Hulk, and a lone-remaining Asgardian Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), hidden out on the planet and drowning herself in drink, returns to his native land to do final battle with Hela, with the fate of the realm on his broad shoulders.

With its aforementioned affection for primary colors, a flowzy, early '80s-esque synth-heavy soundtrack, and penchant for undermining its more serious notions with a steady stream of deprecating humor -- including Korg, a walking rock pile, voiced by Waititi himself, who wants to lead a revolution among the other gladiators, but doesn't seem terribly enthused about it -- the film attempts to break new ground within the rigid confines of its genre.

Of course the scraggly path that runs between amusing, self-deprecating humor and ridiculous self-mocking is a perilous one: One too many jokes about capes, or double-entendres about hammers, and you're suddenly in campy Batman and Robin territory, the 1997 Joel Schumacher-helmed schlock-fest with George Clooney as the Dark Knight that pretty much killed the franchise until Christopher Nolan resurrected it eight years later in Batman Begins, the title alone disavowing all previous incarnations of the character.

The fact of the matter is, there is a lot of ridiculous convention we viewers have to accept as canon in superhero movies -- as there is in nearly any other genre pic -- and part of that tacit agreement to withhold disbelief from such things as people in spandex and leather zooming around over the tops of New York on webs, or jet boots, is because we want to be able to free ourselves of such cold, reality-based judgment and live a little. Comic book fans can put up with a lot, but one thing that will turn us off right quick is the sense that our interest and enjoyment of such easily flammable material is somehow mock-worthy.

Guardians of the Galaxy had a similar comedic bent, but the genius of the film was the way it still locked in hard on those dramatic moments that called for something a good deal more bittersweet. Waititi's film pretty much just wants to have fun, for the most part, and while there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that approach, it shouldn't be the only emotion it stirs in us.

Perhaps Marvel just wants to further distance itself from its main competitor, DC (via Warner Bros.), whose films previous to Wonder Woman (and perhaps with the forthcoming Justice League), were dark, dire, and so devoid of humor you felt coated in dust upon leaving the theater. Even if that is the case, however, they may want to tread carefully before shifting into full-time giggle mode, or else tempt the wrath of the mocked comics fan. No one wants to see that, least of all the studios who have banked their very existence on appeasing them.

Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) craves some fresh amusement in Thor: Ragnarok.

Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) enjoys a drink with a friend in Thor: Ragnarok.

MovieStyle on 11/03/2017