Thor: Ragnarok is a party that comes with a hangover
Taika Waititi is an exceptionally talented director. We knew that before “Thor: Ragnarok” hit theaters. We knew that before the reviews started to populate the Internet, too. “What We Do in the Shadows” is very good, and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is one of the best films of 2017.
So, it comes as little surprise that “Thor: Ragnarok” is the best Thor film by a country mile (or kilometer, I guess). You already know if you’ve seen the film that the Kiwi injected his trademark improvisational humor into the franchise, giving life where previously there was … well, not.
That helped tremendously. So did casting Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum and Tessa Thompson. Oh, and Waititi got Mark Ruffalo as the Incredible Hulk into a Thor film while retaining the services of Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the Most Valuable Player of the Thor franchise. It’s like hiring a great coach while giving him a loaded roster. Kind of hard to mess it up, right?
But this is Marvel we’re talking about, which means, to further the sports analogy, the coach doesn’t get total control. There’s an owner, a general manager, and a whole mess of button-pressing over the head of Waititi on this project. That’s obvious while watching “Ragnarok,” and it’s apparent to anyone who checks out the IMDb page for the film. If you haven’t, take a gander at the writing credit for the film.
Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost all received writing credits for the film. Waititi’s name is nowhere to be found on that list, and that is significant. He was involved in the story-creation process with Marvel, and had the ability to make changes on set (and we know he took advantage), but it’s important to note he’s not the writer of this movie.
There are a couple ways this shows up on screen. First, for all the swagger Blanchett brings to Hela (pronounced HELLLAAAAAAAA, I think), this is another shitty, underdeveloped villain. Goldblum’s grandmaster is more compelling because Waititi, either by choice or by compulsion, gets looser with the character.
It feels like filler when we cut to Hela and Karl Urban’s Skurge. That’s, and I know I’m stating the obvious here, a problem. But it’s not a new problem. Villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe feeling a little on the dull side happens over and over, but I’m surprised it happened when the Goddess of Death was played by an Academy Award winner with the opportunity to murder innocent Asgardians.
That’s only part of the problem with these cuts from the action. What’s really happening is a break in flow, something vital to the nature of a Waititi-helmed film. Staying with Thor, Loki, Hulk and Valkyrie allows us to stay locked into the Taika-stream. Anything outside of that, unless it is truly compelling, feels totally disruptive.
And that’s the rub. The reality of any film made in this system, whether it be Marvel, D.C., Star Wars, or Blumhouse, is that it will come at this price. That’s not so much a criticism as it is a shrugging of my shoulders. We know what we’re getting: A good film that feels like it could be great without some of the dead weight the studio slogs onto it.
“Ragnarok” is the third-best Marvel film released this year, by my estimation. Without Waititi at the helm, it wouldn’t even be an argument. He helped establish a new normal in this universe by putting together a diverse cast [this includes more than the actors whose names you see on the poster: take a look at the rank and file Asgardians compared to the first two Thor films to see what I mean] and crafting a fun movie in a previously less-than-fun franchise.
This isn’t the best Marvel film of all time, but it’s a new bar to reach from here on out. That’s exciting for a universe that’s in its 10th year of existence and at risk of becoming stale. Bring on “Black Panther.”