Thor: Ragnarok is much, much more similar to an 80s B-Movie than I’d expected going in. Conceptually fascinating? Check. Quirky characters? Check. Shoehorned “chosen one” plot? Check. Weird storytelling decisions? Check. Despite being very entertaining, is ultimately disappointing given what could have been? Check. Directed by Taika Waititi, this film promised to be an ambitious and “completely different approach” to the Thor franchise. For better or worse, Marvel kept that promise.
Ragnarok‘s tone is as eclectic as one might expect. Despite dealing with topically heavy themes, a very ambitious scale, and boasting a high-fantasy aesthetic sorely lacking in the previous Thor films, Waititi’s quick sense of humor and the MCU’s intrusive storytelling are equally evident. All of this combined resulted in a pretty internally conflicted film.
The conflicts within the film were particularly evident in the treatment of existing characters in the MCU. Taika takes huge liberties with these familiar characters as he moulds them to fit his strange vision. While this resulted in Thor and Hulk being far more entertaining than in previous outings, I was very disappointed with the way that Loki was handled. As much as I dislike the previous two Thor films, the way they explored the complexities of Thor and Loki’s relationship was always my favorite aspect of them. That was not the case in Ragnarok. While Hiddleston brings a lot of playful charm to the role, he lacks the menace that has made Loki so infamous. Whenever he does something nefarious in Ragnarok, it stops the plot dead in its tracks to add more unnecessary shock-value humor, undercutting some potentially brilliant dramatic moments with cheap jokes.
I love Taika Waititi’s films. Almost all of my excitement for Ragnarok came from the fact that he directed it. I took it as a sign of the MCU moving into new, more imaginative territory. In many ways, that’s what they delivered. The best character in the film is Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie (a non-white, non-straight woman), the world-building is immensely creative, it attempts to deliver on a lot of ambitious themes, and it adds in some of the best side-characters in the MCU (most notably Waititi’s own ‘Korg’).
However, I can’t help but think that Waititi wasn’t the best choice for this film. As much as you can clearly see that Waititi tried to make it work, the themes that must inevitably be expressed when dealing with the Norse apocalypse are often at odds with Waititi’s characteristically offbeat, quick style. While this can make the film truly original and inspired at times, as a whole, I don’t think it was a proper fit.
This is a film that Zack Snyder should have made. Is he a better director than Waititi? Not necessarily. They have very different strengths and, in this case, Snyder’s are far more in line with the underlying material. When it comes to multifaceted storytelling, juggling a lot of heavy themes, ambitious villains, dark subject matter, world expansion, and tonal manipulation, Snyder is a far stronger filmmaker and would have successfully directed Ragnarok to greater dramatic effect.
Where Taika’s films succeed is quite different. He does well with simple, minimalist plots that allow his inherently comedic sentiments to flow organically from the characters, and give his dramatic moments proper space to resonate effectively. I think what may have happened with Ragnarok is that he got so distracted with the amount of plot he had to cover that he failed to effectively execute the emotional moments.
There were, however, some phenomenal characters that Taika introduced who were very reminiscent of characters from his other work. His own character Korg is the funniest part of the movie by far. Moreover, the character Valkyrie is the best thing to come out of Ragnarok. Both her comedic and dramatic moments were handled perfectly. She kicks ass and has possibly the best, and most tragic, origin story in the MCU. Her dynamic with Hulk and Thor is so good that if they don’t make her an Avenger, it’ll be the single biggest missed opportunity in MCU history.
There is a lot that disappointed me about Ragnarok. The dramatic moments were often not given enough attention or respect, there is a heavy reliance on shock-factor (which my audience loved but I personally thought was a bit distasteful at times), Loki, as a character, was kind of misunderstood, and Taika/Marvel tried to do a little too much with the plot and themes. This all meant that several important aspects of the film weren’t given enough attention.
In defense of Taika, he really did make this film his own (as much as Marvel allowed him to anyway). But, when you look at pure sensibility, Taika is far more comfortable when handling more simple stories. Snyder is a veteran of the epic. If Taika is Hal Ashby, Snyder is Michael Cimino. Sure, Ashby could’ve made The Deer Hunter, but it would probably feel a bit weird.
And to those who think Snyder can’t do comedy, The Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’Hoole and Dawn of the Dead both have some incredibly comedic moments. He understands pacing very well in spite of his excessive vices, and in a very comedic environment such Marvel Studios, I think he could flourish while still telling a story with epic sensibilities. Zack Snyder cannot help but tell epic stories.
This movie would be noticeably different without Taika. But, a Snyder/Marvel team-up excites me far more. In a weird way, I think that they’d actually cancel out each other’s weaknesses. Marvel would limit Snyder’s excessive thematic focus through necessity, and Snyder would limit Marvel’s irritating storytelling quirks through sheer force of vision. If Zack Snyder can make Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, project with an almost ludicrous amount of studio and fan pressure, feel like a Zack Snyder film, he could definitely collaborate effectively with Kevin Feige. Unlike Taika, Snyder is extremely experienced at dealing with major studios. I think that he could have manipulated the system more effectively, and made Ragnarok a more complete film.
That being said, I enjoyed the version of Ragnarok we got quite a lot. The Thor/Hulk fight is absolutely incredible, Hela poses a truly scary threat (even if her character is, sadly, pushed to the side), Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster is a spectacularly colorful addition, almost every character has some good moments, and the world that Taika created is brimming with color and chaos. It is definitely the best of the Thor Trilogy, and I’m looking forward to seeing how these characters affect Avengers: Infinity War.
Should you watch Thor: Ragnarok? If you like the MCU and/or Taika’s other films and/or silly 80s movies, absolutely. If not, avoid this movie and check out Justice League instead.