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just add War Rocket Ajax and a soundtrack from Queen (no spoilers Thor: Ragnarok review)

I’m actually somewhat surprised that Thor: Ragnarok is doing well. As I write this, it is sitting at a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and is poised to clear $100M+ for the weekend. It deserves every penny. More than any Marvel film — hell, more than any superhero film — since Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this movie found a way to do the thing that I love most about the modern superhero movie genre. Unfortunately, it’s a thing that a lot of fans tend to hate. or at least they say they do. It completely forgets that it is a superhero movie. It completely forgets that it is based on a comic book. And in doing so it thrives at being both a superhero movie and a comic book movie.

I want to do this one without spoilers because it’s very much worth watching. However, I will reveal something that has been shown since the very first trailer. During the course of the film, Mjolnir is destroyed and Thor’s hair gets cut. These things are both important not only narratively, but symbolically. Essentially, this film crushes the Thor film franchise and starts it fresh. By taking a bold move and dispensing with the most iconic and recognizable signifiers of the Thor character, director Taika Waititi has opened the door to imagine the character however he wanted. And in doing so he makes a super fun space opera that is not only makes the most fun of all the Thor movies, but what I would call a spiritual sequel to Flash Gordon with Chris Hemsworth as Sam Jones and Tom Hiddleston as Timothy Dalton. It worked.

One of the things I have been working on for my dissertation lately is the idea of what I call multiple histories. Comics fans like to assume a single canon-history – that a publisher has a single shared universe with a consistent narrative. Obviously, that isn’t true. Continuity errors just exist. However, there are also discrepancies introduced simply by having multiple creators spread out across decades. Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Batman is only similar to Frank Miller’s in the most trivial of ways. And both differ from Dennis O’Neil’s version which is different than the Adam West TV version. Even more confusing, in the current comic era of constant supercrossvers, it’s possible for one character to be written in a different way by several different authors, each with their own style, in the same storyline. And it happens all the time. Even though comic fans complain about it, in many ways, it’s actually part of the fun of the medium.

Thor: Ragnarok proved that this could also be brought to the MCU. Movie Thor has never been the same character as comic Thor. Like all MCU heroes, he has a certain quippy flare. But here, it’s been even more than that. If this is a space opera first and foremost, then it is a buddy comedy second. Superheroics don’t matter til third, at best. And it’s enjoyable all the way through. I expected it to not work. From the second I saw “he’s a friend from work promo,” as much as I loved it, I was afraid that it would be just too silly and slapsticky. I thought, but Thor is supposed to be serious… overly serious. Self-important. This isn’t Walt Simonson‘s Thor. It’s not Stan Lee‘s Thor either. This is a goofball on a goofball comedy romp. Through space. And it works

What made Winter Soldier work is that it was a spy-movie first, with Captain America, Falcon and Black Widow inserted into it. But the spy story always took precedence. The same thing happens here with Ragnarok. This is essentially a standalone movie… a very funny one, about two brothers in a crazy space opera. The previous history of the Thor movies or Avengers movies doesn’t really mater. It’s there. In fact, this movie quite possible has more easter eggs and callbacks to other MCU films than any one that has come before it. But they don’t matter. It may very well be the most watchable of any of the movies since Phase One, without context. In fact, I’d argue that there is really only one scene that feels forced into the film and doesn’t work without the context of the other movies.

And there were times here where I honestly forgot that I was watching an MCU movie or that anything outside of the context of this film mattered. It’s just too different from everything else. But that’s a good thing. In the Avengers movies, Thor is so much more powerful than everyone around him that situations need to be invented just to keep him occupied (magic hot tubs?). Here, there is a very real feeling of peril for him. Everyone is on the god level, so everyone might as well just be human. There are some weird inconsistencies that happen because of this. Sometimes it feels like people are only exactly as powerful (or unpowerful) as necessary to make a scene work. It doesn’t matter. The scenes work. The entire movie works.

It’s not really a Thor movie. But we just got two of those. This is something better. This is Flash Gordon… God of Thunder. I’ll allow it.

★★★★☆+⚡️-? (4 out of 5 stars, plus a a lighting bolt minus a hammer… look it’s just good clean fun.)

 

20 comments for “just add War Rocket Ajax and a soundtrack from Queen (no spoilers Thor: Ragnarok review)

  1. avatar
    November 4, 2017 at 7:03 am

    So the medium is no longer the message?

  2. avatar
    November 4, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    I had friends who were deeply disappointed that this wasn’t like the other Thor movies, that it bucked that genre that it attempted to do (serious storytelling movie) in lieu of copying Guardians of the Galaxy. I guess I could see where someone would get upset… but I’m personally looking forward to it. Like I said in that New Warriors post, I’m glad we’re reaching the point (possibly thanks to Deadpool and/or Guardians) that we can start making subgenres within the larger “Superhero” genre, just like how it works in comic books.

    • avatar
      November 4, 2017 at 10:20 pm

      i think we’ve been there for a while. It’s just maybe a little more obvious now. But like I said, Winter Soldier isn’t really a superhero movie either. And this isn’t exactly like guardians. i see the comparison. But once you see it, you’ll get why i very much put it in the Flash Gordon camp.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 8:13 am

      This was my feeling. I wanted pretentious Norse fantasy. We got a fair bit of it in the first movie and less in the second. The thing I could not stand about fantasy movies (with rare exceptions) before the LotR adaptations is that they refused to take themselves seriously, and that is the sin this movie commits. I understand that the box office does not share my tastes though, and that makes me sad.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 11:10 am

      So the thing is they never advertised it as that. It was clearly not a swords and sandals fantasy so you can’t be surprised by that.

      There are lots of other occasions where this is the case… where trailers mislead as to what the film is. I don’t think you can say that here.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 11:11 am

      Meh there’s always jokes. I loved the coffee scene in Thor 1.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 11:16 am

      Sure… but it wasn’t just that there were jokes in it. There was nothing about the tone of the trailers that led me to believe this would be anything different than it was.

      Did you really think it was going to be a swords and sandals flick? Or were you just hoping?

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 11:20 am

      Swords and sandals is a bit much, that’s not what I expected. Thor takes himself seriously, he’s just not goofy, even in a movie like ultron. His self-seriousness is the root of the humor most of the time. Jim Carrey could have played Thor in this film.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 11:38 am

      MCU Thor has never really taken himself that seriously. “That’s my bother. Umm… well he’s adopted.” That said, yes, this is far more over the top than the other films. But that’s one of the things I liked about it. As I said to Steve Shaffer below, there’s a weird disconnect when doing multi author epics like this (where I am counting directors as authors as well). Eveyone’s vision is different. So it pulls on a base master mythology with no “truth copy” as i call it in my research. So there is an illusion of master continuity that can never actually be reconciled with the differing versions.

      This is WAY more prevalent in the comics… so much so that people are just naturally inclined to ignore it. One of my favorite versions of Thor is the version written by Bill Messner-Loebs in the mid-1990s. At this point Thor loses his powers and becomes a mortal… a very buff, very in shape mortal, like in the first movie. But still human. There’s a big fight against an army of faceless villains, as you do… and he thinks something like “Cap takes a soldier and hurls him right into me. Just like old times. I’ll have to ask him to stop doing that. I think he broke a rib.” This cannot possibly be the same character that was written by Walt Simonson speaking faux-Shaksespearean Norse, but yet it is.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 11:46 am

      I understand there’s no Platonic Ideal Thor but slapstick Thor sucks all the fun out of the character for me. I can also accept (though I hate it) that most people prefer this character. I’m not saying it’s wrong. It’s just not for me.

      I read the comic semi-regularly sometime around the Secret Wars series, would have to look up who wrote it at the time but it was rooted enough in the Thor I learned about in Deities and Demigods that I wasn’t disappointed.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 11:54 am

      I blame the new direction of Thor on those “Where was Thor during Civil War?” videos they made with him and his roomie Darryl. I think they saw how positively people responded to “goofy Thor” and just ran with it.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 11:55 am

      almost certainly Walt Simonson.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      I will say, the multi-author “problem” that results in some tonal and narrative continuity problems actually does make me enjoy it a little more specifically because it feels more like a traditional comic book that way. That said, I do completely understand why most other movie goers wouldn’t enjoy that since its less common in that media as Mav said.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 12:47 pm

      One of my main problems with Thor 2 was that Alan Taylor wasn’t really up to the task of continuing the story that Branagh had started AND dealing with the MCUness that was being forced on him at the time.

      The narrative success on Thor 1 is largely from Branagh just ignoring everything and making a Kenneth Branagh movie. It’s pre-Avengers and the rest of the MCU might as well not exist. And he made a complete and standalone film in his own style. He straight up just kills Loki. Feige knew full well that he was going to be using Loki as the big bad in Avengers. But Branagh basically says “nope, story is better if he dies… I’m dropping him into the abyss of space. What happens after that is someone else’s problem.” Similarly he shatters the Bifrost in order to make the story more tragic.

      This means that Avengers 1 had to deal stuff like “Oh, Loki is a live for reasons… and uh… Odin can totally send me to earth on a magic lightning bolt without the Bifrost when he needs to just not to go see my girlfriend” and then Thor 2, which has an MCU that it is trying to deal with and try to paint continuity with just gets all kinds of stupid because the answer to the Bifrost is “uh, yeah, we rebuilt it… no biggie”

      Waititi just basically went the Branagh route and made his own movie. I mean, the Ragnarok vision from the magic hot tub in Avengers 2 had NOTHING to do with this movie at all.

  3. avatar
    November 5, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Overall this was no doubt my favorite of the three New Doug movies. It has its faults in a few places, both with the narrative and some socio- political issues, but overall it’s a really good addition to the MCU and definitely provides great entertainment with some good laughs. The cameos for the theatrical reenactment from the end of New Doug: Dark World were particularly well done I feel. I’d definitely agree with that rating, New Doug: Korg’s Revolution gets 4 out of 5 shake weights.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 7:31 am

      yeah, it certainly wasn’t perfect…. hence 4✭ and not 5, but it definitely excelled at what it was trying to do. There were some specific faults I had with it… narratively in the “grand scheme” of the MCU and Thor franchise. But not so much with them in this movie as an isolated story.

      And that’s kind of a flaw in the cinematic universe plan. It’s not clear how much continuity and connectivity is supposed to matter. If this were a TV show like Game of Thrones, or even an ongoing narrative film series like Star Wars… there are some specific moments in this that are like “yeah, that’s fucking broken… that doesn’t make any sense at all given the last movie. What the hell?” But if this is a bunch of loosely related stories drawing on a common mythology like the James Bond franchise or honestly at this point, the X-Men franchise, then that doesn’t matter at all!

      My argument during my talk is that no matter what, all multi author superhero universes HAVE to be the latter even if they try to be the first. But since we try to force them into the former it feels a little unbalanced even for me.

      That said, I don’t care. I loved it.

  4. avatar
    November 6, 2017 at 9:00 am

    I loved it, exactly for the reasons you stated.

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 11:11 am

      Woohoo! My reviews work! ?

    • avatar
      November 6, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      And I love comic based movies. I’m a hardcore MCU fan. But, this one had a different feel & I liked that. We took 12 13 to 15 year old girls to see it (daughter’s birthday). One had never seen any comic movie (parents don’t watch TV, or go to movies). She liked it & had no background information.

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