Monday, 16 April 2018

Don't Hate Me: Thor Ragnarok Review

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Soooo, I saw Thor: Ragnarok last night. Eve, my spouse, went to see it at the cinema and she's a massive Marvel Cinematic Universe fangirl, so she bought the DVD. Hence, me getting to see it.

The short version of this review is, I didn't like it very much.
You can stop reading here if you like?

On the other hand, if you want to stay for the dissection then let's go... (Of course, this is a review, it's my personal thoughts on the film, and I'm not claiming to be an expert okay - it's my gut reaction).

First, the film felt self indulgent and sloppy. It felt wasteful. Did we need the hideously jarring scene at Bleaker Street where the set kept changing, or indeed for Dr Strange to be in the movie at all? After all, he was nothing more than a glorified tourist board.  Come to that, did we to be told how dangerous Hela was not once but twice? We saw her break Mjolinor and then, to add a great big exclamation mark to that, we have to see her slaughter the Asgardian soldiers, presumably just in case we missed the point that she's dangerous. As a villain, she's incredibly shallow, with only one motivation and barely any history. There's no real sense of why she's doing what she's doing outside of good old fashioned revenge (and in dramatic terms there's nothing wrong with that) and no indication that her exile to wherever she's been, as I don't recall it being revealed, has done anything to her at all. Somehow her time in banishment hasn't changed her, even to make her madder or more twisted. It's as if she's been held in stasis from what we can tell.

In the same way, the reasons for Odin stopping the surge of conquest that Asgard had been involved in weren't really explained. Sure, he was nearly overthrown by Hela, but having a rebellious child is rarely a reason for changing your entire foreign policy. I don't look at the Roman histories and see that Mark Anthony's rebellion against Rome, to assist Cleopatra, made them rethink conquering a lot of Europe. It's a move that doesn't hold up and indicates sloppiness on the writers' part.

The film isn't just wasteful in terms of motivation though, it slaughters characters willy-nilly without any real thought. The Warriors Three being cut down was, I suppose, a nice way to show that this is a new dawn for the franchise, but at the same time, it felt like the Director throwing toys out of the sandbox because he was bored of them. And their replacements felt unconvincing, shoehorned in to create... something. I'm sure the intent was to make the cast more multicultural but it just felt sloppy and stupid. Korg, who I'm sure was meant to be funny, just came off as annoying and if he was meant to add anything to the vague ,and it was vague, colonialism theme, then he failed. Instead he was Thor's Snarf or Godzookie, nothing more than an annoying sidekick.

This was a problem with the characters all the way through. I understand why they changed the tone of the characters but it felt like they were trying to enforce a line wide tone to make things more 'snarky', which doesn't really work for Thor. I appreciate that the first two films were, frankly, turkeys, but quippy Thor with a come back for everything didn't feel like the character, which was a shame. The thing with Mjolinor being a way to focus Thor's power was confusing, especially as there's the whole 'worthiness' thing about it and Vision could lift the hammer in Age of Ultron. It just didn't feel right, or as if it made sense.

Ironically, as a fan of the Planet Hulk storyline, I was disappointed that Hulk didn't change and we were denied the delights of seeing him as Conan Hulk. Mark Ruffalo's Banner was okay, though, at the same time, the need for him to be funny made the character feel tone deaf. The thing I did like here was that in some ways Banner's fears felt like they might be a self fulfilling prophecy. After all, when he hits the Bifrost Bridge, he's dead and while Hulk comes back, the audience is left with no idea whether Banner does. 

Other characters felt like they were being phoned in by the actors, never really being convincing,  and were problematic in the way they were portrayed. Valkyrie apparently has PTSD but Thor can cure that, and her desire to get drunk, just by turning up and being heroic. Let's be clear about this, feminist icon she is not. Instead, she's little more than an add on to the cast because Marvel needed a woman to be in the cast and in a significant heroic role. Haven't they got therapists in space? Tessa Thompson really didn't feel like she believed the character and it showed in a performance that, honestly, felt flat.

Skurge was a similar problem, never really feeling like he had a foundation in reality and lacking the chops to make an interesting secondary villain. Honestly, he felt more like a patsy than anything else. Even his journey from Asgardian coward, which at least showed us that they aren't all big, bluff, and heroic, to the 'worm that turned' moment felt like it had no emotional weight at all. Like Hela, he was very one note and didn't really work.

And then there's Grandmaster... Yeah, he was special... Was he meant to be sort of jarring and camp? He felt really out of place somehow and really quite unbelievable as the rule of Sakaar. Again, it felt like Jeff Goldblum phoned the performance and frankly Grandmaster never felt like a threat, more like someone who was responsible for Sakaar's deforestation because he was chewing on so much scenery.

To be honest, I find myself wondering if Anthony Hopkins was glad his character died so he only had to turn up as a ghost, Alec Guinness in Star Wars style, and offer gnomic advice.

Let's talk about the colonialism thing for a moment, because Marvel is getting lauded for it. It really is very slight, in my opinion. Sure, we have the revelation that Asgard has a blood, war like past, but that was hinted at in both the other Thor movies and in Thor's own adventurism against the Jotun. The way that the characters assume they are 'chosen ones' confirmed that there was something wrong in Asgard long before it was spelt out. In many ways, the only thing Ragnarok does is deepen our knowledge and provide a bit more context for the atrocities. As a Brit I suppose I should be taking it as some sort of moral lesson, but I'm not because I was well aware of my country's more sordid history (and for the record I doubt anyone who sees this is, and probably Black Panther*, is going to come out of the cinema or switch the DVD player off with a chastened air. If you want to impart lessons about... well anything, a fantasy film is hardly the place to do it, though that's more to do with the fact that film is a shitty genre for that sort of thing than that SF and Fantasy struggles to discuss that sort of subject. If you're looking to light entertainment for your moral compass, something's seriously wrong.

The thing is that while the Guardians of the Galaxy films had emotional weight, there wasn't really any here, and the film suffered for it. There was nothing to give it substance.

Aside from the Hulk moment, I liked the way Surtur was done. The Thor/hUlk fight in the arena was good too. Yeah, damning with faint praise, I know.

* Which would you rather have, a film with a black superhero, or fewer people of colour on Death Row, and with better housing, jobs etc? Entertainment, like talk, is cheap in the sense of social justice.

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