Departing from the previous two ‘Thor’ films, ‘Ragnarok’ is pure comedy. But who’s laughing?
With “Thor: Ragnarok,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe has found its “Spaceballs.”
Or maybe its “Batman & Robin,” or maybe a little bit of both. Either way, the third “Thor” film is a straight-up comedy that winks at everything in sight, making fun of the superhero tropes that have earned the Marvel films roughly a trillion dollars and counting.
Hey, it worked for “Deadpool,” right?
On one hand, it’s refreshing that the filmmakers have loosened up and decided to not take themselves so seriously, especially with Thor, who is literally on another planet from the rest of the “Avengers” gang. On the other hand, they do so with detached, self-referential dialogue that comments on itself as it’s commenting on itself, creating a wormhole of meta-irony that sucks the movie into a black hole of nudge-nudging.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is essentially a goof, making fun of its existence and acknowledging the goofiness of its existence but never saying it shouldn’t exist. Of course, it should exist, it’s Thor’s turn for a movie, and there’s money to be made. But it’s like no one knew what to do with Thor (the last “Thor” movie was 2013’s “The Dark World”), so the three screenwriters (including University of Michigan grad Christopher Yost) decided to write a bunch of jokes.
“Ragnarok” has no shortage of jokes, even if in 2017, its Shake Weight and “you had one job” punchlines feel pretty moldy. Even its gangly title is a nod to the dumb space-words that populate the dialogue of superhero stories.
Directed by New Zealand comedy helmer Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”), “Ragnarok” establishes its tone in its opening scene, when Thor (Chris Hemsworth, suiting up as the Norse God once again), trapped inside a suspended cage, opens up to the audience. “Oh no, Thor’s in a cage! How did this happen?” he says. You know he’s going to get out of the cage, he knows you know he’s going to get out of the cage. But you’re stuck with him so it’s like he’s trying to entertain you, like a passenger on a road trip.
The nuts and bolts of “Ragnarok” involve Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death (and Thor’s sister!), who wants to take over Thor’s home planet of Asgard. Thor teams with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), his allegiance-shifting brother, and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a boozehound bounty hunter, to stop her. Along the way, he partners with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who is imprisoned as a slave warrior on the planet of Sakaar while various other familiar faces pop up. The movie is so glib that when Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange appears and Thor tells him he doesn’t know who he is, you half-expect Strange to hand him a Blu-Ray of last year’s “Dr. Strange.”
Jeff Goldblum, looking like a makeup test for Stanley Tucci’s character in “The Hunger Games,” shows up as Grandmaster, a sort of emperor/party host on the planet of Sakaar. You wish the movie was having as much fun as Goldblum, who seems like he’s at a happy hour of his own making, but “Ragnarok” strains to achieve the same level of effortless, carefree magnificence. You can see it trying hard to be cool.
“Ragnarok” — its title is a reference to the destruction of Asgard — moves along, Ruffalo for some reason wears a Duran Duran shirt for most of his scenes, and nothing is taken very seriously. Which of course it shouldn’t be, it’s a “Thor” movie, but it feels like you’re watching an extended cast party, rather than a movie.
By the time the climax takes its characters through a vortex called “The Devil’s Anus,” the movie — and perhaps the entire Marvel Universe — is sailing high above that proverbial shark in the sea. “Ragnarok” is supposed to play for laughs, but it feels like the joke is on the audience.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material
Running time: 130 minutes