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Thor: Ragnarok Puts the Glad in Gladiator

The third installment of the Thor movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Thor: Ragnarok acts as another lead-up to the Infinity War against Thanos (that giant purple dude that keeps popping up in all these films for 0.2 seconds) and I think a bit of redemption for the abysmal predecessor that was Thor: The Dark World.

In Ragnarok, we see Thor in the middle of a race against time to stop the foretold destruction of his home realm, Asgard, at the hands of his long-ago-banished sister, Hela, The Goddess of Death. A plethora of new characters and world building, Thor: Ragnarok makes use of the old and brings in the new to carve out a standout place among the big puzzle of sequels and adaptations.

The first thing that will make itself abundantly clear once the film starts rolling is that the comedic tone of the Marvel franchise has grown to be possibly the largest defining characteristic of these films. Love it or hate it, these action comedies are comedies first, action movies second. Although they always contain the elements of a lighthearted family-friendly atmosphere, this installment managed not to drown in it.

The idea to branch out in directorial duties has largely paid off for the Marvel team and Taika Waititi of What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople) fame filled out the director’s chair splendidly. Calling the film a fun adventure with high stakes, Waititi put together a world of retro-future brilliance, infused his own brand of humor, and managed to squeeze in delightful action sequences that kept this from feeling like a rehash of everything we keep seeing from the less tactfully handled installments of these films. In order to keep a ‘loose and collaborative’ type of set, improvisation was heavily encouraged (about 80 percent of the dialogue in the final cut is said to be off the cuff) and the playful tone of the process comes across in the final product.

It is said that Chris Hemsworth had pleaded with producer and MCU mastermind Kevin Feige to allow the actor to push a more comedic version of the character, feeling his hands were tied in his portrayals.

It strikes me that although this particular film had a brilliant comedic director at the helm, the fun comedy went hand inKevin Feige hand with the stellar adventure to make the journey a lighthearted trounce through space and time without sacrificing the intensity we want to see from our heroes. However, as the big picture of the MCU comes closer and closer to the epic finale, will the light overtones drown out any semblance of danger?

Just like DC asking critics to judge their early cuts of Justice League to get a jump on reactions and manage them before releasing their “fixed up” version, making use of comedy and lightening the tone seems to be the answer our creators of the most premium content available fall back on. Watch for the stakes to disperse into thin air as the Flash becomes the comedic relief who verbally winks at the audience with one-liners galore.

As I humbly count myself among critics, although far too short-sighted and emotionally invested to count as any legitimate version of one, I must point out that we’re human too, so yeah, sometimes we just want to laugh, but it doesn’t mean that every work is truly made better for it.

With a phenomenal supporting cast of characters, new and old, an inclusion of the Norse origins (along with some masterful use of Led Zeppelin‘s Immigrant Song) I’ve been craving since the very first mention of a Thor movie getting made, and a visual feast that doesn’t stop at just being kind of cool to look at (I’m looking at you, Doctor Strange) but genuinely adds character to the film, Thor: Ragnarok is undeniably one of the greatest standout installments of the MCU yet.

While I remain torn over the tug of war between action and comedy that these films have to play with, each film must be judged on its own merit. For example, Guardians of The Galaxy 2 suffered greatly from trying to squeeze in too many jokes, then playing catch-up with the heart of high-octane adventure it was ignoring so brutally, but Ragnarok seemed to win in the impossible game of pleasing as many people as possible without bailing on itself and trying to be too many other things.

If you even have a casual interest in the MCU, this film is a must-see, both by design since it’s part of a larger story – and simply because it’s way better at choosing when to make you laugh and when to make you cheer for a desperate hero. But if you don’t care too much for this whole 50-movie-20 year-set-up, skip Marvel’s version of Thor and go read some Norse mythology for a dose of what real high stakes look like.

Featured Image by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

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