Thor is back again, again, and this time he’s brought his goodtime pals The Hulk and Jeff Goldblum! That’s right, The God of Thunder is off to the darkest depths of space to get a haircut and become a gladiator. What could be more fun than that? ENORMOUS SPOILERS, obviously.
That’s right! Everybody’s favourite Reel World tradition is back and for the first time its innovator, Mike Thomas is not involved. Truly this is the end of days. Mikey-T will be back soon but for now you’re all stuck with the annoyingly similar opinions of Matt Waters and Ben Phillips, who just so happen to host a podcast together. Fancy that.
Matt even remembered not to change the number of questions mid-publication this time. What a pro.
1) The Thor franchise has been on the lower end of reverence in the MCU;
How did Ragnarok compare to its predecessors?
Ben: It’s the best Thor movie without a shadow of a doubt. These versions of Thor and Loki are a lot closer to what Joss Whedon was doing with the characters in The Avengers and the entire movie is much better because of it. Whilst I appreciated the Shakespearean tone that the series was going for previously, first with Kenneth Brannagh and then Game of Thrones go-to Alan Taylor, the second movie in particular was far too self-serious, a problem that Ragnarok definitely does not have.
Matt: This film is better in almost every conceivable way. There’s just so much more energy bursting off the screen. Thor got some good mileage out of the Shakespearian tragedy of the dysfunctional Odinson family, but this was early days in the MCU and it was a pretty plodding affair. Promises were made about The Dark World implementing sweeping natural environments to make Asgard feel like a real place but it didn’t really pan out and Malekith left a lot to be desired. Conversely Ragnarok is a good old fashioned sci-fi romp across fantastical settings, from the luscious forests of Asgard to the Tron-style interiors of Sakaar. The action in the film’s opening scene alone was orders of magnitude above anything in the series before, with Thor kicking demon butt before being chased through the Muspelheim skies by a giant freakin’ dragon. This is Hemsworth’s best performance, and the rest of the returning cast are either matching that or breathing some new life into their characters, while the plethora of new faces bring a welcome freshness without seeming out of place.
2) Taika Waititi was a pretty risky hire, with a background in indie comedies, none of which had a full release outside of New Zealand. Financially speaking the gamble seems to have paid off.
How did you like the tone of the film and was the right balance struck between action, comedy and drama?
Ben: The Marvel movies have a track record of taking comedy directors and letting them loose on more dramatic material; The Russo Brothers, James Gunn and Shane Black have proved to be some of the MCU’s best directors because of their deft balancing of tones. Taika Waititi has probably the most extensive comedic background of any Marvel director so far (apart from Peyton Reed), so it makes sense that his Thor movie would hew more comedic. This film is first and foremost a comedy, but that doesn’t mean that the action or drama aren’t good; It does a fantastic job of subverting your expectations after the first two movies, and the things I came away thinking about afterwards were the many, many jokes that landed (a damn sight more gracefully than Bruce Banner does in that one scene).
Matt: If you haven’t seen What We Do in the Shadows you absolutely should because it’s amazing. Much like James Gunn shook things up with Guardians of the Galaxy, Waititi took an overly stoic film series and injected a tonne of fun to restore it to its bombastic, over the top (in a good way) Jack Kirby/Walt Simonson roots. I knew he’d bring the funnies, with a cast more than capable of responding to the challenge of an improv-heavy directing style, but I was impressed by how deftly he threaded the needle and kept all the necessary superhero melodrama and bountiful Easter Eggs for The Nerds, while also significantly outdid his predecessors by delivering the series’ best action scenes. So much praise is given to Guardians and Deadpool for not taking things too seriously and opening up the superhero genre to a wider audience, but for me we have a new king. All hail King Taika.
3) Furthermore, Waititi also played Korg, who had a number of incredibly quotable lines. Was this a Groot/BB-8 style show-stealer or an irritating swing and a miss?
Ben: Neither? I appreciated Korg, but he wasn’t my favourite part of the film by a long shot. If anything he took me out of scenes because he was played by Waititi, but then I was back in with his next comedic beat. But I was 100% in on the bromance triangle between Thor/Hulk/Banner.
Matt: Some tiny irrational part of me is irked that the director of the film gave himself so many great lines but at the end of the day the finished product is all that matters, and I found Korg pretty g-darn funny. Taika has a knack for these kinds of dithering upbeat characters and hearing that coming out of the CGI mouth of a giant rock monster was a nice twist. They did a great job of keeping him out of the trailers, unlike Baby Groot in Guardians 2, and I sincerely hope he doesn’t go down that road of oversaturation.
4) Marvel aren’t allowed to make solo Hulk films because this industry is silly. To get around this, they essentially hid a Planet Hulk film within the script of Ragnarok. What did you make of Hulk’s inclusion and how much time was given to the Sakaar storyline versus the main Asgard plot?
Ben: This was the best version of Planet Hulk I could have hoped for. Getting to springboard from worlds that Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor had started to fill meant that the Hulk portion of this story got to feel more fully formed than it probably would have been otherwise. As for the time split between Sakaar and Asgard, Asgard in the MCU has been really dull; Thor has been at his best when he’s butting heads with other cultures, like in Thor when he’s trying to pass for human in small-town New Mexico and in The Avengers when he’s awkwardly interacting with his new teammates. I don’t think the Hulk of the MCU could have carried a Planet Hulk movie on his own, and I don’t think I could have dealt with another Asgardian politics movie, so combining the two was an ingenious move.
Matt: Honestly I’m not sure any of us actually want a solo Hulk film, even if we tell ourselves we do. The character worked so well in The Avengers because he was playing off the rest of the cast. He’s much more at home in an ensemble, and Thor is of course his only physical match, so seeing the two as quarrelling bros on an intergalactic road trip is two tonnes of fun. Planet Hulk is a very fun story but I honestly think the alterations necessary to make it fit around this film were mostly for the better. Mark Ruffalo continues to knock it out of the park, portraying a remorseful Bruce Banner beautifully, while the CG team pick up the slack on their end in spades. I’m not sure it’ll ever not be funny seeing Hulk sail through the air to smash something for the lols or just straight up rag doll a ‘puny god’. And new addition Petulant Child Hulk was welcome as well.
5) The Thor series doesn’t have a great track record with giving its female characters a tremendous amount of agency. With Natalie Portman, Jaimie Alexander, Kat Dennings and Rene Russo all absent from Ragnarok, rising star Tessa Thompson joins the fray as Valkyrie.
Did her character fare any better than the women who came before her?
Ben: Tessa Thompson was incredible. I am already looking forward to more from her, and honestly I’ll be disappointed if the Thor franchise ends here, just as they finally develop a female character who actually has a personality that isn’t entirely dependent on what the plot dictates or that she be the funny one. She is both relevant and more than capable of handling what comedic beats they gave her. Excellent work all round.
Matt: Has anybody put together a more impressive résumé than Tessa Thompson over the last few years? Probably, but she’s still an incredible talent that should go a lot of places, and her turn as the hard-drinking Valkyrie is a nice feather in her cap. Equal parts believable badass and charming ‘no time for your bullshit’ comedic foil, Valkyrie was the franchise’s most three-dimensional female character to date and I’m thrilled she’s going to be in Infinity War, even if it is likely only one scene. I’m also ecstatic that she didn’t merely exist as someone for Thor to smooch, with her own storyline and tragic motivation. She never required rescue and still exhibited ample romantic chemistry with Thor, though in a far more understated fashion.
6) Marvel have frequently been criticised for the sub-par quality of their villains. How did Hela (Cate Blanchett), The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblume) and Skurge (Karl Urban) fare?
Ben: All the villains added to the tone of the movie and that was ultimately the most important thing. None of them can quite break Marvel’s streak of less than inspiring villains (Michael Keaton’s Vulture not withstanding), but I enjoyed them all. Jeff Goldblum was exactly what I expected from the performance and I cannot say enough nice words about the costume design for Hela, and she got her own pocket of the movie to just strut her stuff, even if a lot of these were just shortcuts to make her seem more powerful (breaking Mjolnir, killing the Warriors Three, etc). But then we have Skurge. I liked what Karl Urban was doing in that first scene but then it all kind of fell apart. I get what they were trying to do there; and if it was all just an excuse to homage the panel from Walter Simonson’s Thor run, then bless them. But it felt a bit half-baked in the context of the film
Matt: On paper nothing Hela did was ground breaking. She’s fundamentally evil just because she is, with a plan that begins and ends with murdering/conquering everything. Yet she was played so deftly by Blanchett in limited screen time that for me she’s one of the best Marvel villains. Many of them look cool but fail to deliver any substance. Conversely Hela looks insanely cool while feeling more three dimensional… even though she sort of isn’t. Maybe it’s as simple as casting a tremendous actress. As for Grandmaster and Skurge, they did a really great job as secondary villains, with Jeff Goldblume in his element thanks to the aforementioned improvisational style encouraged by the director, presenting a different kind of villain, one with no particular aspirations beyond continuing to have the time of his life, exploiting slaves prisoners with jobs for his personal amusement. Urban’s Skurge was fine, but even if you aren’t aware of the most prominent moment in the character’s history – “He stood alone at Gjallerbru” – you could see the turn coming a mile off. Still, you could do a LOT worse for an evil general type character, and Urban’s facials sold his internal conflict well.
7) Speaking of villains, Loki has been the best received foil in the MCU to date, leaving the Thor series with the conundrum of trying not to overuse him and turning him into an unreliable ally.
Did you enjoy Loki’s role in Ragnarok and did his journey feel earned?
Ben: I don’t think I’ll ever not enjoy Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Loki. He was the best part of The Dark World and whilst he wasn’t the best part of this one, one of his reactions during the Thor/Hulk showdown is the hardest I’ve laughed in a cinema in forever. I’m intrigued to see where they go next with Loki in Infinity War, but for now I feel like they’ve walked the knife’s edge very well with the character; you know he’s untrustworthy, but that’s just an extra wrinkle to each film he appears in for when that shoe will drop. It’s a well that we’ve gone back to four times now, but it’s not one I’m bored of (yet). Although the 4 year gap in appearances might have helped that.
Matt: The reason I think so fondly of the Thor films is mostly down to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. From his heart-breaking delivery of “I could have done it, Father! I could have done it! For you!” in Thor, to the mountaintop scene in The Avengers, to his illusion finally dropping to reveal him as a distraught wreck following Frigga’s death in The Dark World, the family bond between Hiddleston, Hemsworth and Hopkins is among my favourite parts of the MCU. But after serving as the main villain of two films and a reluctant ally in a third I wondered if enough was enough for Loki. This was his weakest performance from a dramatic acting standpoint, but the chemistry between the on-screen brothers remains strong and Waititi’s decision to have Thor straight-up call Loki on his shit after betraying him for the hundredth time was a good one. Much like Skurge, Loki was forced to confront his choices in life and after tricking his way to glory at the start of the film, he returns to Asgard as a defender Revenger, finally earning some of the glory he feels he’s always deserved. While it’s inevitable that he will betray Thor AGAIN, it didn’t feel forced to close the film with him at his brother’s side.
8) This film has a lot of characters, including Thor, Hulk, Valkyrie, Loki, Hela, Skurge, The Grandmaster, Heimdall, Odin, The Warrior’s Three, Surtur, Korg and even Doctor Strange. Was it too much? How effective/necessary was the implementation of Strange?
Ben: I’m still shocked how quickly they offed the Warriors Three. I don’t think the movie makes a clearer statement that it is not above blowing up the world that the previous movies had built, right up until the moment they literally blow up the world that they built in the previous movies. But I think the movie does a remarkably good job of balancing the characters who need it; Thor, Loki, Valkyrie and Hulk all get good arcs, the villains all add to something without overwhelming everything, and everyone else gets beats to make them not feel wasted (although it’s clear that Marvel is regretting casting Idris Elba as someone has inconsequential as Heimdall). The only parts I don’t think worked completely were Skurge and Doctor Strange. I’ve already said my piece on Skurge, but as for the Doctor Strange scene, it could have been entirely removed and not changed the film at all. Was it fun? Sure and it’s nice to see Strange coming into his powers, but ultimately pointless.
Matt: There was a LOT going on and in a perfect world Waititi would have gotten the reigns earlier, made a Sakaar story in place of The Dark World and then an Asgard-focused Ragnarok would have concluded the trilogy. But this is not a perfect world and instead we got a film that managed to not collapse under the weight of its split narrative and enormous cast. Benedict Cumberbatch seemed like he was included purely because Marvel were more confident in audiences seeing this film than Doctor Strange, and his scene could easily have been shortened or dropped altogether. I’m glad Odin got a sweet send-off, in a scene stripped back to an old man saying goodbye to his sons on a grassy clifftop, and it was nice that Hogun, the least used of the Warrior’s Three, got more lines in his final appearance. Idris Elba even did a good job of pretending he wanted to be there! Where the heck was Sif though?!
9) There is now only one film (Black Panther) to go in the MCU before 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War which promises to conclude several major storylines and potentially kill off some key characters. Is this film an effective penultimate stop on the road? What (if anything) did it do for your excitement for Infinity War?
Ben: I think all three of the movies that Marvel have released this year will make excellent counter points to what we’re going to get next year. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Spider-Man Homecoming and Thor Ragnarok have all been on the more comedic end of the spectrum, and whilst I’m sure Black Panther is going to be fun, I think it holds a far too important cultural position for them to make it overtly funny as these films have been. The same goes for Infinity War. Civil War has the best superhero fight sequence ever put to film, but that Third Act is down-right devastating and I’m sure Infinity War will try to replicate that. So I’m glad we got these three movies to give us the funnies before Marvel inevitably punch us in the gut next May.
Matt: Aside from Hela declaring the Infinity Gauntlet in Asgard’s vault a fake, Loki eyeing up the Tesseract, and what was presumably Thanos’ ship showing up in the underwhelming end credits scene, this film was largely self-contained and that was in no way to its detriment. I enjoy the possibilities that shared film universe open up, but by no means does every entry need to directly connect. Fundamentally the best thing for an ongoing franchise is just to put out quality products to reduce fatigue and that’s exactly what was accomplished here. In fact I think this was the most purely fun film Marvel have made to date.
10) This was Chris Hemsworth’s fifth outing as The God of Thunder in 6 years with more to come in the next two Avengers films. The actor admitted to suffering from role fatigue before filming Ragnarok. None of the solo franchises in the MCU have gone beyond three entries.
Bearing all this in mind, should this film get a sequel and if so what would you want from it?
Ben: Thor is the only franchise that I want a sequel from. I think Iron Man and Captain America have both run their courses based on how they came across in Civil War, but Ragnarok feels like it’s given the Thor series the kick in the arse that it needs, and now they can go literally anywhere. But as for what I want to see going forward? I want a proper adaptation of Kieron Gillen’s Journey into Mystery. All the elements have been introduced now, so yeah, give it to me Marvel, I am ready.
Matt: I’m incredibly torn. We can’t just have infinite sequels to Marvel films. If the entire main Avengers team survives Infinity War then something has gone wrong. And yet this film was very good and I’d take another Taika Waititi-helmed Thor story in a heartbeat. Ideally, Thor would ‘die’ at Thanos’ hands to demonstrate how powerful the Mad Tyrant is, only for some kind of rebirth to occur in a few years’ time, giving Hemsworth and co. a lengthy rest. The most obvious immediate plot is the whole Asgard floating above Oklahoma thing, and I’m 100% in favour of an appearance by Thor’s female replacement from the comics. I don’t know. Thor has travelled to a LOT of places and fought many foes over the decades so there’s plenty to work from, so long as it maintains this kind of light-hearted fantasy fun.
Bonus Question 1: Have you gotten Immigrant Song out of your head yet?
Ben: They used it twice! That’s just mean. But they obviously had to get their money’s worth.
Matt: Not quite. It’s pretty impressive that such an iconic song that’s been used EVERYWHERE fit like a glove without feeling overdone. Heck they even used it twice!
Bonus Question 2: Is Matt Damon’s surprise cameo the best one in a superhero film to date?
Ben: Comedic cameo? Maybe. Shame I had it spoiled for me. But the king of superhero cameos will forever be Sam Jackson at the end of Iron Man. No contest.
Matt: Ben makes a fantastic point about Nick Fury, but the MCU was already a ‘thing’ when I saw Iron Man so this got a bigger reaction from me. Loki’s little play in general was fantastic stuff, with Sam Neal and Luke Hemsworth alone being great castings but Damon’s inclusion is amazing. It was funny, he probably had fun and got a lot of money for a day’s work AND people will have to finally stop asking him when he’s going to make a superhero film.