FILM REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok

With Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel has embraced both its silliness and its adult audience. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has attracted some criticism for not taking itself seriously enough. Some claimed that the number of jokes that seemed to undermine the seriousness of a global threat that requires a team of superheroes of ward off.

Some critics have also found problems with the storylines restricted by adamant PG ratings throughout the franchise so far. It took a long time before any production company was comfortable making a superhero film as dark as Logan. Bringing Taika Waititi in to direct Thor: Ragnarok was a brilliant decision. His charming sense of humour and flair for a well made film embrace Marvel’s attitude so far in a way that dispels much of the criticism of it.

The whole film is peppered with humour that appeals to young and old alike – although there is probably more mature humour in this film than in most Marvel movies so far. This works incredibly well because it feels realistic. People in terrifying, life-threatening situations do take on a sense of dark, sardonic humour. They make jokes about impending doom because it’s easier to deal with it. Of course, there is going to be a bit of silliness and sarcasm at a time when you’re facing the end of the world as you know it.

I think that Waititi knew exactly how to blend this attitude effortlessly into the plot in such a way that it felt natural and entertaining, without taking away from the tension of impending Ragnarok.

Waititi’s priorities as a director are clear in the execution of the film. He makes the most of the location, including sourcing local talent and offering jobs to indigenous actors. He goes out of his way to make his actors comfortable which develops a natural sense of chemistry between them that translates incredibly on screen.

Generally, every aspect of this film is well crafted. The CGI is great, the action is exciting and the story makes sense. The actors are well cast and their interactions flow seamlessly from moment to moment. The film as a whole balances well between being part of a franchise primarily targeted at children and being the kind of film that both the parents of those children and adults viewing for their own love of comics can enjoy.

If I have one real criticism of this film, it is the injustice done to Hela. Hela, played by Cate Blanchett, is well cast and well designed and the kind of villain that is believable, terrifying and rooted in the source material of both Marvel comics and Norse mythology. But, by not spending enough time with her, I feel like she was underused and ended up creating a more negative representation of women than was entirely necessary.

Hela’s story is one of trauma and betrayal. She was born royal and brought up as if she would one day rule Asgard. She was cherished by her father, but taught only one way to earn his love and respect: destruction. The story, as told by both Hela and Odin, goes that her ambition overwhelmed her and Odin changed his mind about how he wanted his realm to be governed, giving up on war in favour of peaceful alliances.

In banishing his daughter to rule the underworld, Odin succeeded in keeping one of the world’s most powerful warlords away from his kingdom, but he also deprived his daughter of his love. Not knowing any other way to win her father’s approval, Hela’s love for Odin turned to hate, creating the monster that now challenges Asgard.

In the film, Odin does acknowledge that his treatment of his daughter was riddled with mistakes. But he is more bothered by the way he encouraged her to violence than the lack of effort to repair their relationship once he stopped doing so. I felt that Odin’s responsibility in the whole debacle is largely ignored. If this has been explored more, it could have made the scenes in the final battle when Thor’s father’s voice guides him through the choices he needs to make, so much more profound. If you got a clearer image of Odin, even in death, making a conscious effort to help his sons to give his daughter the love that he refused her.

Except that’s not how they resolved the conflict with Hela. Which is fair enough, given the strength of her hatred. But it seems an uncomfortable double standard that Loki earned redemption and a place back by his brother’s side, but Hela was never offered it at all. This has the further effect of painting women in positions of power as inherently negative. The entire goal of the film is to deny the first born child of the late king – the arguably rightful heir to the throne – her place as ruler. Thor’s reasoning for this is because she is “the worst”, which is a fair judgement. But no one takes a moment to think about how she became the worst, how her father effectively abused her.

Perhaps if the film had ended with Thor declaring the new Asgard a democratic republic, this might not be so problematic. But instead the throne is handed directly to the male heir, even though he had previously rejected it, with no discussion. This leaves a bit of a sour taste in the form of an assumption that women shouldn’t take on positions of power. If the film had spent a little more time with Hela, rather than with the Hulk’s subplot, this could’ve been quite easily avoided.

In a franchise that is now seventeen films long, Thor: Ragnarok manages to be fresh and original. It is a strong addition to the Marvel cinematic universe and it incredibly genuinely funny. But I hope that the final battle wasn’t the last we see of Hela.

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