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‘Thor: Ragnarok’: When The Jokes Become The Main Theme

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Taika Waititi demonstrates that innovation begins with irreverence.

Thor had frequently occupied a challenging position in the Marvel Cinematics Universe. He lacks the distinctive traits of Steve Rogers or Tony Stark. Of course, Thor is, he is noble and heroic, but he is also more difficult to characterize due to both the peculiar nature of the character (the man’s a demigod space alien) and the fact that Chris Hemsworth is such a distinctive performer. Hemsworth is physically suitable for the role, but he’s also proven to be a comically talented actor who performs best when given the freedom to be hilarious. However, the first two Thor films are unsure on how to employ him.

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He is given opportunities to be hilarious, but they don’t seem to want to emphasize the humor because doing so could lessen how serious the context is. With Thor: Ragnarok, filmmaker Taika Waititi had no such concerns. And now, as Thor: Love and Thunder is approaching, let us reflect on its prequel, Ragnarok. The movie premiered nearly 5 years ago, and 12 Marvel films have been released in between the gap of Thor: Ragnarok and Thor: Love and Thunder. Those 12 consist of the watershed bookend Avengers: Endgame and the peripherally linked TV show Loki.

Thor: Ragnarok’s guiding idea is to always go for the funny. Although Ragnarok has a few overtly serious elements, it is really just a wild comedy that makes the most of Hemsworth’s sense of humor. And it demonstrates the MCU’s newfound independence that it is prepared to sacrifice everything else in order to just aim for the joke. Thor casually notes that he failed to locate any Infinity Stones to a skeleton in the opening five minutes of the film, when it would have been simple to let the plot develop around his search for them. Instead, his voyage has led him to have glimpses of “Ragnarok,” a catastrophe leading to Asgard’s destruction. That would appear to be a pretty grim prediction, but Thor and the movie are essentially full of jokes.

Former Thor films either focused on Thor’s relationship, or his ruling of Asgard, or his feeling out of place. One can observe where Watiti has his own space to essentially put his humorous voice, which is something that can obviously be noticed from his past films, such as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, in between Thor’s lips if you take away both of those elements. This might just be upsetting to certain people. The man’s currently making witty cracks and becoming the butt of slapstick jokes, yet the question Ragnarok poses within the wider MCU is: Should characters be commonly limited to what they have been all along?

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I do, however, understand the frustration felt by viewers of the first two Thor films. Ragnarok seems nearly like a brutal reorientation into something entirely different whether you enjoy the romance between the God of Thunder and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, and the kinds of storylines those films are portraying about pompous Asgardian aristocracy. The movie’s so distinctive compared to the former Thor films that it feels like it is a reboot in some way, as Waititi doesn’t care about what happened previously and is willing to entirely reinvent everything—from the protagonist’s characteristics to Asgardian chronicles.

Well I won’t come that far as to argue whether or not Waititi does care about what happened previously in the MCU, though. Ragnarok, on the other hand, appears eager to employ anything that works out and expand from it, while also rejecting the remaining. Thus, for instance, when he believes that they would not be so relevant in the new Thor film, the director isn’t reluctant to employ the Warriors Three simply as Hela’s cannon fodder.

Though that may sound unkind, but let’s just be straight: do we actually know about these heroes besides the fact that they are “Thor’s buddies”? Are we grieving their death because they were complex, fascinating persons or just because we were used to seeing them since their physical characteristics defined them more than their personalities? It might be a little strange for Thor not to stop to grieve for them, but it is simple to understand why Waititi doesn’t want to spend much time and room for these side characters.

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Waititi is more than glad to double down whenever he finds any possibility, like with Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, a hesitant monarch who made some truly terrible choices. The shadowy past of Asgard is the one area in which Ragnarok has room to grow even more. Thor’s universe is transformed into a more ethically dubious place by depicting Hela as an important aspect of Asgardian chronicles he is unaware of. This has thematic resonance with the real world. By erasing our darkest crimes from history, we bury a sophisticated past that may return to haunt us. Hela is, at the very least, placed in an intriguing situation where she was indeed Thor’s biological sibling and was also an uncomfortable truth about Asgard’s past, though I personally want the movie to have accomplished more with her. Of course, Blanchett surely enjoys herself, but it just happens to me that they could have explored more aspects of her character.

The main issue with Ragnarok is that it doesn’t ever really try to go too serious. It constantly tries to create a joke, and although there is nothing wrong with creating a comedy, it seems like Waititi could make a film that is able to embrace both hilarious and surprisingly thought-provoking elements. However, the film soon moves on to the next joke, the next joke, and the next joke because it never aims to be too uncomfortable or serious. It isn’t a bad thing for a film to be entertaining, and Ragnarok is undoubtedly a joy from beginning to end, but it always seems like Waititi could go a little deeper if he really wanted to but instead opts to focus on the laugh line.

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With Love and Thunder, in which we see Thor reconcile with Jane one more time and face Gorr the God Butcher, a more conventional Marvel antagonist, Waititi appears to be delving deeper into this theme. Love and Thunder is expected to cover far more serious ground than Ragnarok if comic book plots are any indication. Having said that, it’s encouraging to see a major studio like Marvel eager to disregard caution in order to make its 17th movie. It would have been simple to play it safe and create a third Thor movie that is identical to the previous two, emphasizing the development of Avengers: Infinity War.

Rather, Marvel took a chance, and Ragnarok ended up becoming the most lucrative Thor film to date. A studio with the flexibility to move to the places it needs to is one that is prepared to demonstrate that type of nimbleness and heterodoxy when it comes to its franchises. Thor: Ragnarok is undoubtedly one of the most daring Marvel films, despite not being the deepest. Unexpectedly, it would also have a common theme with the subsequent Marvel film about what it means to reign.

Larry is a contributing writer for KITE MEDIA. Larry is a New York-based author and has written for publications such as Aubtu Today, Digital Trends, Magazine, and many other media outlets.