4/10 Guys, go see Blade Runner 2049. This hurts me! We’ve had something bold and original and spectacular in theaters for a month now and it’s made just $82.9 million in the U.S.
It’s exactly the kind of movie that Marvel Studios is clearly no longer interested in making.
At the beginning of Thor: Ragnarok, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) find their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in self-imposed exile in Norway. Odin dies, and with his death, his long-imprisoned first-born daughter, Hela (Cate Blanchett) is freed. She casts Thor and Loki across the stars and lays claim their father’s throne. The brothers land on the junk planet of Sakaar, where they reunite with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has been in his hulk state for two years. Thor hatches a plan to return to Asgard and stop Ragnarok.
Thor: Ragnarok leaves a ton to be desired, both tonally and visually. Thor and Thor: The Dark World are two of the MCU’s most forgettable entries, and Ragnarok promised to be much more distinctive with an advertising campaign built around Led Zeppelin and the intense psychedelic poster to the left. It was clearly a very intentional campaign — there are even key moments in the promotional material, at 0:12 of the teaser and 1:55 of the final trailer, that were given different post-production treatments specifically for marketing use.
I feel more than a little cheated that the advertising did so much to cultivate this ’80s arcade vibe that’s largely absent from the final product, especially when it comes from a series screaming for more distinctive movies. This is the MCU’s jaw-dropping 17th entry in less than 10 years, but I can still count on one hand the movies that really stand out for their own aesthetic. Thor: Ragnarok promised very specifically to be one of them, and it absolutely isn’t.
Costing $180 million and holding as one of 2017’s most anticipated releases, the action and graphic imaging should be top-of-the-line, but it’s alarmingly lackluster. The CGI has that layering problem where you can tell that the elements aren’t really touching — at one point, for example, Hela is hammering a floor open, but her pick is obviously never touching the floor. It’s a lot of basic things like that, things you’d never expect from what’s supposed to be a high-end production.
The action is the same as it ever was. Group fights echo Jedi lazily cutting down battle droids in movies where the lack of tension in these very scenes was recognized as a key problem, and battles between name characters evoke Neo and Agent Smith aimlessly flying at each other at the end of The Matrix Revolutions. Where the script calls for amazing feats of violence and creative choreography in the service of uniquely powerful characters, the camera sees it all as old hat.
I think that’s the no. 1 problem with most recent Marvel movies — at the beginning of the cycle, the idea was to put comic book characters through a realistic lens. Comic books are the new mythology, and in their best moments, the MCU makes its characters feel like the kind of awesome supermen that would inspire their own legend. When Tony Stark checks the control surfaces on his miraculous flight suit, the first few times Captain America throws his mighty shield, these would be astonishing moments in real life, and that’s how the camera treats them. Somewhere along the line, Kevin Feige and company stopped taking the time to sell that illusion, and their movies suffer for it.
In Thor: Ragnarok, Thor loses his hammer early in the movie, and a major story thread is him learning to use electricity more when he fights. He summons lightning into his body, taking this apocalyptic trump card of nature that early cultures thought was the wrath of God itself and bending it to his will. It’s not enough for me to know consciously the kind of power he’s dealing with, the movie needs to make me feel it. The very air should seethe and distort around him. Instead, he just looks at the camera and does some karate moves on disposable zombie troops who look like they were added in post, just like the lightning effects.
During the climax, Hulk fights Fenrir, the monstrous wolf destined to devour Odin during the Ragnarok of real-life Norse myth. That fight, which should be biblical — literally — is mostly just two CGI things grappling, and actually gets cut away from a few times.
But no matter what Marvel puts into theaters, they know everyone will giggle when Stan Lee shows up and give it a pass, and it feels like they’ve put out a lot of movies recently — Doctor Strange, Ant-Man — that don’t offer much of anything beyond that. Thor: Ragnarok is particularly infuriating, because someone high up clearly had a strong idea and it turned into a distinctive advertising campaign instead of a distinctive film.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.