Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Critics Consensus: Exciting, funny, and above all fun, Thor: Ragnarok is a colorful cosmic adventure that sets a new standard for its franchise — and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Piotrek: This from Rotten Tomatoes, where the movie got 93% freshness rating from critics and 90% from the audience. Points are slightly lower, with 7,5/10 from critics and 4,3/5 from regular movie-goers. On imdb it’s 8,2/10. From sites and reviewers I follow, not a single one disappointed voice. See Angry Joe and his crew, their enthusiasm is contagious. Just as everybody, they describe T:R as non stop fun, great comedy, a new direction for both Thor and Hulk. Also as two hours of fan-service. And I agree, but I’m not as sure it’s good fan-service as they are. Or, to be more clear, it might be very good fan-service, but for me it’s not enough for a 10/10 rating. I’ve enjoyed the movie, I’ve laughed a lot, several scenes are superb – arena duel, some of the fight sequences (one using this!), Dr Strange’s cameo, Gatling-shooting Valkyrie… and more.

I couldn’t fully enjoy the movie though, and it’s Ola’s fault. I’m not talking about the scathing review I’ve heard before I had the chance to go to the cinema, but several collected comic book she made me read, with storylines that supposedly inspired T:R.

Ola: Thank you! To keep things simple, cinematic adaptations of their source material generally can be judged based on faithfulness/originality, which gives us three basic categories: 1) faithful to the original, keeping its spirit (if not the whole content) intact despite the difference in medium – Watchers are a good example of this case, 2) better than original, expanding the material in ways unique to the new medium and/or times it had been adapted in –  I know my choice will be controversial, but Guardians seem a nice enough example here, or 3) worse – for whatever reason cannibalizing/trivializing/creating serious misconceptions about the original. Thor: Ragnarok falls firmly into this last category.

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Piotrek: In one short sentence: there was no Ragnarok (neither Norse Mythology nor the comic book version) and Space Hulk should have been so much better. There is a pattern of me scoring Marvel’s movies higher than my esteemed co-author, and it will probably continue with this one, but it won’t be a top score. Ok, there are many funny moments here, but why does everyone says it’s the funniest Marvel so far? Really? Even, if we don’t count Deadpool, we had two superb Guardians movies!

Ola: Exactly. My question, though, is a bit different: WHY the hell should Ragnarok be funny at all?! It’s like making St. John’s Apocalypse funny… Like making Saturn eating his own children funny… Like making Tiamat’s fight with Marduk funny… Or Arthur’s death from Mordred’s hand a funny joke.

Yeah, Thor: Ragnarok is funny. In fact, it is nothing but funny, with no emotional impact whatsoever, with events shattering the graphic novels’ continuity and the internal logic of Thor-themed movies presented like inconsequential, rather primitive gags. It’s the end of the world by Benny Hill.

Piotrek: Benny Hill? That might be too much. There were quite a few genuinely funny moments:

and both Hemsworth and Ruffalo (and Goldblum!) are quite funny. You might find it inappropriate, but for me it was enjoyable, most of the time.

Ola: As Piotrek revealed above, my main woe here is the movie’s total disregard for Norse mythology. In my – admittedly very strong – opinion it is a real disservice for all who had been socialized within the boundaries of broadly defined Western culture, with the identity rooted in the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, born in the coexistence and fights between Christianity, Islam, as well as the European pagan religions and cultures. Who will we become if we forget where we came from?

I realize it’s a hefty argument in a discussion of a comic-based movie. I admit freely to my very high, maybe even unrealistic expectations when it comes to MCU – because I see modern comics as a great medium in the ongoing cultural discourse of who we are as a society, what we believe in and who would we want to be. And many of the comic books confirm that notion! Popular culture doesn’t have to be something unoriginal, primitive and – as Horkheimer and Adorno feared – something making us as the audience slaves of the mediocrity. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a great example of an entertaining but important movie, covering controversial and timely themes in a easily digestible way. Many of the comic books which purportedly inspired T:R were exactly like this: spinning fascinating tales of searching for meaning, of redemption and vengeance, of tolerance and understanding the Other. So what the hell happened that the most recent MCU effort is such an empty husk?

Piotrek: And with this I have to agree. Waititi and the writing crew delivered something funny, but weightless. Never mind mythology, it’s a waste of two great comic-book storylines. Planet Hulk is a masterpiece, a big story about Hulk’s development into someone more than Dr Brenner’s Monster, here reduced to a few good moments, when it should be a movie of its own, maybe with a guest appearance of Thor. The presence of characters named Korg and Miek is, for me, just an insult to the original material. They had a story to tell, a meaningful one, but you won’t hear it here. And Ragnarok you find in the comics is way more ambitious, powerful, and significant than what they created here.

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Ola: I don’t want to spoil the movie, talking about details, so I’ll try to keep this section as vague as possible. I felt that the whole rewriting of Asgard’s history was an insult not only to Odin, someone called All-Father for a reason, but also to the whole Asgardian-related comic book lore. In case you’ve been wondering, Stan Lee had been very faithful to Norse origins of his superhero Thor, going as far as translating many of the most popular Norse myths into the comic book medium. Just check out Tales of Asgard, a beautiful proof of Lee’s and Kirby’s fascination with the source material. However, nothing of this reverence or admiration can be seen in the movie. Hela becomes Odin’s firstborn, in violation of every possible understanding of Norse worldview. Fenrir, called Fenris as if a misspelled name would hide who he really should be, is just an overgrown mute mutt. Even Surtur becomes just a hapless fire-demon, stupid and vengeful for no reason at all.

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The same happens to Hulk. One of the truly best Hulk stories which should become a separate movie, in Thor: Ragnarok has been mutilated beyond recognition, serving only as a colorful background. Hulk’s journey to self-awareness, to responsibility and – at least to some extent – acceptance of both parts of his self is in Thor: Ragnarok completely eliminated. Which is a real disservice to all fans who won’t have another chance of seeing this story translated to the big screen.

Piotrek: I’m not that delicate – I’ll spoil a bit, so beware. Back to the topic on hand – just compare the way Odin looses his eye, a crucial part of his journey towards enlightenment and power, to the casual way Thor gets his removed by Hela. I could understand changing a dull story, but Norse myths are way cooler than what we got here. Quite funny, also. Really, there was no need to show us the true story in the simplistic…

Ola: Primitive! Dumb! Totally wrong!

Piotrek: …unoriginal tale of the early Asgard Hela tells when revealing her status as the firstborn of Odin. Meh…

Compared to this, Life of Brian was a better adaptation of the New Testament, and even funnier.

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Ola: And lastly, I realize a movie is not a comic book, and that faithfulness to the source material has become something less and less relevant (as indicated by Hobbit, for example). This particular aspect of a movie is probably more important to me personally than to the most of other movie-goers. Thor: Ragnarok, however, lacks even internal logic. For example, the question of the source of Thor’s power is asked twice: once in the gladiatorial arena – and there the answer is given without any thought, just to keep things interesting, and the second time during the battle for Asgard – and there we have a long, completely emotionally bland scene where the answer (already given half a movie earlier) is explained in great and unnecessary detail. We know it already! It worked last time!

Piotrek: I’m not going to be that harsh, because this:

really is cool. Only, Ragnarok would be waay cooler.

Score:

Ola 3/10
Piotrek 7-/10 on its own merits, with a “-” to show my distaste at their lack of respect…

21 thoughts on “Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

  1. First:
    “Even, if we don’t count Deadpool, we had two superb Guardians movies!”
    Deadpool was a Fox movie I believe, not an MCU movie, so you can’t compare it.

    Second:
    All the lamenting about Norse Mythology mis-representation, etc makes me laugh so hard. This is a big budget comic movie based on a comic by Stan Lee in 1962. That would be like me lamenting about how mis-represented Christianity would be in a remake of Life of Brian in 20 years.

    Finally:
    Great indepth back and forth. That was awesome. Now, when are we going to get lots of book reviews like this? 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • What I am really lamenting about is a lost chance to create something meaningful. I don’t think that big budgets are necessary a guarantee of creating something entertaining but mindless, like the Transformers franchise. I guess that it’s at least partly our, the audience’s, fault, that we so easily agree to it.
      Besides, Stan Lee was actually pretty faithful to the original in his rendition of Norse myths – just check out the comics :).
      As for book reviews – there are a few Two-shots – Abercrombie, Sapkowski, McClellan – and some quite heated discussions under reviews of Clarke, Weber, and Andrews 😉 We’ll do our best to make more of these 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • And Czajkowski, the biggest fight of the blog 🙂

        While I’ve scored the movie over twice as high as Ola, we fundamentally agree that it was a missed opportunity for two great movies, and what we got was not faithful not only to the Eddas, but also comics.

        When the original story is already one of the coolest stories ever told, adaptation could follow it a bit more closely…

        And sure, Deadpool was not a product of the same studio, but it’s also a superhero movie. I could even compare Ragnarok to Batman vs Superman (and in this case my verdict would be in favour of the latest Thor 😉 )

        Liked by 1 person

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  4. I thought I was the only one who wasn’t blown away by this movie! I didn’t get why it was funny *at all* given the subject matter- it just felt so weird to me and totally jarring. Plus, I wanted it to have some emotionally hard hitting moments- and there were none. And I couldn’t agree more that this was funny, but weightless. I mean, I did laugh, but I still think there could’ve been more to this movie. Awesome joint review!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks! 🙂 I’m resigned to the fact that it’s a minority view, but still I feel much better to have someone sharing it 🙂

    Like

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  8. Yes, completely agree! MCU Thor may always have played loosely with the Norse mythology but in the earlier movies they still seemed to care and I could almost buy that Thor was the Norse god of thunder. In Ragnarok I don’t recognize him at all.

    Although I’ll except the spelling of Fenrir, in Swedish it is Fenrisulven anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, good to know about the Swedish spelling! 😀

      I just hate the way this movie depicts what is an absolute center of Norse beliefs and a great tragedy as something to laugh about, flouting every detail of Norse mythology as completely insignificant and to be overlooked with total impunity.
      We live in times where ‘cultural appropriation’ is widely discussed and perceived as something not entirely ok – of course, the reactions vary, and range from ‘inelegant’ to ‘thieving’, ‘colonial’ and ‘exploitative’, but I do wonder why this movie never elicited such response when much less notable transgressions did. Is the matter still racially/ethnically charged?
      Anyway, thank you for the comment and sorry it took us so long to find it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • To some extent I agree, it feels disrespectful and like cultural appropriation, which is probably the main reason why I didn’t like it. However, I’m not sure my feelings give the best judgement on what is and isn’t cultural appropriation.

        In general I believe that cultural exchange is a good thing which allows us to take the best things from two or more world views, artistic expressions etc. and make something that is greater than the sum of its part. It is hardly a coincidence that many artists are drawn to places were culture meets or that scholars are expected to move around and gain experience from several countries and institutions.

        I would argue that Thor in the early MCU films did merge the Norse tradition with the Hollywood superhero tradition in a way which was flawed but interesting. I have objections but overall I liked the new perspective it gave on the characters.

        Ideally cultural exchange should of course be done respectfully and on equal terms but I would be hesitant to cry cultural appropriation unless harm was done. I don’t think I can argue that that is the case here, I may dislike the film and find it disrespectful, but I don’t actually believe it threatens my culture in any way. It might have been different if we had been under more pressure from other directions, which is often the case for minority cultures, but overall I believe that Scandinavian culture can afford to be rather generous.

        Perhaps even more fatal to the argument of cultural appropriation is the fact that I’m not sure who really have the right to the Norse mythology. After all the Vikings spread it rather widely already in their time and since then it has been plenty of emigration from Scandinavia, particularly to the US. It is not like there is any living tradition of Norse beliefs surviving in Scandinavia so can I really argue that I have more right to the Norse mythology than someone in the US who may even be of Scandinavian descent?

        All in all I consider Norse mythology to belong to a cultural public domain so while I may strongly object to some things that it is used for I don’t think the cultural appropriation argument can be used to stop it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • There are so many aspects of this topic that I think need more elaboration – and thank you for such a thoughtful discussion!

          I absolutely agree with you that cultural appropriation as it exists right now should be viewed with a healthy dose of suspicion – but mostly because in my opinion there is a widening gap between what it is as a social phenomenon and how it is used as a form of negative social sanction, a verbal choker, very real in the consequences of its application, of a meaningful cultural exchange. Respect and mutual understanding lie at the foundations of any cultural exchange beneficial to all involved; when elements of one’s culture are used by another with ill will, as a source of derision, it violates the rules of the exchange.

          What I meant by invoking the term ‘cultural appropriation’ in the context of the new Thor movie was however more a question of inequality of treatment. What I find inherently unfair in this situation is twofold: one, MCU had a wonderful chance of popularizing one of the most evocative and still meaningful world mythologies, making it more approachable and important for modern audiences, yet they chose instead cheap laughs and meaningless plot bereft of any emotional impact of the original story. And secondly, while Norse mythology may be without a distinct cultural/ethnic group of inheritors who could claim guardianship over it (and I leave aside the question whether such rights have any merit at all), it doesn’t mean to me that it could be willfully abused just because it resides within a public domain.

          The director of Thor: Ragnarok openly celebrates his Maori/Pasifika roots. I currently live in New Zealand and see firsthand how big a role the themes of cultural appropriaton and respect in cultural exchange play in everyday life of people from the variety of cultures here. From someone acquainted with these themes as Waititi I would expect the courtesy of extending respect to other cultures as well – and Norse myths among them.

          Lastly, I must say I very much enjoyed the original Marvel comic book Thor and the first movie, for I felt it invoked the spirit of the Norse myths while aptly modernizing the trappings of the story at its core. The movie was consciously bombastic and Wagnerian, and it delivered the fundamental story of individual growth and sacrifice with aplomb and more than a bit of self-awareness. Thor: Ragnarok failed even on that level, abandoning the notion of individual growth, rendering sacrifice meaningless, and obliterating any form of authority in a destructive, sensless frenzy of gratuitous violence.

          As you can see, time didn’t mellow my views of that movie 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • If the concept of cultural appropriation was used as a starting point for debate I might have used it for Thor: Ragnarok, but I agree, today it rather seems to be used to choke debates and thus I would only use it in cases were the appropriation is harmful and not just annoying. In this case I don’t think the film actually reduces our opportunities to enjoy the real mythology. This is in contrast to the appropriation of Norse mythology by e.g. Neo-Nazis, who’s usage taint classical Norse symbols and makes them less usable by others. That I would call harmful cultural appropriation. Likewise if Marvel had managed to trademark any concepts from the Norse mythology (which I don’t think they have?), that would also have infringed on other usage and thus been harmful.

            However, even if I acquit the film of actual harm I of course agree that the way it used Norse mythology was deeply disrespectful (and I also agree that that holds true whether or not the mythology belongs in a public domain). However, I don’t necessarily think it is wrong for art to occasionally be disrespectful and push boundaries. In this case I’m more bothered by the fact that so little was gained by that lack of respect. Why include Ragnarök at all if all you want to tell is a wacky story about Thor and Hulk in space? The problem in my opinion is thus not so much that it disrespected the original mythology, but that it did it so carelessly and pointlessly.

            Liked by 1 person

          • On this we fully agree, Johanna 🙂 I’m too all for stirring up the pot, provided it has a purpose – other than money. Revisiting myths and legends keeps them valid and significant for subsequent generations – but only when it is meaningful. Though, seeing as this movie prompted our discussion, it seems it wasn’t all bad, after all 😉

            Liked by 1 person

          • Interesting debates is definitely one good thing about it. And I guess some people will have gone from Thor: Ragnarok to e.g. Gaiman’s Norse Gods and learned something (admittedly I haven’t that one myself, preferring the originals, but I hear it is supposed to be good).

            Of course it is anyway a huge lost opportunity for something better, unintended good consequences or not, but I’m comforting myself with the conviction that Thor: Ragnarok will be outdated and forgotten long before the Eddas 🙂

            Liked by 2 people

          • Oh, no doubt about that! And Gaiman’s take is indeed good – I can heartily recommend it, despite some small flaws, and there’s even a review on our blog 😉

            I would definitely hope for MCU Thor to awake interest in Norse mythology, but it doesn’t seem to be the case, unfortunately. I think part of the problem stems from what you already said – that Norse myths are entrenched as public domain, much like myths surrounding king Arthur, and I don’t see much interest in them in the modern, broadly defined Western culture… Maybe except books for kids, like Riordan’s, and let’s say his take on mythology I consider to be rather fast and loose 😉

            That said, I hope the time for renewed interest in European mythology will yet come 😀

            And, as a side note, even though Jason Aaron’s take on Thor in Marvel comics strays far from Thor’s origins as a Norse god, these stories are really good, meaningful and significant, and very respectful towards the source material 🙂 So, it can be done! 😀

            Liked by 2 people

          • I do believe Gaiman’s retellings to be good, but I read so much British literature as it is, when it comes to Norse mythology I’d rather stick to Nordic authors.

            There is probably more interest in Norse mythology in the Nordic countries than elsewhere. I learned about some of them in school and from my family, read the Valhalla comics (Danish) and Gull Åkerblom’s fantasy novels with Norse influences. In additions to all the influences on the language, many of them still easily recognizable.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Do you have any particular Nordic retelling of the myths in mind that you’d recommend? I’d love to read such a take on this topic… I’ve read Eddas in Polish translation and some Polish translations of Scandinavian retelling of Nordic myths but sadly I don’t remember the author…

            Liked by 1 person

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