How Thor Ragnarok fixed my comic book movie pessimism:
I am going to say something that I think many people have been thinking of lately, it’s very simple, its a little controversial it is this: the world needs a break from comic book movies. Two years ago I would never have uttered those words but now I feel it important to say. Even I am sick of comic book movies and it’s not because I don’t like superheroes.
I was that geek at school who was never found without a comic book in hand. Constantly avoiding studying James Joyce by reading Batman or dodging Gulliver’s Travels with the latest issue of Justice League. I love comics. I adore superheroes. I think that comic books are forever given a terrible wrap and that they have the potential to tell stories unlike any other medium but I do think there is a problem with comic book movies.
I think 9 years ago when the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) business began, the reason it worked was that it was fresh. It was something no one had ever seen before (unless you were already a lover of comics in which case you were just seeing real people do what ink and lines had done for decades). It was exciting to see how every little piece would fit together. Watching different characters pop up and tie little things together, waiting for the post-credit sting of a future character or movie. It was all fresh. It worked because Marvel was doing something no one else had done. And now 9 years on (may I say that’s ridiculous) they’ve stopped being fresh.
I think we have reached saturation point.
Not the saturation point in that there are too many superhero movies mind you, the saturation point of too many superhero movies that are the same. To me, every Marvel movie since Guardians of the Galaxy has been the same cookie cutter plot, with the same cookie cutter quick-witted characters. And whilst I enjoy them when I’m watching them that’s about all the joy I get out of them.
What’s the root of this problem? I hear no one asking but for me. I think it’s that Marvel Studios has a trust issue. They’re scared to let a Director actually get in there with their characters and play with them, have their fun with them and create something new. Which is what makes their comics so great because you have different writers coming in at different times and they’re largely allowed to do whatever they want with the characters. They can reimagine the rogues’ gallery or a villains relationship to the hero or even change little bits of the character’s psyche whilst always be holding the core of what that hero/comic is about. That’s the magic of comics. That it’s this constant revolving door of fresh minds that create something new.
I think that’s what Marvel is missing in their films (mind you I did LOVE Spiderman Homecoming but I am first and foremost a fan of Spiderman and also basically am that nervy fast-talking awkward kid so I couldn’t fall in love) they’re missing fresh voices. They get good Directors to come in and do competent jobs with a guiding watchful hand. Which makes mediocre films. I feel like their entire enterprise is an enterprise that celebrates a lot of mediocrity. I think they make some incredible films (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy to name three) but I also think they have way too many mediocre films for people to hold them in such a high regard (I mean let’s be real does anyone remember anything about Thor: The Dark World apart from there loosely being something red called the aether and elves in it?).
So when I went to the cinema’s to see Thor Ragnarok I was beyond nervous. I felt burned. I felt tired. I felt exhausted even, but the constant onslaught of the same so-so film. I was nervous because Taika Waititi the man at the helm of the newest Thor is my favourite Director (Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows are three of the best most heartfelt and hilarious films I’ve ever seen). So likely there was a lot riding on this film for me.
And what can I say? I loved it.
I love love love love love loved it!
It is such a fresh film. The best thing about Thor Ragnarok is that it has fun with these ridiculous characters. Unlike so many of today’s superhero movies who look at these people who can fly and not get hurt by bullets, or break the sound barrier in a single step as sincerely depressed people who hate having their powers Ragnarok looks at this (terribly) ridiculous superhero: a man wearing ancient nordic armour, with a cape, who swings his hammer around and then throws it and is pulled behind it (a hilarious argument about how he actually flies is made in this film) and just puts its hands up and goes “yeah okay this is kind of ridiculous let’s not take ourselves too seriously, we get it, it’s sort of a joke. Come on this ride with us”.
And what a ride it is. It is non-stop go from minute one. Non-stop laughs from minute one too. It is an adventure through space that doesn’t feel like anything I’ve seen before. It reinvents the Thor character and finally draws some really cool inspirations both costume and story wise from Norse mythology.
Chris Hemsworth shines as Thor like he never has before. Taika giving him the freedom to have fun and be silly and use his impressive comedic chops to create the best rendition of Thor I’ve ever seen. The entire cast is just as good. All the supporting character’s feel like fully realised three-dimensional characters with their own motivations for being involved in the story and they each have their own personal stakes. Which is something I don’t think I’ve seen in a Marvel film to date, a cast of characters that all feel like main characters but gel perfectly together.
I think a lot of what makes the ensemble great comes down to Waititi’s directing. He’s made a few ensemble films that often juggle quite a few major and minor characters but they always all feel as important as each other and that’s something that really helps this film out.
The film is also gorgeous, with some moments and frames that I want to take home and hang up on my wall. The action is better than most Marvel movies (although not perfect, would action movies please stop using so many quick cuts to pretend like something’s actually happening?) it’s clear and rarely did I feel lost like I do in heaps of other modern action films. The action is also really exciting. With a few moments that genuinely got my heart pounding, my feet tapping, the hair on my arms standing up and me stifling a cheer when something victorious or awesome happened.
Ragnarok also feels like a true Australian and New Zealand film, with jokes that only Aussie’s and Kiwi’s will understand and terms of phrase that you wouldn’t see in your typical American or English film. Yet another part of what makes it feel fresh.
I feel like the film is missing a few core emotional scenes, or when it has them it skims over them quickly and the comedy robs the emotional heft just a tad. Unlike in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 however, I didn’t find this distracting or like it detracted from the overall film. I could of done with more quiet moments, because when these moments did pop up I found myself really enjoying them and getting into the psychology of the characters only to be ripped away to another part of the adventure but I think a lot of that comes down to the film having to set up various things in the larger MCU.
Having said all that though the film does have some gorgeous moments between Thor and Loki and I think for me conveys a message of finding where you belong and discovering who you are in this crazy mixed up adventure we like to call life.
I could genuinely ramble about this film for another five thousand words I enjoyed so many specific things about it, but I won’t. All I will say to finish is that I went it not this film feeling tired and exhausted by the lack of new in the superhero genre. I felt pessimistic and grumpy (a very rare feeling for me just ask my friends).
After I came out though I felt energised, and optimistic all over again. I felt like there was hope for the superhero genre after all if they just trust other Directors as much as they trusted Taika Waititi. I felt relieved that my favourite Director got to make a film that has all of his idiosyncratic tendencies and DNA all throughout.
If the rest of the superhero films can just learn lessons from everything this film does right I will be a happy fan of comic books, forever and always.