Thor: Ragnarok ***
Directed by Taika Waititi
Screenplay by Eric Pearson
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch
Right after returning to Asgard, Thor must face Odin’s death and the return of Hela, goddess of death, threatening the destruction of everything he vowed to protect. But before facing her, he will have to escape from the strange planet of Sakar, ruled by the fickle Grand Master. Here, Thor, without his magical hammer, will have to battle his long missing friend in the arena, and regain the trust of a long lost ally…
Thor’s latest movie, directed by New Zealand director Taika Waititi in a personal and shameless fashion, steps even harder on the comedy pedal than Guardians of the Galaxy did. It does so by playing for laughs one of the more “serious” characters in the Marvel universe, whose first solo realease was entrusted to the Shakespearian hand of Kenneth Branagh.
Here, in spite of a title evoking the tragic and epic end of the gods from Norse mythology, Waititi’s movie is a divertissement where every occasion is good for (not always subtle) humor and even the most tragic situations end up being a chance for jokes and quips. Apparently, some of the dialogue is the result of on-set improvisation, and that’s perhaps why some scenes end up feeling more like skits, at times compromising narrative tension.
Nobody seems to take himself seriously, not even when the matter at hand is imminent world destruction and the extermination of entire universes. It’s not only the warrior might of the god of thunder in question, but even his identity as a hero, reduced as he is to a gladiator for the entertainment of the people of Sakar.
Hemsworth and Hiddlestone, coming together as allies by necessity, refresh their repertoire of rivalry, but in the spirit of those who already know how it’s all going to end. Even Hulk/Bruce Banner, whose dual nature was one of the dramatic nodes in the last Avengers, here leans towards Woody Allen style comedy with dashes of actual slapstick.
While this farce-like adventure is taking place on Sakar, on Asgard we witness the tragedy of a goddess thirsty for power and conquest, and willing to destroy her own people to obtain them. Unfortunately, the two ingredients never come together in a convincing way; the more serious element never actually manages to sink its roots into the plot.
We see this in the treatment of Hela, Thor’s forgotten sister. According to the myth, she is not simply a villain come from who knows where to threaten Asgard, but the relic of a past identity bringing to light the latent hypocrisy of Odin’s kingdom, founded originally on violence, and only later “converted” to an enlighted and peacful domain.
In the eternal challenge between the honourable and instinctive Thor and the cunning, cowardly and unpredeictable Loki, Hela emerges as a disrupter, forcing them to completely rethink the legacy of Odin, and unmasking the foundations of a “manifest destiny” (the allusion to the United States is not so subtle) that perhaps never even was.
This idea could perhaps have given Thor Ragnarok a claim to be something other than pure entertainment, but that avenue is never seriosly pursued. To avoid spoiling the fun, the movie overlooks with puzzling lightness grief for the loss of a father, which is seemingly less important to Thor than the loss of his hammer.
Thus, in his latest adventure, Thor barely fulfills the function of building block in the now extensive Marvel universe, performing more the role of a court jester than the hero he has always been.
Problematic elements for the viewer: none.
Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster.