5W Friday Panel: Ragnarok Reactions

Every Friday, the Fifth World will host a virtual panel session on a topic of the week.  This week's subject: Thor: Ragnarok.

JL Franke

I wanted to like Thor: Ragnarok.  I really did.  As I've stated before, while I'm disappointed that Marvel never tries to rise above the rollicking popcorn flick, I go and enjoy that cinematic equivalent of cotton candy -- a sweetness that you enjoy while it lasts and never think of again once finished.  So I entered the theater fully prepared to laugh and ooh for a couple hours, spend a few minutes afterward deciding if there were any facets that would elevate the film, and then move on with my life.  But then they went and adapted three of the greatest Marvel stories of all time into a film that bordered heavily on being a parody.

"The Surtur Saga" was a yearlong epic that set the forces of Asgard up against the end of the world, culminating in the heroic loss of Odin.  This movie treats Surtur as a put-upon deus ex machina and sends Odin off in the most anti-climactic manner possible.

"Skurge's Last Stand" (alternatively titled "Day of Wrath" and "Like a Bat Out of Hel") rehabilitated a longstanding C-list villain who knowingly sacrifices himself so that Thor and his band can finish their mission, essentially performing a one-man re-enactment of 300Ragnarok portrays Skurge as a craven nobody wishing to be Asgard's next celebrity who finally runs into battle after realizing no one else aboard the ship on which he's hiding has any ability to fight, then is summarily killed by Hela, a pale shadow of the comic book Skurge's tale.

It would take true artistry to bring this scene to life.  Sadly, Ragnarok didn't get that.

"Planet Hulk" is an intense, moving epic featuring a betrayed Hulk finding a new path leading a band of similarly dispossessed, only to find this new home taken away as well.  The movie omits the drama of "Planet Hulk" to just use the setting (made much less bleak) for an arena combat scene and similarly robs the other gladiators of their poignant backstories, turning them into comedic bit players. 

Throughout, repetitive use of slow motion action shots and jokes timed to break up any semblance of drama sap the movie of its dramatic core, as if Joel Silver teamed up with Zack Snyder and hired a better joke writer.  These are three epic tales completely neutered in the quest of providing yet another Marvel comedic romp.

Don't get me wrong, it's beautifully shot, but tell me this wouldn't look out of place in BvS.

Few characters escape being brought low by Ragnarok's script.  The Warriors Three are killed off with zero fanfare just to make Hela seem a badass.  Kurg, a poignant character in Planet Hulk, is reduced to a caricature.  The script takes the time to make sure you know that if Banner ever turns into the Hulk again, he may never come back, but then he leaps into action as the Hulk without showing any angst or giving the audience an appreciation of his sacrifice.  Idris Elba's Heimdall is the only character treated with any reverence, but gets lost quickly once the real stars of the film show back up in Asgard, jokes at the ready.

Not to say that the movie isn't fun or worth catching the spectacle on the big screen.  But it's built on tales that strove (successfully) to reach great heights of storytelling and replaces their tension and pathos with slapstick.  A headline I saw online said, "Thor: Ragnarok is a comic book come to life".  It's disappointing that this is all some still think comics can aspire to.

Sean Fields

I was excited to see Thor: Ragnarok for many reasons including this one.  I liked Thor: Ragnarok.  Not as much as I thought I would, but still a helluva lot.  I appreciate a movie doing this grand story about a character having to figure out what to do for himself and his people and it still being goofy fun.  I laughed a lot and I appreciate that the cosmic and mystic corners of the MCU is bright and loud.  It is full of danger and powerful beings but also a beauty to look at.  Even a trash planet.  Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie was a delight especially with her more serious turns in other films.  The Loki and Thor relationship stepping up to another level was cool, and Asgard "moving on" gave me delights and hopes for Asgardia.

Are Valkyries allowed to smile?

The movie definitely had some stuff that could have been improved on, and I think a lot of that was due to telling mainly two stores ("Surtur Saga" and "Planet Hulk") in a single movie while having to also advance the MCU overall story to the next point.  Also, I would have liked to have had a definite Soul Stone identification beyond my own theories (cough Heimdall cough), but overall I had fun watching this movie in RPX 3D at 1 in the AM with my brother.

Chris Maka

I've been perfectly happy with the construction and development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU, as the kids say). I feel like they've stretched themselves and taken some shots with things like Captain America: Winter Soldier and the first Guardians of the Galaxy. They could keep doing what they're doing for the next 20 years and I'd eat it up with a spoon. Unfortunately, to continue to do MCU flicks for the next 20 years, they're going to need to not bore people, which means not repeating themselves so much. Which brings me to Thor: Ragnarok.

I really liked Thor: Ragnarok, but I gotta be honest, I am baffled by all the "This is the best of the Marvel movies!", "This is now my overall favorite!" love the film is getting. Now, I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade -- by all means, like what you like and don't let anyone tell you different, especially some random yahoo on the internet. But I just don't get it. There really isn't anything surprising or new about Thor: Ragnarok. Marvel did suitable "straight" Thor outings for the first two Thor flicks, which I quite enjoyed, but which did not capture the cultural zeitgeist for whatever reason, underperforming at the box office and in the hearts of fans on social media.

So why not do Thor Guardians of the Galaxy-style? It's not a bad plan -- star Chris Hemsworth demonstrated ample comedic acting chops in the recent Ghostbusters remake, and he's delightfully funny here. So what's the problem then? For me the comedic take never properly meshes with the deeper themes that the film organically raises. Plus Hela's entire appearance is made a largely superfluous subplot to what would have been a better focused "escape from Jeff Goldblum" plot -- and Surtur's appearance is an even more superfluous subplot to the superfluous Hela subplot.

"Yes, yes, escape from me.  That sounds like fun! ... Someone kill this guy."

I assume that these elements were early story and casting choices from when the intent was to try to do a real strum and drang epic apocalypse story -- and enough of those elements shine through occasionally that I would be mightily intrigued to see that version -- but then they decided to zig and go nearly full-Guardians of the Galaxy. While highly entertaining, that Thor movie is pretty shallow and lessens the emotional impact of all the elements that have real grit and depth.

But again, very entertaining romp, and I'm glad so many people enjoyed it so much.

Greg Morrow

Thor: Ragnarok was spoiled by poor expectation management and ennui on my part. So, with critics, you want to look for people who like the sort of thing you like, but also, you want to look for people who reliably dislike the things you like, because they're also predictive. (In my case, Stephanie Zacharek is one of the most reliable anti-predictors.) With Ragnarok, at least two of the people I'd give some credence to -- fellow fans -- started praising Ragnarok as the best Marvel film to date.

This creates an expectation management problem. On the one hand, my expectations are raised, which puts more stress on the movie to live up to; on the other hand, the hyperbolic praise makes me more likely to look for places where the movie doesn't live up (because I am cynical). After all, how likely is it that a buddy road movie about Thor is going to live up to the near perfection of the superhero team movie Avengers and the spy drama Captain America: Winter Soldier?*

Unsurprisingly, Ragnarok is not the best Marvel film to date. It's good, it's fun, it's got some interesting choices, it's not the same tedious origin and/or third-act sound and fury. Hemsworth (off of Ghostbusters, probably) has some comedic chops, and marvelous chemistry with his costars. Valkyrie is good, Loki is good (but not devious enough), Hulk is as verbal as the comics, Banner is underserved by his beat being "grumpy". Hela is great -- and roughly about 10,000 stars for using the Kirby headgear over and over again. Skurge is -- well, that's something to talk about. Grandmaster needed a tighter script. Moment-by-moment, there was a lot of fun.

This is the movie for fans of exotic headgear.

But Skurge at Gjallerbru had a lot more foundation. Here, the utterly inestimable Karl Urban had to pack a heel turn and a face turn into a single very crowded movie. And the actual mechanism of Skurge's last stand was not -- probably could not -- live up to the intense, focused sequence from Simonson's comic. (It is worth noting how important the captions are to the payoff, for those of you who care about the craft.) Ultimately, we come away from the film thinking of Skurge as a nice little face turn; we come away from the Simonson original with a "Holy fuck that was AWESOME".

That being said, there were awesome moments here. Fenris's teeth actually penetrating Hulk's flesh stands out. (But was there a morsel of payoff for Banner's sacrifice of self? Or is that held for Avengers: Infinite Cast?) Hela's slink every time she had to take more than two steps. Loki's side glance at the Cosmic Cube. Waititi's remark about rebuilding right before Asgard implodes. Thor and Loki in the elevator and their ruse.

The movie was fun. It was good. It wasn't great.

* CA:WS beats the Avengers all the way up to the driving goal of the third act (reprogram the helicarriers), which took a tight, tense drama of mistrust and betrayal and made it loud and dumb. Whereas Avengers is consistently good throughout, but has a plot a step behind CA:WS in tension and surprise. So I go back and forth over which is better.

Worst -- or at least the one I was most disappointed in -- is Dr. Strange. This is not an opinion shared by many.

If you have a topic you'd like to see the Fifth World staff address, tweet the topic to @5thworldonline and include #FridayPanel in your tweet.

5W Friday Panel: Ragnarok Reactions 5W Friday Panel: Ragnarok Reactions Reviewed by JL Franke on Friday, November 10, 2017 Rating: 5
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