The 17th instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arrived in the form of Thor: Ragnarok, a thoroughly standard MCU film in all ways good and bad.
As we near the tenth anniversary of the once pioneering Hollywood film strategy, a definite formula is taking shape in regards to the MCU; their films are fairly lighthearted, and they do not take themselves too seriously. They are known for having plenty of humor and rarely dealing with darker tones or situations. They have all the requisite action sequences and check all of the boxes that a big action movies has to check. In other words, they are very safe. They don’t take a lot of risks which could potentially turn off mass audiences.
Ragnarok fits that mold perfectly. It is not very risky, packs all the comedic moments that we have come to expect with these films, and leaves all audiences feeling good as they walk out of the theater. It is the same experience that we have gotten for nearly a decade, and it is starting to wear thin. To date there have been no bad MCU films, in fact, none of them have even really been poor. The basement of the great MCU formula is, “pretty good.” This film had the perfect opportunity to deviate from the formula a bit, and take itself more seriously, which it did not do.
In Norse mythology, Ragnarök is a world changing event that results in the death of many of the gods and essentially a reshaping of the entire world. It is the perfect opportunity for an MCU film that takes itself more seriously, go with a darker or slightly more adult tone and tackle some of the heavier concepts with the characters. This didn’t need to suddenly turn into a David Fincher film, but it could have been the perfect place to explore the characters of Thor and particularly Bruce Banner. There is a scene in the film in which Banner expressed deep concern about turning into the Hulk, as he fears that at some point, he may never be able to change back. This is only a brief concern though, and it doesn’t really come back when he does release the hulk to fight a giant wolf.
The Hulk can actually speak in this film, and adds a little to the character which is unfortunately not followed through on.
Without access to the X-Men, Banner represents the greatest character through which the MCU can explore deeper psychological concepts with its characters, as Banner is the most sympathetic character in the MCU. This was very briefly touched on in this film, but it was not expanded upon so that the film could maintain its lighthearted tone. Thor is one of the least sympathetic characters within the MCU, being a god kind of makes you difficult to relate to. However, needing to come to grips with the possible destruction of his home is the perfect way to humanize Thor. Unfortunately, like Banner, there is a bit of that there, but it simply is not very much. Again, these films don’t have to completely abandon their formula in order to accommodate these moments; breaking away from the formula bit by bit would go a long way towards keeping these films from getting stale.
Ragnoarok is not stale, and the rest of the MCU has not reached that point yet, but it is coming. It is par for the course with MCU films, which are still appealing and entertaining in spite of being around for nearly a decade. The inclusion of a Planet Hulk style storyline really spices up what could otherwise be a fairly weak Thor film. Cate Blanchett is memorable enough, though she does not quite get enough screen time. The film would have been better off with more interactions with Blanchett’s character (Hela, the Goddess of Death) and either Thor or Loki. In fact, watching Loki, the God of Mischief, attempt to manipulate the Goddess of Death could have been great fun, unfortunately, it never happened as Thor and Loki only ever have two encounters with Hela.
Balnchett’s Hela is a very intimidating villain, who unfortunately spends much of the film kind of sitting around not doing very much.
Another major opportunity missed with Hela was to make a tangible connection with Thanos, the big-bad-purple-dude who has been kind of built up as the major antagonist of the third and fourth Avengers films. Being the Goddess of Death, Hela has a connection with Death, an actual character in the MCU who Thanos is quite smitten for. That could have brought him up again, and made his threat at least seem more immanent, though it would have added to a film that is already over two hours long, so it is not that big of a deal.
There is not much negative about this film that shouldn’t already be known from previous MCU films. It does a better job of allocating its humorous moments than ones like plagued Doctor Strange, who does make a fun cameo in the film and who also makes a complete fool out of Loki, which is also par for the course at this point. It is simply safe and fits squarely inside the tried and true MCU formula. The only negatives come from anyone who is getting bored or tired of the formula. However, with so many of the MCU films feeling so homogenous, they start to run together. It is getting increasingly difficult to differentiate between the increasingly numerous films within the MCU. They are all starting to run together with only a few of them feeling as though they truly stand out.
A few of the ones that really stand out are: the first Guardians of the Galaxy, because it maximized the MCU formula in a way that has been difficult for all the following films to replicate; Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which feels like the MCU film which feels as though it takes itself at least somewhat seriously; and Spider-Man: Homecoming, which stands out as the best Spider-Man film. Most of the others blend together into an inoffensive and entertaining superhero gumbo.
For anyone who still finds the MCU films entertaining, then Thor: Ragnarok will be more of what you have been enjoying for the past nine years, and considering the massive opening of the film, that appears to be most people. For those of you out there who are beginning to get tired of these films, this one does nothing different to reinvigorate the universe. For better or worse, this film fits snugly within the MCU, which still brings fun and entertaining films to the theaters which can be enjoyable for seemingly an audience member of any age.