What the Hell is Going On With Thor: Ragnarok?

The more I hear about Thor: Ragnarok, the more unsure I feel about it. Hulk and Thor road trip? Odin is on Earth? A comedy director who wanted to rewrite Thor: the Dark World with more jokes?

All due respect, Marvel, but what the hell are you doing?

Okay, there are a few things that sound good: Cate Blanchett is rumored as the main antagonist, And early reports have mentioned Valkyries, giving me hope that one specific Valkyrie might appear onscreen. However, most of the rumors flying right now seem like execs are throwing stuff at the walls and seeing what sticks.

The problem here seems to be that Marvel just doesn’t know what to do with its Norse gods.

Thor (both the character and the franchise) seem to be one of the biggest victims of executive meddling as Marvel moves deeper into their twenty-year plan. Note, for instance, the difficulty with the script for Thor: the Dark World, which underwent very late rewrites, including, reportedly, axing a Thor/Jane breakup and resurrecting Loki from a planned final death. Director Alan Taylor stated that he “was sort of given absolute freedom while we were shooting, and then in post it turned into a different movie.” Or there is the example of the Norns scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron that Joss Whedon gave up – which would not only have pushed forward the Infinity Stones storyline that is leading toward Infinity War but also would have given Thor a larger role in the film.

While I seldom put much stock in critical reviews – especially of superhero movies – I do note that reviews of Thor: the Dark World commented on the lack of “grandeur” and “vision”, and Variety noted the “strained comedy” – far distant from [prospective director]’s comment that he would have rewritten the Dark World script with more jokes.

I am far from believing that the better direction to take with superhero movies is the humorless and unrelenting grim tenor of, for instance, Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. However, Thor: the Dark World’s humor consistently undermined otherwise emotional moments. For instance, shortly after Thor witnesses what he believes is his brother’s death, complete with soaring music echoing that played during Frigga’s funeral earlier in the film, we return to the sight gag of Aleksander Skarsgard’s inexplicably pantsless Erik, whose insanity (in the wake of Loki’s controlling him during The Avengers) is largely played for laughs. The effect is jarring rather than providing release or relief.

Furthermore, one of the strongest aspects of the Thor movies has been the chemistry between leads Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston in their portrayal of the fraught, complex relationship between Thor and Loki. Thus far, however, press about Ragnarok has made no mention of Hiddleston. (Earlier this year, Tom Hiddleston expressed some doubt about the future of role, stating that “I just don’t know when that’s gonna happen, if that’s gonna happen” and “I never quite know whether people want to see him again or whether people want to move on.”) Instead we have the emphasis on the “buddy cop” angle with Thor and the Hulk, which is…puzzling. This is nothing against Mark Ruffalo or his performance at all, but why is the Hulk in a Thor movie? What basis is there for a connection between them, save coexisting in the two Avengers team movies? Putting the Hulk in Ragnarok feels a little like Marvel trying to find a place to keep him until the next Avengers movie without committing to (another) Hulk movie.

And what about Odin? Delighted as I am that he is alive (killing him off offscreen would feel lazy and emotionally unsatisfying, aside from my personal feelings about how his demise would affect Loki’s character trajectory) – how does the rumor about him being on Earth fit in? What is he doing there, and how is that going to mesh with the reported cosmic direction of the film in general?

Of course, at this point the Thor movie is still over a year in the future, and all the rumors may well be just that – rumors. And I am undoubtedly excited about the prospect of Cate Blanchett playing anyone in the Marvel Universe – especially an antagonist and especially, as rumored, a goddess of death. (Though we can only hope that she doesn’t end up as underused as the talented Christopher Eccleston was in Thor: the Dark World.) Just the same, as a fan of this particular corner of the massive (and ever-expanding) Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m feeling a little worried about the direction Marvel seems to be choosing to take.

We can only hope Marvel remembers the truly important part of any Thor movie: a long, loving shot of Chris Hemsworth’s naked chest.

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