Summary: Thor: Ragnarok is a fun, shallow, passionless film. Good to fill an empty afternoon, but a waste of potentially great mythic material. Like all our blockbuster films, it provides a mirror in which we can more clearly see how the West is evolving.
Thor: Ragnarok is a fun film. Like most recent blockbusters, the plot makes little sense. Naturally so for T:R, since the writers appear to have regarded the material as a joke. The critics hated those superhero films about duty and heroism, and love their evolution into comedy with Ant-Man and Guardians Of The Galaxy. With their usual group-think, almost all applaud Thor: Ragnarok as a goof on the title character and the genre.
This is a competently executed film. Good direction, skilled actors, and Hollywood’s typically fine CGI. The writing is its weakness. The plot is often slow and sometimes idiotic. Worse is the sometimes-weird dialogue. Thor III is an odd combination of comedy and tragedy. It worked for Shakespeare, but melding these was beyond the skill of its writers. The result: the major characters often seem to have a casual or lighthearted attitude even in scenes of sad or horrific events (much like the officers in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, in the Enterprise’s bridge watching events with the mild interest of a suburban family watching a sitcom during dinner).
That is also true of the film’s plot and character arcs, drawn almost without emotion or involvement of the writers or actors. For instance, Bruce Banner — one of the most interesting people in comics — suffers a sad fate without a tear or even acknowledgement by his “friend.” Ditto for the fate of the great city of Asgard, with its wonders and glorious history.
It’s a mirror showing our loss of confidence in institutions
Blockbuster films are mirrors in which we can more easily see ourselves, with our values. hopes and fears magnified on the big screen.
For instance, femininity is not valued in our increasingly feminist-run society. (In my 15 years as a Boy Scout leader, I never heard a dad speak more proudly of a child than when boasting that his daughter was a tomboy.) So Natalie Portman, playing Thor’s love interest Jane Foster, was dumped for a woman with the most valued of traits in a woman in modern cinema: being a kick-ass — with Tessa Thompson as a Valkyrie (and bisexual) warrior. The comics have gone all the way and had Jane Foster become Thor.
A larger example is the treatment in modern films of institutions that maintain order. Mild spoilers ahead! They are corrupted or destroyed, or corrupted and destroyed. In its second film, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the organization is outlawed and destroyed. In its second film, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the organization’s people and bases are destroyed. In its second major film appearance, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, SHIELD is revealed as both evil and totally infiltrated by HYDRA (we do not learn what happens next; hopefully it is closed down). The international law enforcement agency, UNCLE, does not even appear in the film The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (except in a cameo at the very end). In the Thor films Asgard was a protector of the Nine Worlds. It suffers a cruel fate in the film, leaving its people in a sad situation.
This is us today. Loss of faith in our institutions. Uninterested in making them work. Passive while fantasizing about rogue individuals saving us. Hollywood makes films that tap this belief. Unfortunately, we act on this belief as well. Instead of shaping organizations, like unions and political parties, through which we can act — we elect lone heroes to Washington. Obama was the Left’s Lone Ranger, a marginally effective President who left the Democratic Party a shambles. The Right then elected their Lone Ranger, ineffective and doing the same to the Republican Party.
All this is part of a larger and more serious trend. See Why have our movies become so dark, showing a government so evil?
Comic books used to help teach children our culture’s values, and provide a space to see their values and fears clash — and see a hopeful resolution. Comic books no longer do so. The films based on them are perhaps worse, exulting in a rebellious individualism. They ignore or mock collective action — through groups or institutions — which is our only path to strength in this perilous world.
For More Information
- The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes.
- Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?
- We like superheroes because we’re weak. Let’s use other myths to become strong.
- Hollywood’s Hero Deficit – both a cause and symptom of our weakness.
- Our biggest films reveal dark truths about us.
- The horrifying list of inspirational films about humanity building a better future.
- An America without heroes. We’ll miss them.
- Captain America: the Winter Soldier – high-quality indoctrination for sheep.
The trailer to Thor Ragnarok