Thor: Ragnarok sneaks in some cultural criticism with entertainment, action

What happens when a comic book movie gets political? Director Taika Waititi pulls it off nicely

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Thor: Ragnarok sneaks in some cultural criticism with entertainment, action

Thor and Banner (Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo) hang out on a strange planet after having beaten the stuffing out of each other.

Thor and Banner (Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo) hang out on a strange planet after having beaten the stuffing out of each other.

Thor and Banner (Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo) hang out on a strange planet after having beaten the stuffing out of each other.

Thor and Banner (Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo) hang out on a strange planet after having beaten the stuffing out of each other.


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To even the most ardent fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Ragnarok might seem a little stale.

It’s not like we haven’t seen all this before: the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) throws his beefy quads around at Queen of Death Hela (Cate Blanchett), who’s bent upon taking over his home world of Asgaard, only to be yanked to a planet ruled by The Collector (Jeff Goldblum) at the last minute so as to fight the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a gladiator arena. Then, after much bruising and fanfare, the two escape and go fight Hela yet again to victory. Oh, and brother Loki (Tom Hiddlesworth) is back as a bad guy, or maybe he’s good this time, except who really cares.  Rinse. Cycle. Repeat.

Except Ragnarok has equal parts derivation and originality. Blanchett is absolutely stunning, all gothed out as she is, with a wicked little smile that half makes us want to cheer her on. Thor’s capture at the hands of fallen a Valkryie (Tessa Thompson) effectively puts testosterone-fueled action in a new frame for the twenty-first century. And then there’s Benedict Cummerbatch’s cameo as Doctor Strange. Arbitrary? No. Totally plot-driven.

But what really sells about Ragnarok is a sense, a feeling that permeates the entire film without intruding upon the storyline that’s been trundling on for almost ten years, since Iron Man first came out in 2008. The colors are approaching something you’d see in a Pink Floyd album, and the fact that Led Zeppelin gave the rights to their music for two key fight scenes makes the whole thing seem like the 70s cinematic extravaganza they might have done with the character Thor, if only they’d had the money. As a result, director Taika Waititi has meshed together a film that manages to be both New Millenium and nostalgic at the same time. Bravo.

And further kudos need to be thrown at Waititi for the anti-imperialist subtext the film dishes out without being too preachy. Several critics lauded and condemned the film for turning sort of polemic in places, most notably when Hela takes her newly-converted henchman Scourge (Karl Urban) on a tour of the tombs beneath her father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) throne room and where the bloody details of her rise to power at her father’s side have been papered over with more feel-good collages depicting a far rosier history of Asgaard than anyone would have guessed. The truth turns out to be that all the wealth and gold of Asgaard has been pillaged from across the universe, often by killing lots and lots of people.

“All his deeds of peace,” Hela sniffs contemptuously about her father’s legacy, right before tearing the façade down, “and none of what he did to get it. Odin and I drowned entire civilizations in blood and tears. Where do you think all this gold came from?”

Critics (and what would the world be without online movie critics to pontificate upon such matters) have drawn connections between this storyline and everything from Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher to Abraham Lincoln and the recent protests over the Confederate statues across the South. It’s an important discussion to have, and if that were all Thor: Ragnarok were after, the movie would be pretty flimsy. Fortunately, it’s rip-roaring comedy and action at the same time. Go ahead, discuss, discuss.

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Thor: Ragnarok sneaks in some cultural criticism with entertainment, action