Once upon a time, in the year 2000, it was perhaps possible to make a superhero film without the involvement of every A list actor in the world. At that time, when James Cameron had been discussing his vision of Spiderman with Leonardo DiCaprio and Arnold Schwarzenegger, there were little more than rumors of what would later become Marvel’s expanded universe.
And it’s a universe which grew to include motion picture actors making cameos in films for fees that would themselves finance independent movies. No, not Stan Lee’s cameo in Fantastic Four, instead we’re talking about the moment when Robert Downey Jnr walked into a bar at the end of The Incredible Hulk to announce they were creators the Avengers. That day was a collective one of sadness for cinema ushers worldwide as they realized two things; people were now going to start peeing in their cups to avoid a bathroom break that might destroy a crucial plot point and “after credit scenes” were going to make their jobs ten times harder on Friday night’s.
Thor Ragnarock has an outstanding cast, with lead performances from Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Cate Blanchett alongside pivotal support from Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban and Mark Ruffalo. That’s to say nothing of the ‘cameo’ performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Sam Neill (playing the Actor Odin) who prove that like Star Wars, James Bond and Harry Potter before it there’s nothing an actor likes more than to appear in a favored franchise.
What can happen with such a huge cast, however, is that both the story and the screen time are so constantly diluted with famous names – even, albeit nostalgically famous – that we’re more concerned with the sound of their voice and reminding ourselves of the fond actors they used to be then the role they’re playing in this movie. Thankfully, that’s not the case here, as Thor Ragnarock provides a mildly entertaining backdrop as to why all these characters have to save ‘the world’ (but not as we know it) from destruction.
Returning to Asgard after a perilous mission, Thor finds a masquerade on the throne, Loki having placed his father Odin in a retirement home. Shady Acres (the name of the Mental Hospital in Ace Ventura Pet Detective too btw) is being demolished, and Loki has lost him. Dr Strange appears because Loki is on the galactic equivalent of a no fly list and has entered New York without going through customs. Donald Trump would be proud the Dr is doing his patriotic duty.
But even this twist is only a prelude for the backdrop of the backdrop that makes up the real stories crux, Thor believed dead in a planet which literally collects waste and refuge and sold to the Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum) in order to fight like a Gladiator for his freedom against the Ultimate Champion. That champion turning out to be one of Thor’s long lost friends, certainly lost in the Marvel verse, leads to an interesting chance for further character dissection on a hero who hasn’t had his own solo movie in a while.
There’s a lot going on. Thor and Loki ultimately team to save the world and are helped by a number of Asgaurdians and like minded revolutionaries while every fifteen minutes or so there’s a few jokes thrown in for good measure. The film definitely has a look and feel of comedy to it, not slapstick but there are enough laughs while watching alone to make you feel its been made for the cinema crowd of a family event where it raises some chuckles.
That’s not a bad thing, the jokes help relieve any tension in a family friendly movie and make it light, funny and fun, but what is a bad thing is that the movie subsequently fails to follow through on so much.
Now I know that it has a limited run time and there’s only so much that can be on screen, but hints and tips are scattered throughout the script about who characters are and where they came from. Bruce Banner is a perfect example, as he struggles with the Hulk, realizing for the first time that there is a distinct split personality in which Hulk may reign supreme and have full control. Its a revealing moment and it could have gotten much darker than it’s pushed, but in the end, the movie doesn’t answer that question at all and we’re left wondering whether Hulk has mentally grown as an independent creature. That fight is definitely for another day.
The Grand Master is also another interesting character, described as the creator of the world and the first person to come here. Nothing more is discussed of his origins and it could have been ultimately a fascinating opportunity to examine how and why. There’s a little laugh about the serious subject of slavery, with his insistence the slaves be called ‘those people with forced jobs’, yet no real discussion as to why the Grand Master created a game so resembling Roman Gladiatorial Combat.
At the end of the day though, this is a Thor movie and it’s his show. It’s not as close minded as Ant Man, it’s obvious from Spiderman Homecoming that Marvel is not able to take a single chance or even have a single storyline for a main character, so they’re squeezing as much into this flick as possible. You do learn a lot about the god of thunder and he learns more about himself, but you still can’t help feeling he brought too many people along for the ride.