Second Sight: The Joyful Parody of Thor: Ragnarok

The formula:  Rag tag group of preternatural loners must overcome their differences to defeat a global threat, preferably ending with a catastrophic, city-destroying finale.  Safe directors are chosen.  The hero's journey is run through a Xerox machine, with each incarnation becoming a less focused (but still good fun!) offering.  Classic rock songs are embedded within trailers with clutch moments and fans of the comic books are given just enough fanfare to ensure they will view the sequel.  And the next sequel.  And the next...

Marvel has finally broken the mold.  Beloved indie director Taika Waititi's ultra 80's throwback, Thor: Ragnarok is a thrilling entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one that will be endlessly polarizing with fans and film lovers.  It is akin to Rogue One, presenting a technically astounding entry into a well-established franchise that features mind blazing visuals, impeccable art direction and set design, and a legitimately comedic script that has no business in blockbuster cinema.  Despite these overwhelmingly positive attributes, Ragnarok is undeniably an over the top madhouse that departs from certain core elements of the canon.  The final product is a loving parody, a fraternal satire of big budget superhero films that pays tribute to the genre through slapstick imitation that encases a surprisingly complex heart of gravitas.  

Thor is marooned on a gladiatorial prison planet after his sister Hela (the Goddess of Death) is released from her eternal prison.  Forging unexpected alliances, Thor discovers an inner potential that holds the key to defeating Hela's unholy forces and saving the people of Asgard.  Waititi's script is a major point of contention.  It is abundantly clear within minutes that this is a comedy, a full blown humorous foray off the expected track of the MCU.  The use of the world ending Ragnarok event is a means to an end, and this will either entice of offend, depending on the viewer's knowledge of the canon and their opinion of the cinematic saga thus far.  This is essentially a one off, glossing over the drama of the last few films to present a bold statement on the current landscape of the blockbuster.  Those looking for hints to the future of the Avengers will find little to mine.  

Chris Hemsworth does an admirable job, fully embracing the humor.  He's supported by Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk.  Initially his turn comes off as disingenuous when compared to his previous outing.  The pathos of the tortured doctor is replaced with a striking shield of bravado; however, it is perfectly at home in Waititi's symphony of chaos.  This is the first hint to the film's intentions.  Throughout the history of the genre, superhero movies double down on darkness or light heartedness, creating a divide.  Here, Waititi deftly blends the two, layering interesting ideas underneath an overwhelming amount of reckless abandon.  The antithesis to the light is found in Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie.  While certain aspects of the character's backstory are glossed over, her performance is one of the film's strongest attributes, showcasing tragedy, regret, and self-destruction; themes that are ever present in the comic book universe.  This is one of the first performances in the MCU to analyze the cost of heroism and its inclusion in an otherwise classic sci fi romp is intriguing and refreshing.  

Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster is a fun, but ultimately forgettable villain, despite Goldblum's renowned idiosyncrasies.  There's simply not enough there to engage other than expected quips and awkward interactions that are essential components for these kinds of films.  Karl Urban plays Karl Urban in an important, but painfully telegraphed and executed arc that feels superfluous.  Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki, bringing an expected amount of treachery and smarm which perfectly offset’s Hemsworth’s budding nobility. Cate Blanchett rounds out the cast as yet another villain with wasted potential.  Blanchett's powerful presence gives Hela a sense of wicked majesty that is never given a chance to breath.  Make no mistake: This is Thor's journey and everything else exists to propel the hero's journey...again. 

However, it is important to remember that these apparent flaws are carefully woven into the picture with gleeful intent.  While there's nothing particularly new with respect to content, the hilarious, outright insane treatment of the subject matter creates the perfect satire, playfully exposing the flaws of box office return obsession and carbon copy story telling.  The battle between Thor and The Grandmaster's Champion is the greatest example, mirroring audiences who continually support blockbuster films in which the same thing happens again and again, cheering their favorite combatants and decrying any form of departure from expectations.  

Everything is realized through an incomparable world, brought to life by breath taking cinematography, neon flooded set designs, and 80's synth infused score.  Javier Aguirresarobe's visuals capture Waititi's vision with a kinetic mix of style.  The halls of Asgard have an antiquated appearance, with crumbling arches and lonely throne rooms, while the dirty streets of the Grandmaster's sanctum are reminiscent of Blade Runner.  Neon Rainbows and baroque slow-motion action sequences flood the optics, creating a Lite Brite ambiance that is indictive of Waititi's prolonged jest. 

Mark Mothersbaugh’s score is an outstanding deviation from form, forsaking the high notes of (expected) triumph in favor of dangerous synth riffs which wind through the film at a heart stopping pace.  Beverly Dunn's set design is an essential companion, giving everything a texture, which in turn gives it life.  There is an inherent culture to the alien world at the center of the story, brought to life by intricate costume designs and carefully placed decorations, all of which communicate a history of exploitation and violence, essential foundations that are often overlooked as cities and entire cultures are eradicated at the whim of a screenwriter.  

In theater's now, Thor: Ragnarok is a wild ride, unlike anything else within the current crop of spandex actioners.  Going beyond accepted comedic limits, Taika Waititi brings his eccentricities to bear and the result is an imperfect, gloriously mad experience.  The history of superheroes and comics are steeped in mythology, stories in which the rules of reality are bent and even broken in favor of shedding light into the darkness that often encroaches on everyday life.  In one of the darkest, and most divisive times in recent American history, Waititi's message of embracing that light is both surprisingly relevant and outright contagious, to the point that it overshadows the burning question in every viewers’ mind:  Who will play Thor in the sequel!?

-- Kyle Jonathan