“You’ll always be the God of Mischief, but you could be more…”
I gave up on Marvel Studios just before the end-credits sequence in Age of Ultron. As effervescent and celebratory as Joss Whedon’s first team-up felt, the second Avengers movie left me wanting more from this long-running, intricate franchise and its domino-stacking. That Kevin Feige, et al could kill the joy in a creator and his project felt a little like killing Superman. Wrong IP.
I may yet have faith, though because Thor: Ragnarok is the best Marvel Studios movie ever. For emphasis, let’s point out just how many creative liberties Taika Waititi’s new film takes with its material:
- Thor loses his hammer
- Thor loses his hair
- Paternal godhead Odin is revealed to be a revisionist fraud
- A revisionist fraud who used his daughter, Hela, as a weapon of destruction before imprisoning her forever
- Now returned, Hela can’t conquer worlds because her incompetent executioner can’t find a magic sword
- Her executioner is too busy impressing women with his assault weapons collection
- And that magic sword is in the possession of Heimdall, who’s busy handling the MCU’s first refugee crisis
- This refugee crisis sends all of Asgard onto a space ark
- The space ark is delivered by a talking rock alien and Thor’s brother and arch-rival, Loki
- Thor teams up with the talking rock alien, a self-aware Hulk, and a high-functioning alcoholic
- Their team makes fun of The Avengers
- Thor loses an eye
- Their team defeats Hela by resurrecting a Norse demon that wants to destroy Asgard
- Asgard is destroyed
- The talking rock alien makes a joke about Asgard being destroyed
Perhaps the bar has been set so low. Maybe the needle budged an inch instead of a click this time. After nearly a decade of underwhelming, status-quo-affirming, masculine copypasta, Marvel has finally zigged instead of zagged. Sure, Iron Man 3‘s deconstructionism was a valiant effort for a potential MCU face-turn, but it never felt like an honest takedown of a guy who had already invoked Ozzy Osbourne at a press conference. Ragnarok is unexpected and quirky and reflexive in all the ways Guardians of the Galaxy so desperately wanted to be — and at a fraction of the effort.
There’s a throwaway moment when a de-Hulkified Bruce Banner is steering a stolen orgy ship into an interplanetary gateway nicknamed “The Devil’s Anus.” Yes way. Desperate for a weapon, he jams an important looking button, which lights up the cabin with sex strobes and a hologram of Jeff Goldblum’s The Grandmaster singing “It’s my birthday!” Kenneth Branagh directed the first one of these, guys.
For years, I’ve wondered what exactly people mean when they describe a movie as “fun.” Apparently it involves making thespians look as ridiculous as possible. While Marvel hasn’t always admitted it, there’s an ugly side to its heroism, and flaunting it can be beautiful in its own way.