Derek: So, here’s our very first Half-Baked Review Chinfest, which I am very excited about! This is a chance for us to bring our unique take on movies to the public. Personally, I think we took the prudent course by letting the Internet mature for twenty years or so before launching this column. No point in rushing, right Mark?
Mark: Right, we’re like a properly aged cheese. But hopefully better smelling.
Derek: Well, if we’re cheeses, then I call Emmentaler, which like me, is Swiss and smells of fresh-cut hay! And speaking of cheese, let’s jump right into the review of Thor: Ragnarok, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s third foray into the world of Asgard and Midgard and a lot of planets and dimensions.
OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING—IT COULD HAPPEN, BUT THERE’S GOOD REASON TO BELIEVE THAT IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER
As with the first two Thor films, Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder, Tom Hiddleston as his brother Loki, Sir Anthony Hopkins as a distressingly schlumpy Odin, and Idris Elba makes a sexy return appearance as Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge, which is a title I’d like to compete for. New to the franchise, Cate Blanchett puts in a be-antlered performance as Hela, God(dess) of Death, Tessa Thompson plays an entire category of mythological warriors as Valkyrie, and Jeff Goldblum wanders around and stammers as the Grandmaster. New Zealand-native Taika Waititi directs, and he also voices an amusing animated character who garners lots of laughs by pronouncing the name “Doug” in a Kiwi accent.
Mark: Yes, it’s an impressive cast of characters that sets an enjoyably humorous tone from the start. The barbed banter between Thor and Loki is exquisite at times. I thought the acting and characterizations were the strength of this entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even though, the action sequences felt like filler that often took away from what was working between characters, and the plot felt cut from a mold, the acting was strong enough to make it worth attending.
Derek: I think I generally agree with that stock assessment. Hemsworth and Hiddleston have decent chemistry, and both of them have demonstrated competent comedic chops in the previous Thor movies. This is highlighted in Ragnarok, but I think it comes at the expense of the rivalry that drove the first two movies. That competition—often played out with a shrug of casual violence—only comes in to move the plot of Ragnarok in very small and convenient ways. For me, that diminishes one of the better relationships in the MCU, a universe that is overwhelmingly devoid of interesting pairings. That’s a failure of writing, in my view, which is something that plagues a film whose dramatic twist is a haircut.
Another thing on which I have mixed feelings is the use and performance of Jeff Goldblum, who plays the ruler of a junkyard/casino/set-of-Ellen planet that was given a perfunctory name that I can’t be bothered to look up. Thoughts on Mr. Goldblum?
Mark: If Goldblum were to channel his inner Rickey Henderson and describe his own performance, I think he would say it was “Just Jeff Goldblum being Jeff Goldblum.” It’s not like he tried to break any new ground here. If you like Goldblum, you probably think this movie underutilized him. If, however, you are an organism with a somewhat functioning brain, you tired of his trademark sputtering rather quickly.
Derek: I think you’ve hit upon the real issue for me—it’s just a movie full of Rickey Hendersons being Rickey Hendersons. A literal version of such a movie, populated entirely by actual Rickey Hendersons being Rickey Hendersons, would be a joy—for a few minutes. The metaphorical instance of this played out by Ragnarok is about two hours beyond what I’m now going to call the “RH Limit”. That limit’s horizon could, in theory, be stretched indefinitely in the service of satire, and it’s clear to me that there are elements of self-awareness here. But even this is never leveraged properly.
The big arena set piece, for instance, takes the trope of the superhero alliance and comically deflates it by comparison to the workaday world. This is a reliable standby at this point in the largely homogenous history of superhero movies, but it’s reliable for a reason—it humanizes the superhuman. Of course, had this not been used extensively in the film’s marketing campaigns, it might have been a truly memorable moment in the MCU. As it was, it still earned some chuckles, but they were the snickers of a well-conditioned audience showing off for their politely bored dates.
Mark: I also think that some of the potential impact of that moment, when Thor sees that his opponent is the Hulk, was lost due to revealing too much in the marketing campaigns. Imagine how much more fun it would have been to not know who the opposing gladiator would be during the buildup to that reveal. With so much having already been revealed before the movie release, it seems pointless to take so long during the movie to get to that point.
I realize I might be arguing for the movie to be made to fit the marketing campaign. And, I know I should feel more icky about it than I do, but, oh well, it’s another comic book movie. I hope that says more about the current state of the movie industry than it does about me.
Derek: Well, it certainly says more about the state of the superhero movie industry. I’m not entirely sure—with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Logan, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Kick-Ass)—that the movies themselves are even necessary. Ragnarok seems to me to be an example of how this genre has become a series of stitched-together beats that studios run through an automated checklist.
Take the scene where Thor and Loki find their father, Odin (who is dressed in a coral linen coat, looking vaguely like an Asgardian Van Gogh for some reason). What is ostensibly a poignant scene of father and sons experiencing a final moment together is pushed through with as much care and pathos as a commuter stuffing a McMuffin down his gullet in traffic.
Father dead, sons afloat in a hostile universe. Check.
Mark: I think the checklist thing is exactly right. I imagine a cave somewhere underneath Hollywood with a “checklist vault.” Contained within the vault are all the formulas for the different movie genres. There is one for romantic comedies and one for action packed blockbusters. There is one for buddy-cop movies and one for horror flicks. And of course, as you pointed out, there is one for the superhero genre. I swear, it’s almost like you could not even see the movies and still be able to speak about them like you have.
Derek: Almost! And I was going to say that they really should resurrect the buddy-cop genre—and then I remembered Kevin Hart/Will Ferrell, who are the same person. So let’s not.
My last comment is about the vague late-‘70s/early-‘80s aesthetic that Waititi slaps onto the film, which in my opinion is fatally undermined by the lack of an umlaut in “Ragnarök”. See how much better that looks? I don’t care how many times a movie deploys Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” or calls a character “the Grandmaster” or makes humorous allusions to the Hulk’s dick, it’s not an ‘80s-era feel without a fucking umlaut. It’s a rule, and in the end, it negatively colors all my feelings about this movie. Plus, it was boring.
Mark: The umlaut does help. Also related to the look of the movie, there should have been some Queen music to complete the Flash Gordon vibe.
Derek: Flash Gordon vibe?
Mark: You didn’t catch that Sam J. Jones cameo during the gladiator battle between Thor and Hulk? Just kidding. But the turn toward comedy in this movie, compared to the first two in the series, definitely had me thinking of that campy classic often. A little bit of Freddy Mercury would have completed the mood for me.
Derek: Freddy makes just about anything better, except maybe a toothpaste commercial (too soon?).
Well, I think that’s about it for our first Chinfest. I’ll conclude with a concise, memorable, and trademarked review capper:
I give it 2 out of 8 stuffed pita pockets because I really thought pita pockets were amazing in the early ’80s, and this film failed to live up to that delicious and practical standard.
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Mark: I’m going to look upon Ragnarok more favorably: Freddy Mercury or no, it’s something I would probably not walk out on. A solid 5 pita pockets.
🥙🥙🥙🥙🥙X X X
Derek: That’s it for this Chinfest, then! Until next time, when we’ll be reviewing something that probably doesn’t have Vikings and may or may not have Freddy Mercury.