The very first trailer for Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok was a smash-hit success, clocking up over 44 million views to date (more than an equivalent teaser for Star Wars: The Last Jedi from around the same time), inspiring parodies and creating huge hype, particularly for a gag that closed the action when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and fellow Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) come to blows in a gladiatorial arena.
“We know each other!” Thor calls joyfully to his captor, Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster. “He’s a friend from work.”
This, the trailer seemed to suggest, was a very different sort of Thor movie, removed from the cod-Shakespearean overtones of the first film (directed by Kenneth Branagh) and the sub-Game Of Thrones grittiness of the second (directed by GoT veteran Alan Taylor).
This was fun Thor, weird Thor, space-travelling, wisecracking Thor – an Asgardian of the Galaxy more in keeping with the most popular Marvel heroes.
It’s fair to say that in the finished Thor: Ragnarok, this new version of the God of Thunder is brilliantly realised. Thor cracks wise, punctures the tension of scenes by falling over or being hit in the face, and is genuinely hilarious throughout, with the finished movie a serious contender for the funniest Marvel entry to date.
However, at times I couldn’t help but feel that something had been lost in this reinvention. In early scenes it’s a little jarring to see Thor transformed into such a wisecracking, goofy and self-aware figure, a far cry from the god-out-of-water seen in some of the earlier films and the source comics, where he’s often depicted as a more serious counterpart to the other Avengers.
“Thor has certainly evolved quite a bit since the first film,” agrees executive producer Brad Winderbaum in the official production notes for the film.
“The guy who went to the pet store asking to fly on the back of a giant bird has now become a guy that can pilot spaceships on his own.”
This kind of character evolution seems fair enough – you couldn’t exactly have a hero that didn’t grow or change over the course of a franchise – and it’s definitely preferable for a superhero to be funny, as shown by DC bleakfests Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
However, what’s a little unsettling about Thor: Ragnarok is that when it comes to his sense of humour, Thor now seems less and less distinct from other Marvel heroes. It’s not just that he’s funny – it’s that he’s funny in a very specific way, a way that we’ve already seen countless times in the MCU so far.
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In fact, at some points in Ragnarok, Thor seems almost indistinguishable from the quipping, sarcastic protagonists of many other Marvel movies. In an early scene where Thor is left dangling in an underground cavern while talking to a monster, he’s continually turned away from his foe by momentum, humorously punctuating their Godly discussion with sarcastic apologies about facing away. It’s instantly possible to imagine this exact situation and response from the likes of Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket or even Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, all snark-happy heroes who've sprung up in the more recent Marvel movies (except Iron Man, who kind of kicked off the trend in 2008) .
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing– the end result is brilliantly entertaining and a much more interesting take on Thor than the earlier movies managed, and I’m not such a comic-book purist that I think the Son of Odin’s character should be left untouched. On the contrary, one of the smartest things the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done has been in knowing when to directly adapt and when to reimagine characters from the source material.
But it does make me worry how on Earth upcoming team-up extravaganza Avengers: Infinity War will manage to balance as many as FIVE class clowns when the serious business of galaxy-saving has to be done. The original Avengers largely confined the snarky banter to Downey Jr’s Tony Stark/Iron Man, but now he has many rivals to his crown.
I can’t help but wonder if what works comedically for a solo superhero film might turn insufferable when they’re all bouncing gags off each other.
Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America have shown that a little earnestness can still work, so I don’t think this is a terminal trend; I have faith that the Russo brothers will be able to balance the more serious figures with the jokers when directing Infinity War. Maybe the raised level of snark in that movie will actually be appropriate given the sheer number of characters slated to appear in that film, the quip quota rising in accordance with the superhero staffing.
Despite the undoubted quality of Thor: Ragnarok (I’d give it Thor stars), I still feel a little sad for the loss of the slightly lunkheaded, Shakespearean fish-out-of-water Thor, who once offered a very different flavour to a team made up of monsters, scientists and soldiers. And that’s no joke.
Thor: Ragnarok is released in UK cinemas on Tuesday 24th October