Cate Blanchett’s role in Thor: Ragnarok is a fun departure from her usual roles, but without her, the film could have been even better.
Boasting a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, there is no doubt that Thor: Ragnarok has captured something special with audiences. Its success is particularly impressive given the fact that its predecessor, Thor: The Dark World, is widely considered one of the worst within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Director Taika Waititi deserves most, if not all, of the credit for Ragnarok’s positive critical reception. The director, known for his movies What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, brings a strong set of skills to the table – infusing the Thor universe with a fun, snarky humor and a distinct and ambitious visual style.
Big studios have made it a priority to hire talented directors that have thrived on a smaller-budget level and put them at the helm of larger productions. Whatever the reason for that may be, the results have been mixed at best.
However, Thor: Ragnarok reflects the best of what we might expect from this pairing. The movie puts Waititi’s quirks to good use, giving the film a unique character not often seen in this franchise.
The best part of Thor: Ragnarok – and by best I mean most entertaining, well written, and all-around different – is the time that Thor spends on the planet Sakaar.
Sakaar is a garbage planet run by an eccentric Grandmaster who lives a life of extravagance and runs a gladiator-style fighting ring. Thor is captured by a bounty hunter and forced to participate in the Grandmaster’s fights. Later, Thor attempts to break out and get off the planet in order to return to Asgard.
If the movie had contained itself strictly to this plot, it could have succeeded as the kind of superhero tale that we deserve more of – inventive movies that are free to tell a story independent from the rest of the franchise.
Unfortunately, despite its charm and style, the villain problem that lies at the heart of the MCU holds Thor: Ragnarok back from its full potential.
Cate Blanchett’s Hela – while no doubt an entertaining villain given several opportunities for dramatic entrances and merciless kills – embodies Marvel’s continued problem with villains.
Despite how powerful and evil she is, there is never any doubt that Thor will defeat Hela. After all, he has to live on for Avengers: Infinity War in theaters next year. As such, there is a contradiction in using such a high-stakes villain in a very low-stakes story. Hela obscures the elements that make Thor: Ragnarok feel so new and refreshing, bring the film’s third act to a rather boring, clichéd end.
More so, Blanchett’s character has really no compelling characterization beyond a cartoonish villainy that is drawn in a way that never sufficiently answers why she’s so evil. Blanchett plays the character broadly, without much care or interest in developing Hela beyond her one-dimensional cruelty.
Given the opportunity to make movies about superheroes, studios have spent more nearly a decade obsessively interconnecting every single story for the sake of creating a larger plot. The result is lackluster in two significant ways; first, the larger arc that these films are attempting to tell is poorly drawn, giving the audience virtually no stake in its payoff. Second, the individual stories themselves suffer because of the constant need to tie these separate narratives into the larger arc.
Marvel could have made romantic comedies starring Captain America, coming-of-age stories with Spider-Man, impassioned war dramas with Iron Man, or high-wire thrillers with Black Widow. Instead, they have committed to creating and recreating end of the world scenarios every single time.
Even films that seek to break away from the established structure – like Thor: Ragnarok or even Spider-Man: Homecoming – still find themselves constrained by the controlling arm of the studio.
Hela’s character and storyline do a disservice to Waititi’s film, taking one of the most thrilling and revitalizing stories in recent MCU history and turning it back into the structure we’ve seen time and time again.
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