I can’t believe I’m saying this, but of all the action-adventure movies in the last ten years, “Thor: Ragnarok” is the one all writers need to see. Multiple times.
The buy-in: It’s an absurd mashup of two worlds (Norse mythology and sci-fi) that shouldn’t work. Its populated by colorful immortals, so there’s no cheesy mentor-figure death scene. And it asks you to overlook the preposterous (multiple gateways through space, magic, gods, heroes leaping from spaceship to spaceship) so frequently that the story is practically set in a sort of Anti-Reality.
The reward: One of the best collections of sarcastic quips and heartfelt insights around. Seriously. Going in, you also don’t need to know anything about these amazing, over the top characters. (A primer: Thor is good, half-brother Loki is mostly bad, Dr. Strange is a big deal and the Hulk is, well, complicated.)
Thor–he of the red cape, bulging biceps and golden locks–finally gets his ego checked (when his Goddess of Death sister, Hella, destroys his once-all-powerful hammer) and spends much of the film bouncing between self-deprecation and wistfulness. Exiled to a garbage planet, what better way to offset his earnestness than the combo of his duplicitous, power-hungry brother and an acerbic drunk who’s happy with her place as a bounty hunter? A Taser-like device provides much of the pain and fun. The appearance of the belligerent Hulk (then an ingeniously inept and bewildered Bruce Banner) adds to the joy, book-ended by Jeff Goldblum’s bizarre Grand Master. (‘Slaves’ is an ugly word. ‘Prisoners with jobs’ is much better.)
In interviews, director Taika Waititi said he constantly asked himself (and the cast and crew), “How can we make this funnier…?” He thought this might be the last film he ever got to make. Of course, it was a blockbuster.
The whole story is about a hero trying to get back home (stolen by that problematic Goddess of Death sister) and then (spoiler alert) realizing that what’s most important about home is the people. His people. Still, the ending comes off with a nice, unexpected twist. We don’t doubt Thor will save the day, but how he chooses to do so is remarkable.
The heart of the tale comes with the Elevator Scene, a chat between Thor and troublemaker Loki which really should have its own place in film lore. (“We’re not doing ‘Get help'” should be on a T-shirt.) Rather than cheesy or trite, this two-minute chunk is the funniest, honest, state-of-things exchange between two people since FroZone and wife ‘Honey’ argue in ‘The Incredibles.’
It starts with the funniest ever use of “You had one job,” progresses through blame and jokes (and the cosmos, twice) to Thor singing to Banner and a ‘melting stick’, and on and on. It’s a wild ride and it’s fun to no end. Writers, take note…and take notes.