Thor: Ragnarok and the Marvel of Self-Parody

Pop Culture

Thor: Ragnarok and the Marvel of Self-Parody

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

In the year 2008, when the world was recovering from the true grit of Batman Begins and bracing itself for the truer grit of The Dark Knight, another superhero movie dropped that year, one that changed the genre forever. Marvel’s Iron Man, with its glib, imperfect hero Tony Stark, made us realise that saving the world could also be fun. That having superpowers wasn’t merely a burden, but also, you know, cool.

Christopher Nolan’s dark Batman still did well, but for every other mortal filmmaker, Iron Man altered the foundation of the genre. Gone were the heavy-hitters, the Superman of the ’80s, which paved the way for Captain America, followed by the bearable lightness of Avengers, Ant Man, and eventually Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel brought the superhero to the masses, wholesome entertainers, which didn’t take themselves or the genre seriously. Those which did, like DC’s Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman were cast aside by audiences and critics alike.

In the Avengers circus, there was one character firmly out of place: Thor. In films featuring an ensemble of clowning, smart-talking asskickers, he remained too macho, too brutish, too basic. Director Taika Waititi, the dude who acted in the shameful Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern back in 2011, changes all this with Thor: Ragnarok.

Films change, heroes change, but Hulk only smash

Ragnarok’s opening frame places Thor in the face of death in Surtur’s cave. He’s hanging from a rotating tightrope, and has to ask Surtur to frequently pause his tirade about ending the world and shit. It’s silly slapstick, but it sets the ridiculousness early on. Even in its most serious moments, like one where Thor is near death and asks Odin for his hammer, Odin retorts, “Are you the God of hammers!” I sat back laughing, wondering why since the first film in 2011, we actually haven’t seen the God of Thunder use a jolt of lightening to demolish enemies.

This new parodying, poor man’s Tony Stark version of Thor takes time to adjust to. But then in one scene, Thor lectures Loki about personal growth, change, and the predictability of Loki’s betrayals, which is commentary on Thor’s growth, his change, and even the audiences who have grown to love these movies for their self-parody. The only trace of unchanging order in the film is when Hulk picks up Thor and smashes him sideways. Films change, heroes change, but Hulk only smash.

Thor Ragnarok is a road trip loaded with more jokes than the Bill Burr stand-up, more emotion than the fakery of the second Guardians movie, and perhaps the best CGI ever in a superhero film. The studio invented the light-hearted superhero flick in 2008, and nine years and 17 films later, Thor: Ragnarok has reached the sub-genre’s apex.