Increasingly, Marvel’s cinematic universe appears to be abandoning its dramatic edges and opting for humour to wow the crowds.

In a trend majorly signalled and kick-started by Guardians of the Galaxy‘s first outing, humour has become a crutch for the last batch of films, and is threatening to overthrow any dramatic investment you may have in the ongoing series.

It’s a leaning followed – perhaps to the very extremes of the spectrum – by director Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, the latest Marvel film to hit and the third stand-alone for Chris Hemsworth’s golden-haired god.

Troubled by visions of Asgard falling and Ragnarok destroying all, Thor returns home to find Loki’s Odin imposter ruling the roost (and allowing Anthony Hopkins to play fast and loose with the king of the gods).

But when the real Odin passes on, the true threat to Asgard rises, in the form of the missing Hela (Cate Blanchett, all emo and Maleficent style-costuming). Angry at being written out of the planet’s history, Hela decides to re-ignite her appetite for destruction.

However, when Thor rises up to face the challenge, he finds himself stranded on the planet Sakaar as a prisoner and forced to fight against The Hulk, gladiator-style at the whim of the Grandmaster (an obtusely eccentric Goldblum).

There’s so much Kiwi humour in this that it feels, at times, more hokey-pokey than Marvel hokum. 

The day-glo blast of colour and 80s matinee style vibe of Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok is a colourful distraction.

Waititi continues to bring clarity and a distinctive edge to the dealing out of action scenes, handling CGI and clear-cut action as masterfully as he did Hunt For the Wilderpeople‘s final chase sequence.

And he’s infused the trappings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a lighter touch, that, in all honesty, at times threatens to over-power the final mix.

There’s so much Kiwi humour in this that it feels, at times, more hokey-pokey than Marvel hokum. 

Unfortunately, the dramatic edges are frayed under the strain of too much humour; stakes never feel woefully threatened enough and the eccentricities and lighter feel veer dangerously close to overwhelming.

Once again, the villain of the piece (in this case, Blanchett’s Hela) never feels like too much of a threat, with the familial feeling all too familiar.

While Waititi’s film manages to keep things intimate in some sense of scale and action, the price of the comedy for Thor: Ragnarok‘s dramatic raison d’etre is threatening.

It’s easy to understand why Hemsworth found the latest Thor iteration appealing – essentially, it gives him a chance to showcase his comedic side (and also helps him to stray away from the po-faced Thor we’ve experienced before).

Coupled with Ruffalo’s Hulk, the pair form a buddy movie in the middle part of the film as they try to escape. 

It’s not that the 80s drenched, synth-scored and candy blast of colours Thor: Ragnarok isn’t fun by any stretch of the imagination. And it certainly isn’t that Waititi’s not to be commended for his eye behind the camera.

As a scavenger, Tessa Thompson is perhaps the film’s MVP – a booze-swilling swagger disguising a secret. Her turn gives the film a frisson of cool that’s needed and grounds it in a slightly stronger edge.

Ultimately, it’s the story-telling which lets Thor: Ragnarok down a little. With the drama not as strong as it could be, the fun elements are Waititi’s trademark unlikely characters in mundane settings. And while it’s a comedic tour-de-force for Hemsworth, it’s certainly a Marvel film that doesn’t potentially quite stand up to repeated viewings.

Waititi deserves saluting for the crowd-pleasing elements of Thor: Ragnarok overall, and there will be many who feel the fun edges make it a cinematic night out worth taking, but in this mind, it feels like Marvel’s reaching a crisis point as it’s gone as far as it can on both fronts, and is in danger of humour being the constant crutch and hook.

With a plethora of more releases planned and scripts to be written, it feels like we’re bordering on breaking point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and a new direction needs to be found quickly if the continued cinematic saturation isn’t going to be too much for repeat viewers and audiences to bear.

Thor: Ragnarok
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Anthony Hopkins, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hiddleston, Karl Urban
Director: Taika Waititi
Classification: M
Running time: 130 minutes

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