Firstly, this isn’t a review or an in-depth breakdown of Thor: Ragnarok. Instead, this is going to be more of an analysis of the evolution of the MCU and how it’s learning from its previous mis-steps.
Ragnarok is already being hailed as a success and so it should be. It’s the sequel to arguably the weakest of the stand-alone movies and it is very good. I don’t rank it quite as highly as the rest of the guys, however they reviewed it fresh after seeing it and i have had some time to reflect. The problem with adding reviews of the newer movies into the already huge slate, is that you don’t want to disrupt the balance. You find yourself giving it an 8/10 but then you realize, that scores it with the likes of Homecoming, Avengers and slightly below Winter Soldier and Guardians 1. So now you’ve gotta think, is it as good as these? Of course these things are all subjective but you’ll find many people have a very similar top 5 MCU films; Winter Soldier, Civil War, Avengers, Guardians and Homecoming. So is it as good as these? No, but it is still a good bit better than what has come before. If you enjoyed what James Gunn has done with Guardians, you will enjoy Ragnarok, if you prefer the somewhat darker feel of the previous Thor film, you will not. But that train of thought is what lead me to writing this article. The MCU is changing and i’m not conviced it’s for the best.
Looking back at the Phase one films, they had it much easier. Sure, there had been comic book films before, we’d seen Blade, Spider-Man and X-Men franchises but when Iron Man ended and Marvel tipped their hand, giving us an inkling as to what they had lined up, it was bigger than what we’d seen before and they had our interest, all they had to do now, was keep it and they did that with some fairly lighthearted movies but with a clear connection between them, Phil Coulson.
When Phase one ended with the climax of Avengers, Marvel again tipped their hand and gave us a glimpse of what this was all heading towards, but here is where they stumbled, a little. Phase two is considered by many to have the weakest of the films and even though they knew where they wanted to go, to keep their audience interested, they changed up the formula of their movies.
Iron Man 3, for all it’s flaws, tried to go dark and addressed a real issue PTSD and should be applauded for it. However, it does little else that deserves applause and there is no connective tissue to the bigger picture. Thor: The Dark World continued this darker tone, with what was meant to feel gritty but, due to clear cast issues, came off as dull and boring. The only connection to the big picture is a post credits scene with the Collector being given the Aether and remarking: “One down, five to go.”
It seems after these two were poorly received that Marvel began to readjust their path, it was about this time that Ant-Man was announced and with Guardians on the horizon too, many saw this as a gamble on the unknown.
Next up, however, was another sequel and it was Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While this film continued a much darker tone, it also changed up how it told it’s story. It wasn’t the straight up action films we’d had so far, but a spy/thriller and this, for many, is why it worked, it was something fresh again. Despite falling into the “bad guy is basically just a bad version of the hero” trope and seemingly being as disconnected from the big picture as the previous two, it still stands head and shoulders above everything that came before it.
Next up is the film that changed the entire MCU and seems to be the one that they are using as their guidline. Guardians was a comedy, a sci-fi comedy, but still a comedy. The 80’s vibe tapped into the nostalgia element, the characters were fresh and we got an explanation as to what the “Big Bad” was doing. If you look at everything that comes after Guardians, they are all much lighter in tone than what came before, with the exceptions of Civil War and Doctor Strange.
It seems that after trying their hand at a darker tone, they have stuck with the Guardians comedy direction and that is not always going to work. It certainly didn’t work in Age of Ultron. While I enjoyed the movie, it was advertised to us as a darker film but, after the success of Guardians, they seemed to change it to make it a funnier film. The one scene that always sticks in my head is Ultron, flying a Quin-Jet while singing “There are no strings on me”. Why is he flying a jet? He’s a weapon of mass destruction!!!! It’s done purely for comedy, it’s stupid and it doesn’t work.
Ant-man worked because it was another fresh character and it had a genre shift again, going for a heist/comedy approach. Civil War worked because we got our heroes fighting each other and it was refreshing to see a different kind of villain, plus two new heroes as well. Doctor Strange is a bit of an oddity, it’s not unlike many of the films before it but it’s vastly different too. I feel that worked in its favour, new powers, new characters and some trippy visuals. The comedy worked but I feel is introduction was purely to bring the Time Stone to the table and to give the good guys a valuable weapon in the war to come. His movie should have come out much earlier.
Guardians 2 seemed to try far too hard to be as funny or funnier than the original and it often came off as forced. Homecoming did well to pull off a full reboot without doing an origin story, while still managing to fit into the MCU fairly well, despite messing up the entire timeline.
And now we come back to Thor: Ragnarok. There’s a lot of comedy, maybe too much but it doesn’t come off as forced as Guardians 2 or as out-of-place as Age of Ultron. It does seem that Marvel is leaning heavily on comedy in these movies and that does have me a little worried.
Looking at the slate for the rest of Phase 3 we have Black Panther, Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Captain Marvel and Avengers 4 (which is almost definitely Skrull related). Of these films only the Ant-Man one would lend itself to a comedic tone but it’s currently slated for release only 8 weeks after Infinity War! After watching all their friends get killed, how many jokes can they really be cracking here?
They have some fantastic writers and actors, so why are they leaning so heavily on comedy? Their best work has come from the least comedic films. Maybe after seeing their “darker” films fall on their faces and with the backlash that DC got over their dark tones, they just decided to double down on the funny.
What do you think? Do they rely too heavily on comedy? Am I just over thinking it? Am i just a grumpy old man now? Would you rather see some darker stories or are you happy with the status quo? Let us know, we’re alway happy to hear your thoughts on our silly rants!