Thanks to work, I’ve only just caught up with Thor: Ragnarok – another solid seven out of ten film from Marvel Studios. One thing the film does do is highlight Marvel’s problem with comedy and how it undercuts any tension the movie may have.
I’m not saying that superhero movies shouldn’t make a single joke. In fact characters like Thor need to embrace the silliness of their premises but they need to do it in a way that still takes their stories seriously. Below the break I’ll have examples!
Warning Spoilers for Thor Ragnarok
The best way to explain this issue is with a couple of examples. Both are taken near the very start of the film so hopefully not too spoilery for people who haven’t seen the movie yet.
The film opens with Thor stuck in a cage explaining how he got there to a character off screen (although he really telling the audience). The camera then switches to the person he is talking to, a skeleton, who’s jaw falls open – and off completely – at a particular exciting bit of Thor‘s tale.
This is a great example of a comedy moment in a superhero movie and nicely sets the tone for what is described as the “funniest Marvel movie to date.“
The floor of the cage falls away leaving Thor wrapped up in a chain above a pit of leave where Surfur – a hell demon from Marvel comics – explains how he will destroy Thor‘s home of Asgard. You’d expect a scene about a hell demon threatening to destroy our hero’s home would be full of tension and dread. Instead the movies undermines the tension by a silly joke about Thor spinning around on the chain I mentioned earlier and asking Surfur to wait till Thor is facing him again before he continues.
This ‘joke’ undermines the scene by taking out all of the tension. If our hero doesn’t seem to care about the destruction of his home, why should we?
For me superhero movies are at their best when they are big and operatic, dealing with big emotions on huge scales. Yes that should include humour but not at the expense of the story. The best example of this is the original Thor movie where Kenneth Branagh treated the Thor comics with the same respect he gives to Shakespeare.