Bruising through immigration hassles is not the best way to spends years of your life. Humour, then, is what’s needed to keep your head in the game when trying to make it off a Nauru-like plane of existence.
An existence that starts out like many refugees. A family unit looking for answers and some kind of better days. Then, before they have a chance to breathe they’re out on the waters one minute, waking up in a detention centre the next and looking for a way to get back home. It’s a resonant beginning to wonder where you fit in life and how you can make your own path, wherever it leads you.
On the surface, Thor: Ragnarok is a workplace comedy built around the well-matched pairing of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (CGI/Mark Ruffalo). Hardly interacting in previous outfits, here they find themselves cracking jokes and making light of their situation. The alternative is a horror show over smashed skulls and sinew and the consequences of having blood on your hands keeping yourself alive. The slashing is brutal as every other moment is undercut with a joke, and they do work in the moment. Place them all in a line and they start to reveal the grand scale cover-up of abuse going on. A smear of the systemic abuse going on in the backyard. And Nauru used to be just an island keeping to its own before being a holding spot for who knows how long in forever.
So it is that after years moored it’s the difference between those passing through and those born into captivity washes away. And then we mix in with those who have always lived on the land. Where do they come into the mix? Are they as much prisoners now because their home is a gaol without their consent? With a ruler like The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) it’s hard to tell what is going on, but they’ll make you crack up as they wave away the human rights abuse.
When Thor takes a step with Robert Plant’s wail on Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, it is hard to not fist pump and yell along with how much energy the song channels into the soundtrack. Energy that stays at the top of the ceiling with all the visual splendour and marvel going on Sakaar. Jack Kirby reigns throughout with the designs and costumes being a matter of fact and apologising for nothing. It’s bold, it’s big, it’s colourful. Here were are in proper dress and it’s been one interesting journey to get to a place of “this is normal”. After years wallowing on an island unsure of your immigrant/refugee status, it’s an overnight revelation of how gradual the transition into accepting your state and circles back how much this film mirrors the mindscape of someone stuck in detention. Or at least someone living on the edge of a broken vessel.
Sakaar’s gladiator arena lacks a certain Sisyphean model of entertainment. Instead of a Takeshi’s Castle type spectacle it’s the well-trod “slaves fight against each other” popcorn fare. That’s fine for bloodlust and betting on a beaning. True entertainment comes from watching someone try to make their way through an obstacle course knowing all the elements are ardently against them. Watching someone’s knee fly into their own chest while their other leg touches the back of their head as they keep balance on side-shifting blocks doesn’t stop being hilarious. But prison guards always fall back to running circuits of what they know best.
Thor: Ragnarok is funny and biting in its want. Tragedy never hurts as much as when laughter is used to bury the scars and anguish that soaks into a person’s psyche when they are constantly questioning where they fit in life. Or when they are ever going to know what it’s like to be in a place they can call home. If it’s even something they recognise from months, years of being written off and lost in the wild.
Reviewed on Sunday, 26 November 2017