We recommend some goofy space comedies, a documentary on Australian cars, and more.
The third Marvel movie of the year is out, and while the other two were quite amusing, Thor: Ragnarok takes the comedic cake. It’s a goofy superhero movie set in space, and so this week I’m recommending some other silly sci-fi favorites. Other picks to watch after Thor: Ragnarok include movies specifically cited as influences by director Taika Waititi and one film that gives some background on the MCU installment’s most random Easter egg.
Here’s your homework of eight movies to watch, plus a bunch of honorable mentions for extra credit:
Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)
What is Thor: Ragnarok but a buddy comedy in space? Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are a couple of bickering friends making the most of their time on a strange planet and amidst the cosmos. There are jokes, some slapstick, and a good deal of action — not unlike this Bud Abbott and Lou Costello vehicle, their 32nd feature together. Both movies even involve a race of women (Valkyries in Ragnarok; Venusians in this).
The classic comedy sees the two men accidentally launched on a mission to Mars, only they land in New Orleans during Mardi Gras instead. Then, they and a couple of convicts on the run wind up flying to Venus, which is inhabited only by females. It’d be great if we could next see Thor and Hulk, like Abbot and Costello, meet various monsters, join the foreign legion, and partner in more adventures.
Honorable mentions: all the great comedians and comedy duos and troupes should do or should have done a sci-fi movie. Where’s Charlie Chaplin in space? Why didn’t the Marx Brothers go to Mars? Well, other than Abbott and Costello, there’s the Three Stooges space adventure, 1959’s Have Rocket — Will Travel. I’d also count the 1987 comedy Spaceballs as not so much a Star Wars parody as simply Mel Brooks in space. It’s more spoof than Ragnarok, but not that much more.
Flash Gordon (1980)
If the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are Marvel’s take on Star Wars, then Ragnarok is its Flash Gordon. That’s not to say it’s a cheaper or lesser movie. In some ways, Flash Gordon — based on the comics and film serials that actually were a huge influence on Star Wars — is more fun because it takes itself a lot less seriously. Ragnarok, it’s hard to believe, in turn takes itself even less seriously than the Guardians franchise does.
Like Ragnarok, this movie is about strangers in a strange land. Thor isn’t from Earth, but we often see him based there, while Hulk is a human who finds himself on another planet, just like Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and Hans Zarkov. There’s even a bit of sporting combat between two characters who shouldn’t be in opposition, a la Thor and Hulk. Also, Mark Mothersbaugh’s Ragnarok score is definitely inspired by Queen’s rocking Flash Gordon soundtrack.
In case the influence wasn’t obvious enough, Waititi recently told ScreenRant:
“I think ‘Flash Gordon’ is one of the biggest…You know, the tone and the colors, definitely the colors sort of how bright and in your face that film is. The soundtrack as well, sort of got similar feels to it. That film was actually the only film I ended up showing the H.O.D.s before we started shooting.”
And earlier this year he told Entertainment Weekly how much he loves the movie, adding:
“I’ve often said if Freddie Mercury were alive, I would have asked Queen to do the soundtrack. It just has that feel: it’s a cool bold, colorful cosmic adventure. And it just needed to be fun.”
Honorable mention: out the same year but not nearly as successful, not even as a cult classic, Galaxina is worth checking out if you love the cheesy space opera stuff. The movie stars “Playboy Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten,” who was tragically slain months after its release, as the titular android aboard a police spaceship. There’s also a character named Thor! And one named Butt. And there are special stones in play (not Infinity Stones, though the ship is called Infinity). It’s mostly stupid, but it’s also often enjoyable B-movie trash.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Another movie that Waititi has mentioned as an influence on Ragnarok, this fantasy comedy stars recent MCU addition Kurt Russell (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) as trucker Jack Burton, who on a dark and stormy night becomes mixed up with Chinese sorcerers and their pursuit of a girl with green eyes. Thor in Ragnarok is a lot like Burton, an aloof and pompous and somewhat goofball hero, but unlike Burton, who has to reluctantly help others in their quest, Thor is the one on a mission that requires his new friends’ help.
From a March 2017 EW interview, here’s Waititi on how the John Carpenter cult classic influenced the latest Thor movie:
“‘Big Trouble in Little China’ was one of those films where Jack Burton is a buffoon but he’s lovable and you’re with him the entire way. I thought Thor has got to be the one you want to be with in every scene.”
Honorable mention: another movie from around the same time to see is Martin Scorsese’s 1985 cult classic After Hours, especially since Waititi refers to Ragnarok as “After Hours in space” in a new Hollywood Reporter interview. It lacks the fantasy element but does have a fantastical nightmarish tone and follows another character through a series of misadventures, most of them in NYC’s SOHO neighborhood.
The Holden Story (1986)
One chain of Easter eggs that most people won’t notice outside of Australia is the names of all the spaceships in Ragnarok, excluding the Avengers Quinjet. They come from models of Australian cars made by Holden — a loving tribute to a company that just closed its last manufacturing plant last month. The naming was also, as Waititi told Australian radio station Triple J, a way of making him feel more comfortable.
The four Holden-inspired ships include the Commodore, a pleasure cruiser (used for orgies mostly) that the gang of heroes steals from the Grandmaster and which also colorfully pays homage to the Australian Aboriginal flag. There’s also the Statesman, which is the big ship Korg steals from the Grandmaster that becomes a refugee transport for the Asgardians, and finally there are ships called the Torana and the Kingswood.
For those of us not from the land down under, The Holden Story provides some context for these Easter eggs. Produced by the Australian Broadcast Company, the short documentary chronicles the history of the country’s automotive industry from the Tarrant at the start of the 20th century through the post-war rise of Holden, which had become a subsidiary of US-based General Motors in the 1930s. It continues to show the introduction of the popular Commodore, and ends with a look at the technological advances of car production 30 years ago.
Honorable mention: the only other documentary I can think to suggest in relation to Ragnarok is Wagner’s Dream by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Susan Froemke (LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton). It’s a making-of doc presenting a behind-the-scenes look at an ambitious Met production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the famous opera based on Norse mythology including a section about the Valkyries.