Sunday, November 5, 2017

Review: "Thor: Ragnarok" makes the end of the world look good!

Thor: Ragnarok Review

One of the best kept secrets in Hollywood has been Taika Waititi. Much like Wes Anderson, Waititi has an incredibly unique and offbeat sense of humor. The movies he’s made don’t feel like inspiration from another people’s work and their anything but cookie-cutter. “What We Do in The Shadows” was 2013. It was a vampire mockumentary comedy, which featured some clever tweaks on the vampire movie tropes that have been prevalent in the genre, since the silent era of cinema, when “Nosferatu” came out. Not to mention that it’s just flat out funny. Then last year came “The Hunt for The Wilderpeople.” It’s a comedy unlike anything I’ve seen before. You can’t say that they don’t make them like they used to, because according to “Wilderpeople,” they never did. It’s one of the most original comedies I can think of and still one of my favorite films of last year. Now Waititi has been hired to direct “Thor: Ragnarok” and I’ll be honest. I kind of can’t believe he got the gig. I can’t imagine a studio looking at the two movies I listed above and think, “yeah, let’s give that guy our money!” But he was kind of a wickedly perfect fit and I hope this leads to his big break.

I’ve been keeping tabs on “Thor: Ragnarok” for what seems like a lifetime. It’s been so fascinating to me, fascinating because it feels like it should have been a ten-part mini-series. The word Ragnarok is in the title, which points to Norse Mythology’s book of revelation, it’s end-of-the-world prophecy. We also heard that we’d get a pinch of Planet Hulk in the movie. We heard we’d meet Valkyrie (in the form of Tessa Thompson). We heard Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) would make an appearance. We knew Thor would be searching for the Infinity Stones. We heard that Cate Blanchett had been cast as Hela, the goddess of death. And this was all supposed to be a comedy. Would a movie so dense actually be good?

Turns out that the movie isn’t a bloated mess. It’s mostly about Thor getting knocked out of Asgard by Hela, who has returned from a prison made by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and she’s hellbent on turning Asgard into a terrible empire. Thor needs to get back to his home to stop her, but he gets captured by Valkyrie who is working for Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who runs gladiator games on the planet Sakaar. Turns out Grandmaster’s reigning champion is Hulk, and Thor needs to set up a revolt in order to get home to stop Hela. Doctor Strange makes a brief cameo, and there is some discussion about the Infinity Stones. But the movie mostly focuses on Thor’s adventure to get back to his home. Waititi is not given more than he can handle, he never bites off more than he can chew.

The movie itself? Well, it’s an absolute blast. I think Thor’s movies would have benefited a lot more by staying off-Earth. It feels like such a corporate decision to have to go to Earth in order for the film to feel right, but it seems like everything that is great about the character is unleashed by having a crazy cosmic adventure. It’s amazing how fun a fit having a movie revolve around Hulk and Thor. They make a surprisingly humorous and joyously horrendous duo. The introduction of Valkyrie is strong, and Thompson deserves credit for creating a real character out of what was written for her, because with a lesser actress, she probably would have appeared one-dimensional. I am praying we get more of her in the future of the franchise, because I think we can all agree that this universe could use some more women. This is a colorful, contact-high of a movie.

Yes, Loki returns and yes, Tom Hiddleston is quite good. The relationship between Loki and Thor has always been complex. Simply put, Loki wants to do bad in the world and Thor wants to do good. Although I would argue that Loki has never been as conniving and vile as he was in the comic books. I kind of like that Disney has worked so hard to make him so complex. There are couple of moments in the movie when Loki and Thor are talking about their past, and its amazing how sort of touching it is, touching because we know that history. We also know that these two guys are brothers, and they do, deep down, love each other. But even though there is some brotherly love, they still don’t trust each other, and those exchanges are quite funny.

Loki also highlights the problem Marvel still has, it still very much has a villain problem. Yes, Hela can be kind of amazing in moments, and yes Cate Blanchett is acting her ass off, trying to make this count. But she’s pretty one-note as written. She’s angry, she wants more land to possess, she’ll kill whoever stands in her way. That’s basically the end of the character. She recruits the help of another Asgardian named Skurg, played by another “Lord of the Rings” alumni, Karl Urban. He’s a warrior who has seen the universe, but just wants to be remembered for something. He joins Hela to save his own neck, and out of slight spite. He’s got a big moment, but it’s a rather predictable moment. Jeff Goldblum is really amazing as Grandmaster, but he’s not in the movie nearly as much as he should. I really hope we haven’t seen the last of him. An appearance in third “Guardians” movie, perhaps? It’s rather worrisome to be this late in the franchise and still have a villain problem, even though people point it out every year. I am beginning to worry deeply that Thanos isn’t going to be the epic badass he should be, and the badass Marvel has been promising since 2012. I hope I am wrong, because I desperately want Infinity War to work.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is full of laughs, and while DC fanboys may complain, I like that the Marvel movies at large have a certain tone. Yes, there is a witty, friendly, adventurous, board-stroked fun ingrained in each of these movies. Yes, this is a franchise that knows it’s making movies, they aren’t afraid to wink and nudge you. With that said, sometimes that can be a bit of a problem. “Thor: Ragnarok” suffers from the same problem “Avengers: Age of Ultron” did. It’s overly-humorous, even when the story doesn’t call for it. This is a movie where characters we have grown to love lose their lives, and an entire civilization’s home is destroyed, and Thor and Loki can only joke about it? The Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed after this movie, but Thor and Loki and the other Asgardians can’t feel the weight of that change? I like the style of these Marvel movies, I like the world they represent. But Kevin Fiege has got to understand that the audience signs up for the more serious, more somber rides too. I am not saying that all the Marvel movies have to be dour and depressing, because that tips into “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” quite quickly. I am just saying, having our beloved characters feel the stakes of the story would be nice.

The few minor missteps don’t stop Thor being a blast though. The fight between Thor and Hulk is pure magic. The detour to Doctor Strange’s house is miraculous. The play on Asgard that retells “The Dark World?” So funny (In the play scene, look for cameos by Matt Damon, Sam Neill, and Chris Hemsworth’s own brother Luke playing Thor in the play!). Korg may be the best new character the movie introduces, a big bag of offbeat humor that had me busting a gut every time he was onscreen. There is so much to love here, so much to awe at as you watch. Long time fans of this character and this franchise will continue to enjoy this latest chapter of the God of Thunder. It's the end of the world as we know it, and "Thor: Ragnarok" is fine!


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