Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

I decided to let one more little movie-night debauch into my Thanksgiving-week festivities last night, another one of those $5-movie-tickets-with-free-mini-popcorn nights at the Marcus Cinemas movieplex across the Lake of the Ozarks. It was my fifth trip around to Lake Ozark/Osage Beach in eight days, about the same number of visits I've made the whole rest of the year put together; I guess I'll chill now for a while. But on a tight budget, I enjoyed the new Marvel Universe movie Thor: Ragnarok, a sequel/sidequel to a number of other Marvel movies, including a couple previous Thor movies, a couple Avengers movies, Doctor Strange, and arguably, 2008's The Incredible Hulk (albeit that Hulk was played by Edward Norton). Like the DC heroes discussed in my recent review of Justice League, other characters depicted in the Avengers movies (e.g. Spiderman, Iron Man, Captain America) also have their own movie franchises, which further complicates the pedigree of this movie. I am woefully ill-equipped to present a master's thesis about these canon issues, since out of all the current crop of Marvel/Avengers movies, I believe I have only seen the first Iron Man, the Hulk movie with Edward Norton, and at least most of the first Thor movie. I'm sorry I can't even say with certainty whether I saw all of it, but it was one of those situations when I was watching cable TV with my parents, and my dad had the TV controller, and you know how dads are; they can't sit through a commercial break without changing to another channel and then, possibly, missing an act or two of the movie they intended to watch - if, indeed, there was any particular movie they intended to watch. I think I saw the better part of it, though.

So, yeah, I'm no expert on this. I mean, I thought Valerian was a really fun movie when I saw it last summer. Afterward, I learned I didn't hate it properly. This was, no doubt, because I didn't even know it was based on a series of graphic novels, so I didn't compare every tiny detail of the film to the books and find it wanting. When I express my opinion about this movie, I'm evaluating it as a popcorn-munching, casual moviegoer, not as a fan of the franchise. I haven't seen all or even most of the films that some might regard as required viewing before seeing this. I haven't read a comic book since I was about 15, and I doubt I read six of them before that. I like superhero movies because they tend to be visual funhouse rides, packed with over-the-top action, cheesy dialogue, and dazzling effects. If I was interested in their deeper themes, I would probably see something arty.

Thor: Ragnarok has some actors reprising their roles from previous Marvel films: Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers) as Bruce Banner/Hulk, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and of course Chris Hemsworth - the Marvel Cinematic Universe's answer to Henry Cavill - as Thor. It has cute cameo appearances by Sam Neill, Matt Damon (uncredited), and Luke Hemsworth as actors playing the last-named father/sons trio of Norse gods. It also features Idris Elba (who lately starred on British TV as a detective named Luther) as an Asgardian good guy named Heimdall, Tessa Thompson (Creed) as the last surviving Valkyrie, Cate Blanchett (Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings) as the villainous Hela, Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, Independence Day) as Grandmaster of a junk planet's gladiatorial games, Clancy Brown (the head screw in The Shawshank Redemption) as a fire demon who plans to bring Ragnarok (the end of Asgar), and Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy in the Star Trek reboot films) as Hela's sidekick Skurge. I thought I recognized the actress who played Goldblum's sidekick, but I haven't seen anything Rachel House was in; I guess she reminded me of The Trunchbull from Matilda. Also, I mistook rock-monster Korg's accent for South African, but it actually belongs to New Zealand native Taika Watiti, who also directed this movie.

So, to summarize what happens in this film: Not one, but two evils arise, and neither Thor nor his treacherous (and surprisingly not dead) brother Loki can stop them. Inevitably, Asgard comes to an end.

There. Happy? No? Well, for more details, see the movie. It's got lots of (how did I put it?) over-the-top action, cheesy dialogue, and dazzling effects. It has gladiatorial action, white-knuckle spaceship driving, and many thrilling battles, chases, and escapes. Also, there are some good character-development hits and a strong dose of comedy. For example, it's hard not to giggle whenever a character refers to a certain wormhole, known as the Devil's Anus. Goldblum's character is disturbing and adorable at the same time. Female movie fans undecided about seeing it should consider that one of the heroes and one of the villains are both strong women; and if you're still on the fence, Chris Hemsworth has his shirt off for a minute. Male movie fans, concerned about whether this movie is for them, need not ask any further than, "Is there a fight between Thor and the Hulk?" Yes. "Who wins?" Sorry, there was a limit of one question.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Odin tells Thor why he doesn't need his hammer. Maybe hardcore comic fans are saying, "All right, I already know this, get on with it." I thought it was a very intelligent and emotionally fulfilling moment. (2) Loki, exiting a dimension where Doctor Strange has parked him while he talks with Thor: "I've been falling for half an hour!" (3) The spaceship chase during Thor & Co.'s escape from Grandmaster's planet, for fast-paced, funny action. Honorable mention: The whole story arc about Banner being afraid if he becomes Hulk again, he won't come back, only to have almost the opposite happen at a climactic point in the battle with Hela and her revenant army. I didn't mention them, did I? Well, add that to your reasons to watch this movie.

Overall grade: A-. Note, that's better than the B+ I gave Justice League. Even with the end-of-the-world stuff, a dystopian subplot, the deaths of several beloved recurring characters (don't think I didn't notice), and a cliff-hanger mid-closing-credits bonus scene, it's a much cheerier, lighter, unrepentantly fun movie. It doesn't pull the viewer's mood down with all that post-empire stuff that, perhaps in Justice League and certainly in the recent X-men sequel Logan, is intended to be (and might actually be) a virtue. It just takes you out of your world and shows you a good time before sending you back. Good for it. Good for you.

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