Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
After two disappointing films, Thor: Ragnarok is a lot of fun, with a new tone and atmosphere making the film more of a comedy, with fantastic visual effects and presentation.
I mean, come on already. The line starts just over there.
Director Taika Waititi brings his small-film aesthetic to a big-budget blockbuster and finds great synergy between interpersonal relationships between characters and go-for-broke action and humor.
"Please. No more Marvel movies. No more comic book movies, I beg you." If you honestly feel this way, Thor: Ragnarok is not going to change your mind one bit.
Though thoroughly entertaining, Marvel's flaws are still prevalent here with an underwhelming villain, forgettable storylines, and perhaps a movie a bit too light-hearted to really matter.
If Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy are movies you did not find funny at all, Thor: Ragnarok will leave you plain-faced and frustrated.
With strong box office, but tepid critical response to the first two Thor movies, Marvel's resident alien needed a reboot of sorts for Thor: Ragnarok. Enter New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, a comedic writer and director of five small, ambitious comedies, who has never had a budget larger than $2.5 million to play with.
Choosing the director of small-scale films like Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and the riotous mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, is an ambitious move (Ed. Note: Watch those movies, ASAP...) and yet, when looking at this resume, not all too surprising when you see the new direction Marvel is taking Thor as a character.
Waititi's work is defined by how his characters relate and connect with one another in challenging circumstances. In Wilderpeople, a street-smart foster child goes on the run with a gruff and unfriendly foster dad following the death of his foster mother. Shadows finds vampires of various ages living together, trying to blend in with society, and inviting a documentary film crew to debunk misconceptions about vampires' lifestyles. With Boy, an 11-year-old Michael Jackson-obsessed kid realizes that his father's return home brings with it some unexpected consequences.
He may have been given a budget 72 times larger than anything he's ever had before (at $180 million for Thor), but the Oscar-nominated filmmaker is who he is, no matter how big or small the pot of money he has to play with.
Recognizing that we need characters to connect and engage with, that underlying constant in his films, is much of what makes Thor: Ragnarok work so well. The director's insistence on focusing on characters, be they alien or human, pays off - the squabbling and bickering between brothers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) having to co-exist together in a strange planet far from their homes, just two great examples.
Rather than become mired in a mindless, dense mythology, the screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost doubles down on reinventing Hemsworth's alien superhero as a witty, relatively kind-hearted, swoll-up, big ol' lug of a guy who can fight and deliver one-liners with exquisite timing and execution. The movie never takes itself too seriously, a tip many other comic book movies, both in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and elsewhere, could learn a lesson from.
Set two years after the huge battle in Sokovia, which concluded Avengers: Age of Ultron. Thor has been imprisoned by Surtur, a fiery captor, who shares the doomsday prophecies of Ragnarok. Thor soon escapes and believes he has ended the prophetic future laid out before him.
However, other issues await back home on Asgard. Prodigal son and brother Loki, perceived dead, has been canonized by his people, making him a hero on the brothers' native land. A revelation arrives when Loki's being alive is revealed and they learn that their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) fathered a daughter they knew nothing about. Unfortunately, she turns out to be Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, and she is committed to making the Ragnarok prophecies a reality, bidding to take over the galaxy, and destroying her brothers in the process.
Blanchett is a sight for sore eyes here, as a new villain in the MCU. However, like most Marvel villains, there is not a lot of there there. And while the two-time Oscar winning actress is having a ball, she really isn't given very much to do. She is really just another evil force needing to be defeated, the screenplay missing an opportunity to make her connection to Thor and Loki something fun, engaging, and worth exploring a bit more.
Laughs though arrive often and it would not be incorrect to dub this almost a straight-up comedy. Waititi excels at timing and Hemsworth's comedic chops are on full display here as he trades barbs with his brother, throws one-liners out left and right, and shines opposite Ruffalo, who Hulk's up and is in an irascible, caustic mood for much of his on screen time.
Suffice to say, though the movie's particulars have already started to fade in the days since seeing the film, smiles remain. In addition to Blanchett, the movie improves tremendously whenever Tessa Thompson appears on screen as bounty hunter Valkyrie. She is tough, no-nonsense, and yet offers just enough vulnerability that we want to see more of her. Reports indicate that she is being added to future Marvel films and that's a win for all involved, based on her performance here.
With Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man: Homecoming, this third phase of the MCU is pivoting more to levity, laughter, and a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek tone that reminds all of us that these movies do not always need to be such drab, dark, dreary affairs.
In this film, we laugh, and laugh a lot. Waititi shows up in motion-capture as Korg, a mutant who speaks with a New Zealand dialect that lilts upward, as if nearly every thing said is in the form of a question. He nearly steals his own movie. And Jeff Goldblum Jeff Goldblum's like only he can, portraying the eccentric Grandmaster, who rules the planet Sakaar, and hosts gladiator-like battles for his people. This is where Thor and Hulk come together, as seen in every trailer and TV spot released thus far.
Thor: Ragnarok is relatively slight, but an easy, entertaining trip to the movies. And, as someone who loves Taika Waititi's other films, it gives me great joy to see him handle a giant, effects-laden blockbuster with the same grace and ease that made his other films such wonderful discoveries.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel House, Taika Waititi, Tadanobu Asano, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi.
Director: Taika Waititi
Written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Based on the Marvel Comics' series "Thor", created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.
Release Date: November 3, 2017
Walt Disney Pictures