Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thor: Ragnorok

We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow
The hammer of the gods 
We'll drive our ships to new lands
To fight the horde, and sing and cry
Valhalla, I am coming!

I admit to being disapponited by this year's comic book films. (And yeah, I get that most viewers probably disagree with me.) I felt mostly let down by Wonder Woman, was bored by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, thought Spider-Man: Homecoming was slightly more bad than good, and I liked but didn't love Logan. But at last, I have found a delightful comic book film from an unlikely director I have admired for some time, and it's the most fun I've had at the cinema all year.

Marvel is a franchise that occasionally is too full of itself, especially with movies like last year's Captain America: Civil War. The Marvel movies that were far better--the first Guardians movie, Ant-Man, the first Captain America film--were all superior to the convoluted litter that is some of their other motion pictures. That's not the case with Thor: Ragnorak, the third Thor film. This movie does complexity just as well as it does simplicity. Most importantly, it's funny, and how could it not be with the immensely talented Taika Waititi at the helm?

Our hero (Chris Hemsworth) is a bit tied up when we meet him again. He is the prisoner of the demonic Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown), who is doing his best to frighten the god of thunder with a prophecy of destroying Thor's home of Asgard. The trouble is that Thor keeps spinning around slowly in his chains, forcing Surtur to pause from time to time, and so we're off to an amusing start. By now, Hemsworth has demonostrated several times just how comical he can be on screen, but this is the first time as his most famous character that he gets a chance to demonstrate that talent. Thor of course manages to escape, fight off Surtur, and return to his home, where his brother, Loki, has temporarily taken over from their father. This, however, is not what drivers the film. Instead, the movie is divided into two plots.

Thor and Loki meet their sister, Hela (Cate Blahowever), who has returned from whatever hell she was in and is taking things over. Her brothers are no match for her; they cannot defend their home from their sister, and eventually they get stuck in the domain of the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum. The Grandmaster (who apparently is the brother of the Collector, Beneicio Del Toro's character in Guardians of the Galaxy) is the host of epic gladiator games, and whether Thor likes it or not, he's a contender. Making matters worse is that his main opponent is none other than the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), a "friend from work."

In addition to those already mentioned, Tessa Thompson delivers one of her very best performances as Valkyrie, the Asgardian bounty hunter who sometimes is a little too intoxicated to capture Thor. She's tough as nails, but maybe even she is no match for Hela, who decimated her fellow warriors. Blanchett has two Oscars and has appeared in gigantic films like The Lord of the Rings franchise, and yet this is one of her very best pieces of work. She has played villains before, but she has never looked like she was having this much fun.

Familiar alumni are here as well: Anthony Hopkins is back as Thor's father (he, too, gets a few moments of humor), as is Idris Elba as Heimdall, leading a quiet revolution against Hela. My favorite addition was possibly Karl Urban as a gun-loving Asgardian warrior (though there's an awkward joke in there about Texas and guns). There are a handful of other delightful cameos, and I won't reveal them, except to say that the standard Stan Lee cameo is as enjoyable as it has ever been. Also appearing are Tadanobu Asano, Rachel House, and Benedict Cumberbatch, reprising his role as Dr. Strange. And then of course there's Jeff Goldblum. There has been a lot of love for this icon as of late, and who can blame us? Goldblum by this point basically realizes that he is the new Christopher Walken, and he does not disappoint. Buzzfeed has declared him the internet's boyfriend, and one of the best tweets I've seen recently about him was that Jeff Goldblum as himself is the best part about Thor: Ragnorok. NPR's Linda Holmes had the brilliant observation that Goldblum in this movie is essentially a hybrid of Jabba the Hutt and Jean-Ralphio. I would add that he's not as creepy as Jabba and not as unfunny or annoying as Jean-Ralphio.

Thor: Ragnorok is not simply one of Marvel's funniest films (the most whimsical since the first Guardians of the Galaxy), but it is arguably Marvel's best looking movie ever. It's ILM visuals--led by Chad Wiebe--make it look more like last year's Dr. Strange than the utter mess that were The Avengers films. Its costume design by Mayes C. Rubeo is worthy of an Oscar nomination; particularly incredible is that of Hela's intense crown of antlers.

Waititi, who also appears as Korg, a pleasant gladiator made up of rocks who provides lots of the film's humor, deserves much of the praise for Thor: Ragnorok. I try to avoid auteur-theory rhetoric of assigning all of the success or failure of a film solely with the director, but this movie has Waititi written all of over it. If you had pleasant experiences viewing his other movies, than Thor: Ragnorak will be no different. Waititi's use of the Led Zepplin's "The Immigrant Song" is a delicious addition, augmenting the adrenaline of the action scenes (and it apparently works just as well when used in Star Wars). Like other really enjoyable films directed by Waititi (Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople), this is a movie that will stay with you and is well worth the price of admission.


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