MOVIE REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok
THOR: RAGNAROK-- 4 STARS
Made even more obvious in comparison by the monochromatic palettes being used on the DC Comics properties of the competition, the hit-making purveyors known as Marvel Films have long cornered the lightness and levity markets when it comes to comic book blockbusters. Cool heroism outweighs intensity and peril in every Marvel film, keeping things, for better or worse, sunny and safe. Paired perfectly as a double-feature follow-up to this summer’s spacefaring Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok is a raucously rad roller coaster that shoots rainbows out of every digitally-rendered pore.
The third solo film for the God of Thunder catches us up on the whereabouts of the Asgardian champion (Chris Hemsworth) since the fallout of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Loki (a looser Tom Hiddleston) deceitfully taking the all-father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) place on the throne since the end of Thor: The Dark World. Thor has failed in his two-year search for Infinity Stones and learns of the coming Ragnarok prophecy promising the destruction of Asgard by the hand of the massive fire demon Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown). The known harbinger of both tidy historical exposition and this coming chaotic cataclysm will be Hela, the Goddess of Death, played by Cate Blanchett, an Oscar winner out to have deliciously destructive fun.
Forging a brotherhood of tenuous help, Thor and Loki lose their first encounter with Hela and are tossed across space to the trash planet of Sakaar, a kill-or-be-killed place ruled with dismissive decadence by the Grandmaster (the wily Jeff Goldblum). The sly God of Mischief ingratiates himself into the gambling tycoon’s circle while Thor is collected by a hard-drinking scraper (a scene-stealing Tessa Thompson) and sold into the Grandmaster’s gladiatorial contests. Low and behold (more like spoiled by unnecessary over-marketing), Thor’s opponent, the current and undefeated champion, just so happens to be the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, giving fanboys their sip of Planet Hulk). The big green rage monster is one of many obstacles preventing Thor from getting that rematch with Hela to save his homeworld.
How does this low-risk MCU blueprint keep coming up with winners? One way is by scouting comedic talent in front of and behind the camera. Look first at the casting of Marvel’s core leads: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Paul Rudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, and, in this case, Chris Hemsworth. Each of them (follow the links) bring an easily-activated range of humor to not take themselves so seriously. If you're shooting for overall levity, you call on the nimble and agile. Hemsworth has been elevating his magnetism for laughs in Vacation, Ghostbusters, and leading a pair of Team Thor Marvel one-shot short films in character leading up to Thor: Ragnarok. He has shown himself to be quite the charismatic hoot and this film confirms that trait even more.
The same search for a certain je ne sais quoi for farce can be said for many of Marvel’s directorial choices: Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Anthony and Joe Russo, James Gunn, and Peyton Reed. All have witty and wisecracking credits on their resumes. Add director Taika Waititi’s name to that list. The peppy New Zealander behind Hunt for the Wilder People and What We Do in the Shadows merges his wholesome storytelling sensibilities with a frisky and playful side of sarcasm to sharpen the camp of the comic book content. Unlike the grating jokes of Kat Dennings from previous Thor films, Waititi’s sense of humor has far sharper subtlety and timing.
Blasting with energetic pace in the complete opposite direction from the dreary and grayish Game of Thrones Lite tone of Thor: The Dark World, this new chapter is a cinematic box of Crayola crayons laced with dynamite. Employing a synthesizer-heavy score from Mark Mothersbaugh, Thor: Ragnarok makes the worthwhile most of its IMAX 3D price hike with bombastic sound and dazzling cosmic special effects from ILM. Admittedly more frenetic with these neon and vinyl qualities than it needs to be, thanks to the Marvel blueprint being modified by the kitschy success of the Guardians of the Galaxy series, the film is still a highly satisfying blast with much to love above the silliness of it all.
LESSON #1: THE PEOPLE MAKE THE PLACE-- "Asgard is not a place. It's a people" proclaims Hopkin's Odin with regal wisdom. The mythical king's words are true in that people are the true creators and shapers of a place they choose to call home. They embody the culture that makes their ethnic group unique, and the characteristics of their given way of life follow them wherever they go and wherever they settle.
LESSON #2: EVEN THE POWERFUL NEED HELP-- As alpha-male as he may be, Thor recognizes the size of Hela’s threat, especially as she destroys his precious Mjolnir. He seeks out and rallies help from many people from many places, all of which need some kind of help of their own and consequently find a personal stake in the battle to save Asgard. Lesson #3 may have something to do with that stake.
LESSON #3: THE QUEST FOR PROPER RECOGNITION IS A MOTIVATOR-- Each of the primary characters in Thor: Ragnarok are looking for some form of realization or acknowledgment. Between looking to fulfill destined birthrights or settling on varying character alignments, finding authentic identities and true selves is often paramount to the circumstances going on here.