‘I’ ON CULTURE
The good news is that Thor: Ragnarok is the best of the Thor films. OK, that really is not too difficult. But the film also works as a buddy film, with some good laughs. It hit my ultimate compliment for any movie: I not only did not look at my watch at any time, but when the film moved toward the end, I was actually both surprised and sorry.
The Thor franchise has been the weakest of all the Marvel films; simply unfunny as the big guy loses his strength for a bit and then gets it back while his brother Loki creates mischief. This new movie turns a lot of that on its ear. New Zealand director Taika Waititi, who also plays a supporting role, has made even Thor funny.
In the new film, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Asgard, having put off Ragnarok (the end of Asgard) a bit longer, and finds his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) running the place with Odin gone. They find the old god with the help of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), only to find that Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is ready to die and that Ragnarok had begun as their older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) was beginning a takeover. Shocked, since neither had ever heard of her, they return, and she beats the daylights out of them, destroying Thor’s hammer and tossing them out of Asgard.
Thor wakes up on Sakaar, a planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), where he is quickly captured by alcoholic Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). He is forced to fight the Grandmaster’s champion in a gladiator match. And guess who the champion is? Right, the Hulk. Thor tries friendship, which doesn’t work too well, but they fight to a draw, and the two wind up sharing quarters.
Loki is around, working with the Grandmaster, but eventually helps Thor and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) escape, planning to betray them. But Thor outsmarts him (for a change). There’s a nice battle in air cars as our heroes, plus Valkyrie, fight their way back to Asgard, where Heimdall (Idris Elba) has been helping the people escape the horrors of Hela with her scruffy assistant Scurge (Karl Urban). These sequences set off the comedy wonderfully; we see decent people being pushed around and root for them.
Thor and the others get back, and there are actually a few interesting twists that really work. Scurge becomes a hero, Loki behaves himself and Valkyrie redeems herself.
The cast is very good. Hemsworth actually carries off the comedy. Hiddleston is, as expected, good. Blanchett clearly had fun being able to go all camp. Thompson, whose character will continue in future movies, is a real find. She was great in action scenes and handled the acting chores wonderfully.
Elba was really good; as the guardian of most of the regular people, he stood out, by far the most decent character in the film. Waititi as a revolutionary made of rocks has some great lines. My favorite: “I ran a revolution but didn’t print enough pamphlets.” Goldblum does his usual shtick and is good in his limited role. I enjoyed Rachel House as his bloodthirsty assistant.
Yes, the filmmakers shred Norse mythology. Loki was not the son of Odin or Thor’s brother. Hela was not his big sister but his daughter (and they did get along). The gods here are far more diverse than they ever were in the actual mythology, but Elba and Thompson are good, so who cares?
The movie is fast-paced, so quick that the fact that most of the CGI is similar to that of other films (I had a flashback to some of the Star Wars films in the battle of Sakaar) does not really matter. What does count is that while the comedy was good, the look at the impact of the gods on regular people really counted as well. It was a great counterpoint.
It is not the best of all the Marvel Universe movies, but it is in the top half of them. And it is a setup for the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War coming in May. This is a fun movie that I enjoyed far more than any other film of the last few months. Go see it.