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Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok

Posted: November 6, 2017 at 5:14 pm   /   by

Let me address the giant gorilla in the room: No, Thor: Ragnarok is not a big SNL sketch.  It isn’t joke-a-second comedy.  There are serious moments in it.  It’s fun, to be sure—and funny, often.  But there are serious moments.

Mind you, often those moments are pretty much downplayed—in fact, a bit too often.  Just a bit.  But as online critic John Campea points out, there are very high stakes in this film—and it makes darn sure we know that…while we’re chuckling.

Thor: Ragnarok begins after Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been searching for answers to a LOT of questions that have been burning in his mind since Avengers: Age of Ultron—questions about Infinity Stones, and other things that may or may not be connected to them.  Why we don’t see any of this search is anyone’s guess—it wouldn’t been a very interesting storyline to follow, at least for a scene or two at the beginning.  Maybe an opening montage, at least.  I mean, this movie’s pretty darn short.  It’s not like showing instead of telling would’ve slowed things down.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Thor’s chained up by Surtur (a magnificent voice performance by Clancy Brown, in a sadly underused role), a demon-god who wants to bring about Ragnarok—the destruction of Asgard, which may or may not signify the apocalypse, depending on how well or badly Thor and company handle it.

Surtur seems confident he’ll succeed…and lets in on a secret he knows, which we know if we’ve seen the end-credits sequence in Thor: The Dark World—namely, that the Odin in Asgard right now isn’t Odin.  (Yes, spoilers for Dark World—but if you’re reading this, you either saw that one already, or have no real interest in seeing it.)  Thor responds by kicking butt as we always love seeing him do—and then confronting the not-dead Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who’s posing as Odin.

(By the way, at this point, keep your eyes peeled for two cameos from legendary actors we know and love.  Specifically, take a good look at the acting trope putting on a stage production of a melodramatic reenactment of a certain scene from Dark World….)

Loki banishing the real Odin is the first of two big mistakes he makes—but as Thor explains the situation, the two set out to set right what once went wrong…with some all-too-brief help from one Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Sadly, the doc’s awesome exchange with Thor from the trailers about “dire plans” and destiny is not in the movie.  Again, it’s not as if the movie’s too long to include that…!

Well, they do find Odin (the magnificent Sir Anthony Hopkins)—and he’s not big on going back.  In the meantime, he’s got a dire warning about a new, ominous threat coming in—Hela, the Goddess of Death, played to perfection by the immortal Cate Blanchett.  She used to be Odin’s sidekick in the great wars of old…and he cast her out Thor-style when she got a bit too bloodthirsty.

Well, now she’s back—and bold—and beautiful—and thirsty for blood…and Asgard.  Swaggering like a woman aware of her powers—as a woman, along with as the Goddess of Death—she shatters Thor’s hammer with barely an effort, and sends Loki into such a panic that he makes his other big mistake….

When the dust settles, Thor finds himself on a world that seems to be one big scrap yard, except for one city ruled by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum at his quirkiest).  The planet has two major businesses: 1) scrap collection, and 2) gladiator matches.  Thor gets captured by a hard-drinking scrap collector (Tessa Thompson)—who turns out to be the last of the Valkyries, driven to bitter retirement after a tragic loss.  She brings Thor to The Grandmaster, he gets his hair clipped, and in order to get his freedom, he’s got to square off against the great champion of the ring.  One guess who it is.

Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has been Hulked out for two years straight—long enough that Hulk can say more than “Hulk smash!” and “Puny god….”  (He actually seems to flirt a bit with the retired Valkyrie, aka “Angry Girl”—to the point where one wonders if flirting’s all they’ve been doing….)  When he finally de-Hulks, Banner’s filled with anxiety over whether he’s lost the ability to control his changes anymore.

But Thor needs to get back to Asgard and save the day from Hela—and sets out to put together a team of heroes.  Will the last Valkyrie find it within herself to shake off her depression and get back into the game?  Could Loki take part?  Will he look for a way to further his own agenda?  Do you even need to ask?

Okay!  This was a very entertaining film.  It’s a good diverting two-and-a-quarter hours.  Worth seeing, and enjoyable.  A particularly great moment involves Loki and the retired Valkyrie: After a knock-down, drag-out fight where they both surprisingly hold their own, Loki uses his mental acumen to force out of her a tragic memory….

There’s also the immensely charming rock-man Korg (played by the director).

It’s just…I don’t see myself watching Ragnarok more than a couple of times.  At least not going out of my way to.

Really, there’s no reason to—it’s all story and plot points, and as for characterization…well, not much.  The film rushes through any “real” character moments, as if director Taika Waititi’s impatient to “get to the point”—the “point” being the next plot point…or the next punch line.

That’s the second issue with the film: The first act seems to really rush through things—Thor fights Surtur and his hordes—BOOM, he’s back on Asgard, and confronts Loki—BOOM, they’re on Earth, looking for Odin—BOOM, Thor meets up with Dr. Strange.

And that leads to issue three: Certain characters we’ve known and loved from the first two Thor movies are killed off before our eyes.  This would have great emotional impact—and in some cases, it arguably does.  But when two in particular get whacked mere seconds after they appear on screen—that impact’s completely destroyed.  BOOM—“Oh, it’s them!  I’ve always liked—!”—BOOM—“What, they’re dead?!”

The worst part is, they could easily have been a scene beforehand featuring them, so we’d be emotionally prepared…so we’d actually feel something, when they die.  But no—they’re literally just there to be killed off.  Figures.

By the way, Jamie Alexander’s Lady Sif is nowhere to be found in this film.  I get that Jaimie wasn’t available at the moment, but seriously: There’s not even a mention of her.  (Again, the movie is just over two hours long—a couple of seconds, one line to establish where she is…!)  There is a quick mention of Jane Foster—Natalie Portman’s character.  Apparently things didn’t work out, and we’re left without any notion as to why.  And once again, we can blame Marvel for not going with Patty Jenkins’s idea for the second Thor….

But I digress.

The fourth problem involves a certain joke.  As I said, as a rule the humor’s just fine in this film…though Thor talking in a very casual, informal manner takes a lot of getting used to.

No, the only joke I really have a beef with comes near the very end of the movie—right after a tragic choice that had to be made.  It’s almost reminiscent of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock—“Bones…what have I done?”  “What you had to do.”  Except instead of a powerful exchange like that…we get a joke.  And a predictable one at that.

Again, I get John Campea’s point about the darkness of the stakes.  It’s just that, well, I didn’t feel the weight of all that, at least not much.  And I wanted to.  But it really came across as: Taika Waititi just doesn’t do drama very well—or worse, he just doesn’t want to.

A notable exception involves the arc of a gun-toting Asgardian (the guns coming from The Land Of Tex-As) played by Karl Urban—struggling with his desire to do something meaningful, regardless of whether that leads him to do good or terrible things.

Still, the serious moments, as a rule, came off as “cold”…distant, the emotion minimized.

Really, when it comes to the online critics, I’m more with Jeremy Jahns on this one: The “fun” was fine and dandy…but I sure would’ve loved a whole lot more.

Okay, a quick “politics” note—ironic, because the film didn’t strike me as political at all, even though Korg is described as a former revolutionary.  Regardless: Salon.com, being Salon.com, just sent out a piece this weekend over how they “hope” Thor Ragnarok “delivers a hammer to the face of the Alt-Right.”

Yeah.  Basically, they say Hela’s agenda represents evil white people conquering everything, and the movie takes Norse mythology down a few pegs, and that’s good because the Alt-Right are grounded in Norse mythology…or something.

And they say Conservatives stretch in their movie analysis.  Geez.

All right, look—it’s an entertaining film, regardless of your politics.  It’s isn’t particularly special—it’s not Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or Guardians of the Galaxy.  It’s a par-for-the-course Marvel Cinematic Universe film, for better or for worse.  But that means it’s enjoyable, nonetheless.

Just don’t expect much, the second or third time you see it.

Two “credits” scenes—the first setting up Avengers: Infinity War, the second giving a punch line to something.  Incidentally, it’s cute how even at this point there are still a lot of movie-goers getting up out of their seats before the credits end…even though it’s a Marvel movie.

Figures.

Stay film-friendly, my friends.

 

Movie Grade: B

Eric Blake

Eric Blake

Team Writer at Western Free Press
Eric M. Blake is a recent graduate of the University of South Florida, with a Bachelor's in Political Science and a Master's in Film Studies.  As that implies, he is very passionate about political theory and filmmaking--and the connections between the two.  Inspired by Andrew Breitbart's axiom that "Politics is downstream from culture", he is deeply fascinated by the great influence that popular culture has on public opinion, and is a firm believer in the power of storytelling.  He proudly owns his second copy of Ben Shapiro's Primetime Propaganda...his first copy having been worn out though intense re-reading.

Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory.  He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests.  He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work.  Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.

Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com.  He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio.  In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
Eric Blake

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Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok