Sunday, November 12, 2017

Thor Ragnarok - REVIEW

Who would've thought that one of the best comedies of the year would be a Marvel film? In this case, that honor goes to the 3rd Thor film! But is this really what we all wanted from a Thor movie?

The first film was a suitable entry point for the character, but the sequel The Dark World didn't really do much of an adequate job following up from there and had a mixed reception overall. Part of the reason may have been the overemphasis on placing the action centered on Earth; something that Ragnarok fixes by going out into the cosmos.

Marvel has certainly been taking lessons from its other major cosmic film, Guardians of the Galaxy, and applied that to Thor, not only with regards to scale and locale, but also with regards to characterization and humor. While Thor has always had some degree of humor to it, it was always more in line with all of the other Marvel films where to varying degrees everything from Iron Man to Captain America to Dr. Strange balanced out their levity between more serious subject matter.

Guardians to the Galaxy was the first big exception where it was as though in order to make the big zany Marvel Universe acceptable to audiences, a larger dose of humor was applied to sell us on the idea of talking trees and raccoons and all manner of space alien creatures. And audiences loved it! So it made perfect sense as to why Marvel would encourage more of what people love across the board. But one has to wonder if there's a risk of homogenization amongst all their franchises that might be to their detriment. Thor certainly seemed to have needed something following The Dark World, and it seems as though Marvel decided to course correct him solely by turning the humor dial up to 11.

And, you know what? It actually works! Ragnarok is genuinely funny and there are plenty of great moments that are no doubt ad-lib. A big reason is down to its cast of characters and how straightforwardly they play their roles. Ragnarok is as much a Hulk film as it is a Thor film, and both get their moments to shine. Those who've seen the end-credits to previous Marvel films, knew that Dr. Strange would also be involved, in indeed he is there in a fun, though short and plot-convenient role. Our antagonist Loki is also there playing the foil to Thor just as much as hulk does, alongside a new antagonist, the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum. The director Taika Waititi also has clever cameo appearances.

Ragnarok follows after the events of Age of Ultron, where Thor sped off to find out what was going on with those visions of infinity gems and also following Dark World's end where Loki had usurped the throne. Thor is searching for Odin, but it seems that Odin's days are coming to and end. But once he goes, there is nothing to hold back the captivity of an elder sister Thor didn't know he had - Hela. She is an extremely powerful Goddess of Death who could conquer planets all on her own and she's the rightful heir to the throne of Asgard. All this occurs against a backdrop where another baddie Surtur is on the verge of reforging his crown and coming to destroy Asgard in the final apocalyptic Norse event of Ragnarok.

The main story is focused on Hela as the main threat, with Surtur and Ragnarok serving as only an intro and a convenient Deus Ex Machina solution. After overpowering Thor and Loki, she sends them flying across the universe stranding them on an alien planet without any way home. Adding to Thor's difficulties, he's weakened after losing his hammer Mjolnir, and is captured as a slave in order to fight for his freedom as a gladiator in the Grandmaster's Arena. Things get only worse when he discovers that none other than the Incredible Hulk is also his main opponent and doesn't seem to remember him. The bulk of the film is also as much about Thor and Loki dealing with their relationship and whether they can stand each other enough to ever cooperate and get along; or will they always be thorns in each other's side?

Thor Ragnarok is a very entertaining film, and it is highly likely that audiences will embrace the humor. But the laugh out loud moments come at the expense of the more serious moments that include death, and the spectre of the total annihilation of the world and people of Asgard. It is their plight that loses perspective in the grander scheme of things. It is almost as if perhaps our cast is taking such problems in too light a stride... So it never feels as if anything is really at stake. It's more of a movie where Thor goes around problem-solving with his fists.

But maybe that doesn't matter, as Ragnarok moves on to set up the main event, which is Avengers Infinity War. There is both a mid and post-credits scene after the film for those of you planning to stay. One other critique that could be made is that the 3-D in this film wasn't that great or comfortable outside of some very cool artistically inspired moments involving Valkyries and also Led Zeppelin.

The film is very pretty with a great color palette and visual style inspired by Jack Kirby. So we again see more of Guardians of the Galaxy's influence here aside from the obvious ensemble humor and the use of contemporary music in its soundtrack.

It's a crowd-pleasing film to be sure, and you're guaranteed to have a good time! But if you were a fan of Thor, you can't help worrying that this perhaps wasn't the direction you were hoping the franchise would go in; and whether or not this means similar things in store for every other Marvel character... But maybe Black Panther will change our minds before the Avengers finale.