Went to see Thor: Ragnarok, the latest outing in the seemingly endless series we call the Marvel Cinematic Universe, last Friday at a theater that was not the Cinemark. (This reminded me why I prefer to see my movies at the Cinemark, not other theaters where it smells funny and they don’t turn the lights down for the 3D trailers. Sorry, theater owners, but when the glasses go on the lights go down. Let people get the most out of that Black Panther trailer. ‘Cause it’s a beautiful trailer.)
By this time, regular readers know that I consider the MCU a guilty pleasure, that I feel the movies within it very dramatically in quality, that the series is best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that its finales are strongly in need of an edit. I go to these movies for the character stuff, the worldbuilding and spectacle, and for the first, second, and maybe third action sequence, and then I sit through the usually deadly dull “big blow up” to get to the concluding character bits and the credits and credits scenes.
Thor: Ragnarok is more of the same. From the trailers, I expected this one to turn on the characters of Thor (not terribly interesting), the Hulk/Bruce Banner (quite interesting, particularly the latter as acted by Mark Ruffalo) and Loki, and to be a representative of the lighter side of the MCU rather than the deadly serious. And so it was, mostly. The rest is under the cut in case you want to see it for yourself before you read.
Out of all the Marvel movies I’ve seen, Ragnarok most resembles the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks. It’s a lighthearted, colorful space opera with a lot of snappy banter and silly jokes. In this context Asgard is just another crazy planet where crazy, colorful, violent things happen to people wearing “space armor” and wielding “space swords” and “space spears”. (And AR-15s.) And of course the Trash Planet setting where Thor and the Hulk meet in glorious gladiatorial combat in front of thousands of festively designed aliens, is one of the purest bits of space opera I’ve seen since, well, the last Guardians.
As is often the case, the middle of this movie is probably the best part, with most of the character development taking place as the action takes most of its few pauses to breathe. It doesn’t surprise me that it’s the Hulk/Banner pairing that does the bulk of the developing, with the sublime Mark Ruffalo glowing gently in the scruffy, eternally world weary setting of Bruce Banner. Bruce has taken a particular pounding (literally and figuratively) since the last time we saw him, and Ruffalo’s portrayal of a smart, sarcastic dude who is too profoundly exhausted to have the hysterical nervous breakdown he knows he so richly deserves, is both deeply funny and rather touching. That Ruffalo’s performance was the highlight of the film for me should surprise exactly no one.
Other standouts include the immortal Jeff Goldblum as a deliciously over the top comic villain, sly, sensual and selfish down to his blue painted fingernails (you’d say he steals the show, but it’s really his show). Director Taika Waititi’s voice performance as Korg, a clever and deadpan rock creature Thor meets in the slave pits and who becomes an unlikely minor hero was surprising and delightful. Cate Blanchette was lovely and deranged as the goddess/villain Hela, and Idris Elba golden eyed and stalwart as Heimdall. The character Valkyrie, ably played as beautiful, fierce and intelligent by Tessa Thompson, will be a welcome addition to the ongoing cast.
The biggest disappointment was Tom Hiddleston’s Loki– with other characters taking the scenery-eating villain spotlight, and not much alternative material provided for him to work with, there just wasn’t enough Loki. If he is going to be repositioned as a rogue and trickster on the side of good, the writers are going to have to learn to write New Loki and fast. Because it’s a crime to waste Tom Hiddleston.
You will note that I don’t mention Thor anywhere here. He is the title character, and I suppose the protagonist, but I have never found the MCU’s Thor, or Chris Hemsworth who plays him, particularly interesting. This movie did nothing to change that. I’ll admit to being rather curious as to what’s happened to the magic hammer Mjolnir, which is probably more interesting than its owner/user, and which was smashed to bits early in the film, but I guess that will have to wait until the next movie.
From the Notebook:
- Off White Flannel Blazer Odin is the best Odin.
- I will admit to tearing up a bit when Heimdall declared that Asgard is not a place, Asgard is a people.
- My note just reads “Bruce in Tony’s clothes”. You get it.
- Note to builders of Vast Mountain Strongholds. If the Entrance to your Vast Mountain Stronghold is protected by a Crevasse both Deep and Wide, consider carefully when you protect that Entrance with Lofty Stone Doors Carved with Runes of Power. If the height of the Lofty Stone Doors Carved with Runes of Power equals or exceeds the width of the Crevasse both Deep and Wide, your enemies can blow them off their hinges and use them as a bridge.
- Let’s talk about the Fenris Wolf. Of course, I love any appearance of the Fenris Wolf in just about any story. Of course, he has an epic battle with the Hulk in this movie, but I honestly believe the two of them are natural allies. In fact, they need an epic road trip buddy movie or comics series– regarded unfairly as monsters in their own communities, they wander the 9 Worlds righting wrongs. My personal Mighty Marvel Team-Up: The Incredible Hulk and the Fenris Wolf. I may or may not be drawing them in my sketchbook.