Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Karl Urban, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Taika Waititi, Rachel House, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, the voice of Clancy Brown
MPAA Rating: (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material)
Running Time: 2:10
Release Date: 11/3/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 2, 2017
The third movie to star the alien superhero who possesses the look and powers of the Norse god of thunder provides a significant change in the series' tone, although it does not particularly provide a change in pace or formula. It's easy enough to criticize these superhero movies for seeming the same, with only minor changes within the plot or the villain or the hero's goal. Such criticism might be lazy, too, if not for the fact that so many of these movies confirm the criticism. At this point, it's starting to feel as if those changes need to be enough to carry us past the familiarity with the material. In dismissing the sincerity of its predecessors, Thor: Ragnorak comes close to helping us look past everything else that the movie does within the set routine.
If there's one thing that's genuinely intriguing about this entry, it's the way that the screenplay (written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher L. Yost) acknowledge how much Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has changed over his own movies, as well as the ones throughout this cinematic universe that feature him. He is no longer the properly mannered prince with a penchant for English that, according to one of the other Avengers, sounded a bit like "Shakespeare in the Park." The first scene in this installment has Thor talking to one of his ancient foes, a fiery creature wearing a horned crown. Surtur (voice of Clancy Brown), the immolated enemy, refers to Thor in the proper manner, as "Thor, son of Odin." Thor responds with the "son of," but he completes the phrase with a lot less respect.
Thor's experiences on Earth, interacting with normal or super-powered humans and saving the planet from an assortment of foes, have changed him. Determining whether or not these changes have been properly represented across the several movies that have featured him is a task for those with far more interest in these movies. We buy the immediate change, though, because it announces a different mode for Thor, and as previously established, in these movies, different is an inherent good.
For a significant portion of the story, this entry of Thor's solo adventures is decidedly different. It's played as a comedy, with director Taika Waititi reveling in awkward pauses, uncomfortable exchanges, some physical comedy, and other things that seem quite unlike what we might expect from a movie starring Thor. It features a slew of weird characters who exist primarily for humor. If it's attempting to continue or expand upon the stretched-out narrative of the overarching Marvel franchise, the movie does so in ways that don't stop the story dead in its tracks. Even Thor seems a bit nonplussed by the big story of all these movies, referring to the convenient MacGuffins that keep showing up in this franchise as "colorful, glowing Infinity Stone things."
That doesn't mean the movie escapes the intersectional nature of this universe of movies: There's a cameo from one superhero (kind of a favor, since Thor appeared after the end credits of that hero's solo film), and the Hulk, as well as his scientist counterpart Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), has a supporting role. One almost longs for the days when superhero movies contained too many villains, instead of too many heroes.
There are two plots here. One follows Thor and his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who faked his death in the previous movie, as they try to escape from a planet run by the egocentric Grandmaster (a very funny Jeff Goldblum). The planet is one of elites, scavengers, and gladiatorial combatants, whom the scavengers capture and who fight for the amusement of the upper class.
That's how the Hulk, who conveniently crashed on the planet after his own trip through space, comes into play (Another change is that Hulk now talks—in the short sentences and third-person self-references that are the character's traditional ways). It also gives us Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a former inhabitant of Thor's home planet Asgard, who escaped here after the rest of her fellow warrior women were killed in combat. She has become a scavenger and an alcoholic, who can still fight with the best of them but doesn't have anything for which to fight.
The other story has Hela (Cate Blanchett), the exiled heir apparent to Asgard, claiming the throne by slaughtering soldiers and putting down rebellions. Blanchett clearly relishes the role of this impatient, ill-tempered goddess of death, who seems more irritated—by how she has been forgotten and the stubbornness of Asgardians to refuse submission to her rule—than evil. She's a villain, though, without a narrative rationale, since Thor is otherwise occupied. As an antagonist, Hela is essentially a placeholder for the movie's climactic battle. By the time that conflict becomes the focus, the movie itself—by the example of its unrelated adventure on the other planet—has shown how unnecessary these fights with an ultimate villain essentially are.
They're the routine, though, and for all of its winking and joking, Thor: Ragnarok ultimately cannot escape the trap of established formula. The jokey tone, then, may work, but by the end, it also feels like it has been a long distraction from the inevitable way that all of this plays out. As different as the movie appears, those differences are, finally, superficial.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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