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Thursday, November 9, 2017

DAMN Good Movies -- THOR: RAGNAROK


Yes, I'm back with another of my infamous movie takes, this time with the film Thor: Ragnarok, the sequel to 2011's Thor and 2013's Thor: The Dark World As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...you are worthy to hold the hammer of Thor...

With Thor: The Dark World bringing in almost $200 million more worldwide than the first Thor movie, it's no surprise to see the film series continue.  The Dark World director Alan Taylor decided that he wasn't coming back after having creative problems with Marvel during the post-production process, so the search was on for his replacement.  New Zealand director Taika Waititi ended up with the gig, after creating a "sizzle reel" with clips from other movies like Big Trouble in Little China to present his take to Marvel Studios.  He also scored the sizzle reel with, you guessed it, Led Zepplin's "Immigrant Song", which was so well liked it became part of Thor: Ragnarok (twice!) and used in the movie's marketing.

Writer Christopher Yost returned to provide the screenplay, along with Craig Kyle and Eric Pearson, which is based loosely on two storylines from Marvel Comics -- "Ragnarok" by Michael Oeming and Andrea Di Vito, from Thor (vol.2) #80-85, and "Planet Hulk" by Greg Pak, Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti, from Incredible Hulk (vol.2) #92-105.  And yes, that's right, a Hulk story was used to make a Thor movie.

The film starts off two years after the Battle of Sokovia, which was featured in Avengers: Age of UltronIt seems Thor's been searching for the Infinity Stones, rather unsuccessfully, and is now imprisoned by Surtur, a ginormous fire demon from Muspelheim, another of the nine worlds from Norse mythology.  Now more glib than ever, Thor gets Surtur to start monologuing and he reveals that Thor's father Odin is no longer on Asgard.  In addition, the realm will soon be destroyed in the prophesied Ragnarök, once Surtur unites his crown with the Eternal Flame that burns beneath the city.  After a fight that's over far too quickly for fans of Walt Simonson's Thor run, Thor defeats Surtur and claims his crown, thinking he managed to prevent Ragnarök.

Thor returns to Asgard and finds Skurge filling in for Heimdall, who's been declared an enemy of the people.  Not really down with that, Thor goes to find Odin, even though Surtur just told him he wasn't on Asgard.  He sees Odin watching a play about the valiant death of Loki while being pampered by women. Thor eventually sees through the deception and exposes Loki, still posing as Odin since the events of The Dark World.  Thor forces Loki to help him find their father, so they head to Earth and learn that the retirement home Loki dumped Odin in has been demolished.  Thor gets some help from none other than Doctor Strange, who is all too happy to get rid of the Asgardian gods and sends Thor and Loki to Norway, where Odin is hanging out admiring the view.  Odin explains that he's dying, and that his passing will allow his firstborn child, Hela, to escape from a prison she was placed in long ago after she started power tripping..  

Sure enough, Odin presumably dies and Hela appears for a brief family reunion.  She destroys Thor's hammer Mjolnir, a major game changer, and when Thor and Loki attempt to  escape using the Bifröst Bridge, she pursues them and forces them out into space to die. Hela arrives in Asgard and quickly goes through her "To Do" list.  She destroys the Asgardian army, murders the Warriors Three one by one, resurrects the ancient dead who once fought with her, brings back her giant wolf Fenris, and designates Skurge as her Executioner.  She plans to use the Bifröst to expand Asgard's empire, but Heimdall steals the sword that controls the Bridge, and hides away with the rest of Asgard's citizens to form a resistance.  #Resist

The second act has the hammerless Thor landing on Sakaar, a garbage planet surrounded by wormholes.  He's quickly captured by a drunk and sassy bounty hunter named Scrapper 142, then hauled in to serve as a gladiator for the planet's ruler, the Grandmaster, another Elder of the Universe and occasional brother of the Collector.  Thor soon realizes that Scrapper 142 is one of the Valkyrior, a legendary force of female fighters who were killed defending Asgard from Hela long ago.  Forced to compete in the Grandmaster's Contest of Champions, Thor encounters other captive gladiators named Korg and Miek, gets his hair chopped short (presumably so Chris Hemsworth can stop wearing a long wig), and is sent into the arena to face off against his old friend the Hulk.  Summoning lightning, Thor is about to defeat the Hulk until the Grandmaster rigs the fight to make sure the Hulk wins.  Still enslaved, Thor attempts to convince Hulk and Valkyrie to help him save Asgard, but neither wants to go.  After managing to escape the palace, Thor finds the Quinjet that brought Hulk to Sakaar.  Hulk follows Thor to the Quinjet, where a recording of Black Widow calms him down and transforms him back into Bruce Banner for the first time since Sokovia.

Everybody got that?

Okay, so the Grandmaster orders Valkyrie and Loki to find Thor and the Hulk, which they do, and Loki forces Valkyrie to relive the deaths of her fellow Valkyrior at the hands of Hela.  Deciding that maybe Thor has something going on, she takes Loki captive to prove her goodwill.  Not wanting to be stuck on Sakaar, Loki provides the group with the security codes to steal one of the Grandmaster's ships.  They liberate the other gladiators who, led by Korg and Miek, stage a rebellion.  To the surprise of no one, Loki attempts to betray his brother to the Grandmaster, but Thor anticipates this and leaves him behind, where Korg and the gladiators soon find him.  Time for the Third Act!

Escaping through a wormhole called "The Devil's Anus" (Let's see that get turned into a Lego playset), Thor, Bruce and Valkyrie arrive on Asgard, where Hela's forces are attacking Heimdall and Asgard's citizens.  Bruce becomes the Hulk again, after an awkward faceplant on the Rainbow Bridge and smashes Fenris, while Thor and Valkyrie battle Skurge and the Warriors Dead.  Loki and the gladiators arrive to help, with the surviving Asgardians swarming onto their large ship for refuge.  Skurge rethinks the whole serving Hela thing and  sacrifices himself to allow the Asgardian refguees to escape.  

Remembering this is supposed to be his movie, after all, Thor has a final showdown with Hela, which costs him the same eye that his dad Odin lost back in the Asgardian day.  (Maybe Nick Fury can help Thor find a discount eyepatch retailer?)   Suddenly, Thor has a vision of Odin, who reminds him that he's the God of Thunder, not the God of Hammers, and oh, by the way, did I mention that you're more powerful than me?  Realizing that he possesses the power of The Glow thunder and lightning, Thor cranks "Immigrant Song" back up and throws down with Hela, until he and Loki decide that only Ragnarök can stop her.  While Hela is distracted, Loki locates Surtur's crown in the trophy room and places it in the Eternal Flame.  Surtur is resurrected to his ginormous state and destroys Asgard, seemingly killing Hela.  Thor and the others escape with Asgard's survivors aboard the Grandmaster's vessel.  Thor, crowned king, decides to take his people to Earth, which should annoy the hell out of Doctor Strange.

Waititi's film is pretty much nonstop one-liners, a noticeable upswing from the first two Thor movies, and it's certainly not dull.  Mark Mothersbaugh from the classic new-wave band Devo provides an interesting synth-punk score, which combined with Waititi's love of neon, gives this flick a serious '80s vibe when not blasting Led Zepplin.  And of course, there are a lot of great character moments, so here's some of what I noticed...

THOR ODINSON -- In his fifth film as Thor, Chris Hemsworth looks like he's having the best time ever as Thor.  Anyone that's watched Hemsworth on Saturday Night Live or in the Ghostbusters remake knows he has good comedic timing, which he uses here in spades.  He also does a nice job with the weight of responsibility Thor feels concerning the Asgardian refugees and it would've been nice to see more of that.  Maybe in Avengers: The Infinity War?

LOKI LAUFEYSON -- Tom Hiddleston, rather shockingly, finally avoids stealing a Thor movie.  For once, Loki doesn't end up being the central focus, which was probably a letdown to the Hiddlestoners on Tumblr, but I think the film is better off for it.  Don't worry, Loki still gets his moments here and there, with a particular favorite of mine being when he stands up and cheers the Hulk thrashing Thor about like the Hulk did to him in the first Avengers movie.  And hey, did Loki nick the Tesseract back from Odin's trophy room?  It certainly seems that way, doesn't it?

HELA -- Swapping Middle-earth for Asgard, Cate Blanchett has a solid outing as Hela, the film's Big Bad.  She's a big deal here, mainly because the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally gave us a formidable female supervillain.  In order to stop her, Hela costs Thor his hammer, his right eye and his home, all significant ramifications that aren't given a quick reset button.  And even better, Blanchett gets to sport Hela's large, branching headpiece from the comics, which I have to think will make Jack Kirby proud up in Comic Book Heaven.

VALKYRIE -- So, if Tom Hiddleston doesn't steal the third Thor movie, who does?  Tessa Thompson, that's who.  Completely drunk, Valkyrie makes her big-screen debut falling off the landing ramp to her own ship, but still manages to make Thor her captive.  From there, Valkyrie easily shows she's Thor equal (if not superior), charming the God of Thunder (and the audience) with her sassy Asgardian attitude.  Thompson first hit my personal radar during the first season of HBO's Westworld and her strong performance here is going to make her a star, just you watch.

THE HULK/BRUCE BANNER -- With no solo Hulk movie in his foreseeable future, Mark Ruffalo reprises his role of Bruce Banner once again here.  This time though, his Banner seems unusually unsure of himself, possibly a result of being only the Hulk for two years.  While the "Planet Hulk" arena battle finally gives us the Thor vs. Hulk throwdown we've always wanted, the Hulk ends up relegated to little more than an afterthought during the climactic showdown on Asgard.  And yes, I'm still wincing at Bruce's epic Rainbow Bridge faceplant.

THE GRANDMASTER/EN DWI GAST -- Once again, Jeff Goldblum reminds us how good he is at being Jeff Goldblum as someone else -- Jurassic Park, Independence Day, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, you name it.  Instead of the cold, manipulative Elder of the Universe from the comics, Goldblum's Grandmaster is a quirky ruler of Sakaar who craves public adulation.  He also gets a fun post-credits scene, where the Grandmaster turns up alive on Sakaar after the revolution and tries to dismiss it as a tie.

THE EXECUTIONER/SKURGE -- Continuing to build upon his already impressive geek movie cred, Karl Urban gets to play classic Thor bad guy The Executioner.  Unfortunately, his would-be girlfriend The Enchantress was nowhere in sight, so Skruge ends up becoming the Substitute Heimdall and Hela's main henchman to help move the story along.  At least Urban gets his character's defining moment, where he flips the script and becomes a good guy, defending the Asgardian refugees against Hela's Warrior Dead with a pair of M-16 rifles from Earth, in a great homage to Walt Simonson's Thor (vol.1) #362.

SURTUR -- Clancy Brown is another Buckaroo Banzai vet to make an appearance, voicing the fire demon that dominated Simonson's biggest saga during his Thor run.  Sadly, the Surtur depicted here doesn't even come close to Simonson's epic monster, in a completely wasted opportunity.  Surtur is taken out far too easily in the early moments of the film, only to be resurrected at the end as a deus ex machina to deal with Hela.  

KORG -- In addition to directing the movie, Taika Waititi provides the voice of Korg in the "Planet Hulk" storyline.  The decision to give a big rock alien a polite New Zealand accent was definitely an interesting one, but it obviously helped to make the character much more accessible and likable.  Korg's best moment is probably the scene with the Asgardian refugees in space, watching the destruction of Asgard and awkwardly trying (and failing) to be helpful.

ODIN BORSON -- Sir Anthony Hopkins reprises his role as the All-Father, presumably for the last time.  Odin essentially becomes Obi-Wan Kenobi, offering advice to Thor right before dying and disappearing, only to offer some crucial piece of advice to the hero at just the right moment.  

HEIMDALL -- Reportedly, Idris Elba considers Thor: Ragnarok to be his favorite because it was "fun" to make.  I have to think it's simply because for once, Heimdall isn't just standing around in big clunky armor at the Bifröst Bridge gate.  Apart from swiping the Bifröst sword and overseeing the refugees, he doesn't get that much to do here.

DOCTOR STRANGE CAMEO -- If you saw the mid-credits scene at the end of Doctor Strange, you've already watched some of Benedict Cumberbatch's sequence where he helps Thor and Loki find Odin.  In this expanded "uncut" version of that mid-credits scene, we also see the events leading up to that scene and get a much better understanding of what actually took place.

BLACK WIDOW CAMEO -- Scarlett Johansson turns up briefly as a recording inside Bruce Banner's Quinjet, back from when she attempted to get him to turn the Quinjet around and come home in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

VOLSTAGG THE VOLUMINOUS AND FANDRAL THE DASHING CAMEOS -- In two "blink and you miss them" cameos, Ray Stevenson and Zachary Levi are quickly and unceremoniously killed off the moment Hela arrives on Asgard.  Quite simply, these characters deserved a far better exit.

HOGUN THE GRIM CAMEO -- As the last surviving member of the Warriors Three, Tadanobu Asano's Hogun is also killed off by Hela, but only as the last remaining member of the Asgardian army.  At least Hogun got to speak a few words of defiance before he was canceled.

ASGARDIAN ACTOR CAMEOS -- During a sequence where Asgardian actors perform a play based on the events of Thor: The Dark World, Sam Neill portrays Odin, Matt Damon plays Loki, and Luke Hemsworth (Chris' other brother) is Thor.  #TheMoreYouKnow

OBLIGATORY STAN LEE CAMEO -- Stan "The Man" turns up as a barber on Sakaar tasked with cutting ol' Goldilocks'...um...locks before his arena battle with the Hulk.  Hey, at least he didn't give Thor a perm.

Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is a fun film that ends up just a bit too goofy to be worthy of its game-changing climaxWhile Ragnarok was a significant improvement on the previous film, the mostly lifeless Thor: The Dark World, it tries way too hard to be a Guardians of the Galaxy clone instead of something closer to the epic tale that Thor fans deserved with Ragnarök in play.  We'll see where Avengers: Infinity War takes our one-eyed God of Thunder and the surviving Asgardians next...Broxton, Oklahoma, perhaps?

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)

3. The Avengers (2012)
4. Batman Begins (2005)
5. Logan (2017)
6. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
7. Man of Steel (2013)
8. Doctor Strange (2016)
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
10. Wonder Woman (2017)
11. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
12. Spider-Man (2002)
13. Iron Man (2008)
14. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
15. Watchmen (2009)
16. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
17. Thor (2011)
18. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
19. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
20. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

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