Monday, November 6, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok "Spoiler-Free" Review

So, Thor: Ragnarok basically showed up in theaters this Wednesday, and I've basically been waiting for a long time to watch this movie. This is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's (MCU) second last single outing before we get into the massive team-up event of "Infinity War". Up to this point, the MCU now has 3 complete trilogies, which have yielded varying degrees of success. The hallmark has been the Captain America trilogy which went from strength to strength, first with a World War II period piece, then evolved into a beautiful spy thriller for its second outing, and came full circle with the mash-up that was "Civil War". Next up is the Iron Man trilogy; Iron Man is considered the starting point of the MCU, but his movies have had a strange trajectory with each entry being weaker than the last. With the completion of the Thor trilogy, we can take a look at the course these movies have taken.

Thor's characterization has been difficult to pin down. Asgard and all the realms associated with Thor's universe are what bridges the rest of the MCU with each other. How else could disparate properties like "Guardians of the Galaxy" and pretty much everything terrestrial in the MCU be brought together if not through Thor? The first movie was like a Shakespearean play: big hero who's heir to the throne does something unbecoming and ends up being stripped of his powers and summarily banished to earth; after learning some humility and showing some regard for human life, he gains back his powers and his place as the rightful heir. The second movie took a much darker path, digging further into the lore of Asgard and introducing an infinity stone in the form of the Aether; having Jane Foster play the unwitting host to the Aether was a move to introduce her to the Asgardians (one which probably wasn't appreciated too highly by the fans).  

As I've mentioned before, Thor has been hard to place in this MCU. They've gone with the "Ultimate" version of Thor's universe, therefore, rather than being magical god-like creatures, Asgardians are really just a technologically advanced race; but then again, Thor typifies a Tony Robbins' quote that I ran across a while back,
"It is not necessary to understand everything to be able to use everything"
Technologically advanced the Asgardians may be, but you get the feeling that Thor doesn't really understand how it all works (not the sharpest tool in the shed). At some point in this movie, Thor chides Hulk for being the dumbest avenger, but that might be a toss up between the two of them. In the past 2 movies, Thor barely fits in with the Midgardians (human folk), with the exception of the Avengers. He is a god among men, and out of place even when juxtaposed against the posse (Jane, Darcy and Erik) that is meant to humanize him.

So this movie takes a totally different route. It puts a spanner in the works, putting a stop to the increasingly serious tone between the first two movies; instead, this one serves up the laughs aplenty. Also, the human element is almost lacking from this movie; if Thor is a god, let's get to see what he's like among other gods (lesser or otherwise). Especially when it comes to the laughs, you'll pick the tonal shift very early. He's talking to a heavy-hitter, and the humour was a tad overpowering. This was the only part where it took me out of the moment, much in the same way I couldn't take Tony Stark's PTSD arc in Iron Man III serious.

Fortunately, the action kicked into top gear and the movie pulls you back in. Shortly after, we get to see how things are falling apart since Loki's being hiding under the guise of Odin. It's priceless to see Loki's death scene from Thor: The Dark World played to comedic effect with the most surprising of cameos (I seriously doubted my eyes the whole time I was watching the scene play out). It's a quick trip from there in search of Odin, which brings us to earth and a wonderful encounter between Dr. Strange and the Asgardians. It's hard to tell how much time passes in the MCU and where the movies fit into the timeline, but from the dexterity with which the good doctor handles the magical arts, you can tell that he's finally settled into his role as the sorcerer supreme. Handling the Asgardian presence on earth (particularly Loki's) as something of a nuisance, he reunites them with Odin to ensure the safety of earth.

The reunion is short-lived, but enough for Odin to let us know that something bad is coming; his foreboding is not limited to the event itself, but he lets us in on a dark secret that lets us know that he is in a way responsible for what's coming. The trailers and clips have given us a bit of exposition concerning the encounter between Thor, Loki and Hela, and how exactly they end up on Sakaar, and how they end up meeting the rest of The Revengers team members - Hulk and Valkyrie - but maybe not in the way you're expecting. In an era when poorly constructed trailers threaten to expose entire movie plots willy nilly, there's a surprising amount of randomness in which the story comes together. A traditional buddy cop movie (like happened in Iron Man III), this is not. However, dysfunctional or otherwise, this is the team that needs to get back to Asgard to deal with the big baddie.

I think this movie achieved what it's going for. It's a beautiful movie with vibrant colours and expansive worlds. More than that, it also expands the lore in a welcome direction. Multiple story arcs have been assembled to come up with this version of the story. There's a touch of the Ragnarok, Planet Hulk, and Gorr the Godbutcher storylines; probably more things in there too, but they are tastefully amalgamated. Thor, despite all the comedy, finally comes into his own. Despite feeling hapless for losing Mjolnir, he comes to embrace his role as the god of thunder, and all innate abilities and responsibilities therein. And if there's anything he learns quite well, it's that "Asgard is not a place, but its people".

Loki has also morphed into an entirely new character. When we first met him, he was finding himself in his role as the god of mischief; in The Avengers, he was pretty much an astringent villain; but here he still makes mistakes, but he's beginning to embrace himself as somewhat of an anti-hero.

Bruce Banner/Hulk does not feel like an afterthought either, and that's probably because The Planet Hulk storyline so organically implants his presence in this movie. It is a travesty that we haven't gotten a new Hulk movie to expand the character for this new universe (I refuse to count 2008's Incredible Hulk as having brought anything useful to the MCU). The Banner/Hulk relationship is more tenuous this time around, with Banner totally buried within their fractured psyche since he fled on the Quinjet at the end of Age of Ultron. As per the comic, Banner's presence made no sense on Sakaar because the world was too hostile to accommodate his puny physique; however, since they're shifting thing around for this adaptation, some exposition would be great for exploring this fractured psyche.

Cate Blanchett is a wonderful addition to the cast as the villainous Hela. She has a ravenous appetite for violence, but in her own way she reflects an individual who is looking for recognition in the only way she knows how. Her path partially mirrors that of Loki, someone on the outside looking in, hoping for acceptance and validation. Her exposition gives us a peek into a darker less benevolent Asgardian past, and I feel like she would be a welcome villain in future MCU installments. (Might even prove to be a worthy foe for the likes of Dr. Strange).

Tessa Thompson as wonderfully cast as Valkyrie, a seemingly incorrigible drunk with a traumatic past who is initially the bane of Thor's existence on Sakaar; but her bad habits aside, she steals every scene she's in, and her path towards redemption is worth the watch.
Even Jeff Goldblum is a welcome addition. Even his typical "mannerisms" only add more zest to the ridiculous entity that is the Grandmaster. He is wonderfully egotistical, and he infuriates Thor to no end with his frequent mispronunciation of "Asgard" or Thor's title.

The humour also melded well, despite the serious tone that "Ragnarok" is meant to imply. After a really rough bump at the start, I feel like it was the right tonal choice for this movie. This movie must be preparing us for the kind of loss that we're going to experience during the Infinity War because some people meet rather untimely ends in this movie. It just happens with a finality that'll shock you, and you barely even get a chance for it to sink in. I'm hoping that there's a chance for rebirth, like that shown in the comic, such that we will get a chance to meet some of these fallen heroes again. (One can only wish...)

It's been hard to put words to this review without giving spoilers, so perhaps I might just have to delve into spoiler territory with another review to further contextualize what I was unable to say. Suffice it to say, this was a great movie (A+), and a wonderfully good time. I might just be up for watching this again come next weekend; who knows, might even treat a friend to it (time will tell).

God Bless.


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