Sunday 29 October 2017

Thor - Ragnarok

Ragnarok N’ Roll

Thor - Ragnarok
2017 USA Directed by Taika Waititi
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Very minor ‘ish’ story spoilers, I suppose.

So here we go again with Thor - Ragnarok. It's yet another, fairly impressive, entry into Marvel’s strand of MCU films (Marvel Cinematic Universe) which all take place in a shared universe and have interlocking characters, themes and situations which build on and support each other. So, essentially, this is yet another sequel to Iron Man, even though Robert Downey Jr’s version of Tony Stark is only mentioned here and doesn’t actually appear in the flesh. Although there have been a few misses along the way... Iron Man 2 and the two Guardians Of The Galaxy films really didn’t do much for me, it has to be said (although I do like the characters in the GOTG films... just not the story ideas surrounding them)... the films are mostly solid and, musical continuity aside, the Marvel films in this sequence seem to have a knack for good casting (both in front of and behind the cameras). This latest installment is no exception to that rule. Sure, it’s certainly not the best of them but it’s definitely somewhere in the upper half of fun Marvel movies, I would say.

The previous two Thor ‘solo’ movies (if you can call this a solo adventure) were different in tone to each other and this third entry again changes the look and feel of the stories. Starting off with Thor imprisoned and talking to the a captive audience abut how he got in this predicament, I at first thought the majority of the running time was going to be one long flashback telling us how Thor got to this point and that the conclusion would lead on from here. Not so, though, and in the first of many surprises, we have a typical James Bondian ‘end of a mission’ moment when Thor talks to a big fiery devil creature and gains an inkling about the duplicity of Loki’s last trick, when it was revealed to the audience but not to Thor that Loki had replaced Zeus and was impersonating him to rule Asgard (at the end of Thor - The Dark World reviewed here). Thor then does battle with the monster and, when he finally gets back to Asgard, uncovers Loki tricksterism (in a nice scene which spoofs Loki’s fake death from Thor - The Dark World). After the two go to find Zeus, played once again by Anthony Hopkins and helped in their quest by a recent addition to the Marvel Universe, they learn that they have an older sister, Hela (played by the wonderful Cate Blanchett), who was banished by Zeus in days gone by. She is the Goddess of Death and she’s pretty powerful.

In a mini showdown, Hela destroy’s Thor’s hammer and, while he and Loki are fleeing to Asgard, she follows them up the Bifrost and both Thor and Loki are thrown from that mode of transport into a random part of the Universe where Thor is taken prisoner by Jeff Goldblum’s ‘Grandmaster’ and forced to fight in the arena against... The Incredible Hulk. However, he has to find a way back to Asgard and so he teams up with Loki, Valkyrie and Hulk/Banner to try to make things right. And that’s the plot set up and that’s all I’m saying about it here... which is pretty much what you can gather from the trailer anyway.

So we have Chris Hemsworth back as Thor and Tom Hiddleston back as Loki and, frankly, the chemistry between them is great. We also have one of my favourite modern actors, Mark Ruffalo, back as Bruce Banner/Hulk and he’s always a fun watch but he’s mostly back as Hulk here, rather than in his human form. The Hulk character has, as you will have seen from the trailers, finally ‘found his voice’, so to speak and is more in keeping with the original comics in this way. I think the character also looks a lot more like Ruffalo here and, maybe I’m wrong here but his head seems to have grown smaller in size too? Seems to have been redesigned. We also have Tessa Thompson who seems miscast, racially, as the blonde haired, Wagnerian styled Valkyrie from the 1970s comics, although I don’t know if she’s been revamped in recent comics like the Nick Fury character was so I might just be showing my age here. Away from the ‘look’ of the character, though, she does do pretty well here and creates an entertaining screen personae but, again, she seems far removed from being The Enchantress as she ‘kinda/also’ was in the early 70s comics.

Idris Elba returns as Heimdall, partaking in some nice heroics and there are also a couple of special cameos here from Sam Neil and Luke ‘brother of Chris’ Hemsworth which provide a great moment when Thor gets back to Asgard. Karl Urban also turns up (although I didn’t actually recognise him, which shows just how good of an actor he is) as a... well he’s definitely someone you have to keep an eye on. He’s not a black and white character by any means, even though he’s still a quick sketch of one... in terms of the film moving at a very fast pace. My favourite new character here, though, was easily a rock creature called Korg who definitely gets all the best laughs in the movie... so I was surprised to learn later that he’d been played by the director, Taika Waititi.

And when I say he got the best laughs...

Thor - Ragnarok shouldn’t really work as well as it does here and this is due to the tone of this one. I mentioned earlier that the previous Thor movies seemed to have a slightly different tone but this one is a complete ‘about face’ to the way in which the characters were presented in the previous Thor adventures. In fact, this one is pretty much written as a comedy all the way through. The scripting pretty much consists of a load of jokes and one liners thrown together and, although a lot of it was apparently improvised on set for this particular film, it really works quite well for most of the time.

Now, you’d think that such an out and out comedy treatment of the subject matter might trivialise the story arc of the ‘big picture’ the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building towards completing over the next two years but it really doesn’t fall into any of the traps it could have been tripped up with and the tone of the piece never really interferes with the tone and credibility of the established characters (for the most part... I’ll get to my one big complaint in a minute). Furthermore, although comedy is the order of the day in this one, you never really feel like it’s watering down the stakes which are quite high here. It’s also quite edgy in something it does to one of the characters and I realised at one point in the film that one of the scenes used in the trailers must have been shot twice (once with and once without... something) or at least had some heavy CGI work done on it in order to not reveal something which will be a permanent change to one of the regular characters in the MCU.

My one big problem here was the Banner/Hulk character... not in terms of acting but in terms of scripting. For starters, Banner’s few scenes in the movie seem to be really ‘out of character’ to me and it’s like he’s gone completely mad. I understand that after being ‘imprisoned’ in the Hulk’s body for two years the character might return a little dazed and confused but something about the writing here just didn’t seem to ring true to the excellent work Ruffalo has done with Bruce Banner in previous films in the series. Also... and I may be completely wrong about this... but isn’t the continuity completely wrong here. I thought the jet that Hulk used to escape in Avengers - Age Of Ultron (reviewed here) was found or tracked to a specific place on Earth, although Hulk was not found. Or did I remember that wrong because... that’s not in the back story here. The jet seems to have ended up somewhere completely different and ‘off world’. Also, the character makes reference to having been on another planet other than Earth and the one he’s currently on here and Thor seems to remember this too. Well, I don’t. When the heck did this happen in the intervening movies? So I was finding myself very puzzled during some scenes here.

Also, while I'm on the subject of continuity. If Thor was in a happy relationship with Natalie Portman's character still when he left Earth in Avengers - Age Of Ultron... how can they have had any time to 'split up', as is stated here, when he hasn't been back to Earth since then until a certain scene in this film? That makes no sense. Honestly Marvel, if you find yourself in the position where you have to write a character out because they don't want to do anymore, you could at least make it a little more credible.

However, this is all just minor stuff and, in terms of broad strokes, Thor - Ragnarok is definitely one of the better entries in the MCU. Mark Mothersbaugh’s score is nicely done too (although I would have liked to have heard what Brian Tyler might have done with this one) and there’s even a nice musical cameo from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, if I’m not much mistaken. If you’re a fan/follower’/true believer’ of the Marvel movies then you really need to see this... especially since it helps set up (as do they all, I guess), next year’s Avengers - Infinity War. It’s perhaps more married, in terms of the kind of comedy action style it has here, to the two Guardians Of The Galaxy movies but it doesn’t seem to make the same mistakes that those two did (for me) and this one was a much more positive experience. And, like I said, the stakes are high in this one and, by the end of the story, you definitely feel that various things have been changed forever in the wake of this movie. Things which certainly, in some ways, live up to the movie’s subtitle of Ragnarok. My big question of the writers, though, is this... where the heck is Lady Sif these days?

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