Thor: Ragnarok… fun, flashy but forgettable.

My wife and I just saw “Thor: Ragnarok” over the weekend.  I was (and am) fighting a nasty head cold, but a steady supply of gel caps helped me through it.   We couldn’t get tickets to see it in our preferred Dolby Atmos theater (the one with the plush reclining seats), and our second choice theater was waaaaayyy too expensive, so we finally saw it at a nice, relatively modest theater complex just a few minutes south of us (we are literally surrounded by theaters where we live).   We booked a 2D matinee show (with assigned seats), and for this particular movie, it was fine.

I don’t want to get too into the story/plot mechanics of the movie, so I’m going to do the lazy thing and cut and paste from ye olde Wikipedia for that section (in quotes).

****** MJOLNIR-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!! *******

Two years after the Battle of Sokovia,[N 1] Thor has been unsuccessfully searching for the Infinity Stones, and is now imprisoned by the fire demon Surtur. Surtur reveals that Thor’s father Odin is no longer on Asgard, and that the realm will soon be destroyed in the prophesied Ragnarök, once Surtur unites his crown with the Eternal Flame that burns beneath the city. Thor defeats Surtur and claims his crown, believing he has prevented Ragnarök.

Thor returns to Asgard to find his adopted brother Loki posing as Odin. Thor forces Loki to help him find their father, and with directions from Stephen Strange on Earth, they locate Odin in Norway. Odin explains that he is dying, and that his passing will allow his firstborn daughter Hela to escape from a prison she was sealed in long ago. Hela had been the leader of Asgard’s armies, and had conquered the Nine Realms with Odin, but had been imprisoned and written out of history after her ambitions became too great. Odin dies, and Hela appears. She destroys Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, and when Thor and Loki attempt to flee through the Bifröst Bridge, she pursues them and forces them out into space to die. Hela arrives in Asgard, destroying its army and the Warriors Three; resurrects the ancient dead who once fought with her, including her wolf Fenris; and appoints the downtrodden Asgardian 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.

Thor crash-lands on the planet Sakaar, a garbage planet surrounded by wormholes. He is captured by a bounty hunter named Scrapper 142, and taken to serve as a gladiator for the planet’s ruler, the Grandmaster, whom Loki has already become ingratiated with. Thor recognizes 142 as one of the Valkyrior, a legendary force of female fighters who were killed defending Asgard from Hela long ago. Thor is forced to compete in the Grandmaster’s Contest of Champions, facing his old friend the Hulk. Thor almost defeats the Hulk, before the Grandmaster fixes the fight to ensure the Hulk’s victory. Still enslaved, Thor attempts to convince Hulk and 142 to help him save Asgard, but neither is willing. He soon manages to escape the palace and finds the Quinjet that brought Hulk to Sakaar. Hulk follows Thor to the Quinjet, where a recording of Natasha Romanoff makes the Hulk transform back into Bruce Banner for the first time since Sokovia.

The Grandmaster orders 142 and Loki to find Thor and Hulk, but the pair come to blows and Loki forces her to relive the deaths of her fellow Valkyrie at the hands of Hela; she decides to help Thor, taking Loki captive to prove her goodwill. Unwilling to be left behind, Loki provides the group with the means to steal one of the Grandmaster’s ships. They then liberate the other gladiators who, led by Korg and Miek, stage a revolution. Loki attempts to betray his brother to gain a reward from the Grandmaster, but Thor anticipates this and leaves him behind. Loki is soon found by Korg and the gladiators. Thor, Banner, and 142 escape through a wormhole to Asgard, where Hela’s forces are attacking Heimdall and Asgard’s citizens. Banner becomes the Hulk again, fighting Fenris, Skurge, and the resurrected warriors with 142 while Thor faces Hela. Loki and the gladiators arrive to help, and the citizens board their large ship; a repentant Skurge sacrifices himself to allow their escape. Thor loses an eye and then has a vision of Odin that helps him realize that only Ragnarök can stop Hela. While she is distracted, Loki locates Surtur’s crown and places it in the Eternal Flame. Surtur is reborn and destroys Asgard, seemingly killing Hela.

Thor and the others escape with Asgard’s remaining citizens aboard the Grandmaster’s vessel, and Thor is crowned king. He decides to take his people to Earth. In a mid-credits scene, they come across a large spaceship.[N 2] In a post-credits scene, the Grandmaster encounters some of his subjects, who are still taking part in the revolution.

 

In three words; “Thor: Ragnarok” is fun, flashy and forgettable.

 

THE FUN:

*  Lots and lots of humor.  

From the little moments, such as Chris Hemsworth’s Thor pleading (and whimpering) with Stan Lee not to cut his hair,  Jeff Goldblum camping the absolute hell out of his ridiculously-effete “Grandmaster” role, Tom Hiddleston’s patented brand of devilish-grinning mischievousness, and, best of all, Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) piloting a spaceship into a black hole and announcing (with a far straighter face than I could), “We’re approaching the Devil’s anus!”  I try not to talk at all during movies, but I had to lean over to my wife and whisper in her ear, “I wonder how many takes it took him to get through that line.”

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^ Thor and Banner bond by the Devil’s Anus…

For my bargain matinee-priced ticket, the humor was the single BEST thing about this movie.   In many ways, “Thor: Ragnarok” is less a comic book adaptation and more a supercharged action comedy, like a bigger-budget “Rush Hour” sequel with superpowers.   Arguably the humor undercuts any gravitas the movie tries to generate (even Thor losing an eye isn’t a big deal).   You’ll either enjoy that or you won’t.  Luckily for my wife and I, we did.  A dour, humorless version of this movie would be a tremendous and pompous bore.

*  Hulk SMASH.

The big gladiatorial match between Hulk and Thor (previewed in the trailers) is about as ridiculous, consequence-free and silly as you’d expect.   In fact, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk/Banner is less conflicted Jekyll/Hyde scientist and more comic sidekick to the heroic (but quite goofy) Thor.   The matchup is has all the gravitas as a pro-wresting match (and about a third of the reality).

 

THE FLASH:

*  Tons of CGI action sequences.

Marvel’s overuse of CGI action has become a bit numbing in the 9 years since Marvel officially re-launched their movie brand and unveiled both “Iron Man” & “The Incredible Hulk” in 2008.   Those earlier Marvel movies look downright spartan by comparison these days.  “Thor: Ragnarok” is no exception.  It’s big, gaudy and showered with needless CGI crowd shots, ginormous set extensions and ceaseless action set pieces.   I don’t mean to slam them, as they’re a lot of fun the moment that you’re watching them but they have absolutely zero resonance.  No gravitas.   They evaporate moments later.

*  Prestigious guest stars.

Seriously, Marvel; was it really necessary to cast Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett as Hela, the Goddess of Death?   This is a role so two-dimensional that it could’ve been played by just about any actress who fit in that slinkier version of Angelina Jolie’s “Malificent” costume.   And Blanchett chews so much scenery in this movie that pieces of it are probably still in her teeth today.    

landscape-1506694385-odin-thor-ragnarok-poster

Sir Anthony Hopkins, already cast as Odin from the previous “Thor” movies, gets to ham it up as he eats grapes (he’s really Loki in disguise, of course) and finally enjoys a nice ‘death’ scene walking in the wilds of Norway (in comfy street clothes, no less; I’m assuming by that point in the shoot, Hopkins was really sick of those 70 lb. robes).

Idris Elba also returns as the former Gatekeeper, who now leads a revolution in Asgard.

I’m not sure what Jeff Goldblum’s asking price is these days, but he plays the Grandmaster as if “Jurassic Park”‘s Ian Malcolm was involved in a transporter accident with Jaye Davison’s Ra from 1994’s “Stargate.”

I was also impressed/surprised to see Tessa Thompson (“Dear White People” “Westworld” TV series) as the alcoholic ex-Valkyrie “Scrapper 142.”  Like the rest of the cast, she appears to be having a blast (and adopting a posh accent).  I suspect the blooper reel of this movie might be as fun (if not more fun) than the actual film.

Popular action star Karl Urban (“Lord of the Rings” “Star Trek” “Dredd” “Red”) also has a nice but predictable turn as an Asgardian collaborator turned hero.   He’s the one cast member of this movie that I’ve actually met (however briefly) in person.

There’s also Matt Damon’s hilarious cameo as ‘theatrical Loki’ in an Asgardian propaganda play.  A bit of sly stunt-casting, since Damon also played another version of Loki in Kevin Smith’s 1999 Jay & Silent Bob epic, “Dogma.”

Oh, and I almost forgot: Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange returns for a cameo.

 

THE FORGETTABLE:

*  Token attempts at social commentary.

^ Thor finds himself on the decadent, trash-filled planet of Sakaar…

There is a bit of social commentary (believe it or not) thrown into this film; we see a planet drowning in the universe’s trash, ruled by a ineffective leader worried only about keeping the hungry, angry masses entertained and appeased with gladiatorial matches.

The remaining, fleeing Asgard population (who are galactic refugees now) could speak for any/all displaced people of the world (Syrian or Somali refugees, perhaps).

But I suspect that’s not what most people will remember when they see “Thor: Ragnarok.”   Whatever commentary I perceived in the film doesn’t really matter.   I’m guessing the audience probably won’t give two flying farts over that sort of thing, since it’s really a nice two hour means of enjoying popcorn and sodas (which we did).  It’s doubtful that any ‘messages’ in this movie really connected to their target audience in any meaningful way.  This isn’t “Blade Runner 2049.”

*  Marvel fatigue IS a factor these days…

I was a kid who used to LOVE Marvel comics.  In fact, I used to have large paperback editions of Hulk and Spiderman.  But older me is feeling more than a bit of Marvel fatigue these days.  Having seen what feels like a million of these films since 2008, they’re becoming bi-annual exercises in sensory overload.   Like two-hour roller coaster rides or fireworks shows, Marvel movies are fun in the moment, but they’re also starting to blur together in my feeble, middle-aged brain.  I can’t really remember which movies are which anymore.   I only remembered “Age of Ultron” because it had the robot with the funny kissy lips.

As much as I enjoy the roller coaster rides, I’d be okay with not seeing a Marvel movie for a few years; to allow them them to feel fresh again.

 

TO SUM IT UP:

Despite my seeming negativity towards the movie, I want to reiterate that I didn’t hate it.  Not at all.  In fact, it’s exactly what I expected.  It’s a fun, flashy diversion for a couple of hours, and nothing more.

If you do go to see “Thor: Ragnarok”?  Don’t spend too much on your ticket, grab some popcorn and soda, and have a blast.

 

 

 

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