Thor: Ragnarok

Release: Friday, November 3, 2017

→Theater

Written by: Eric Pearson; Craig Kyle; Christopher L. Yost

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Save yourself a pat on the back for me, Marvel. The Taika Waititi experiment has paid off and now you’ve got a great big success on your hands. Thor: Ragnarok isn’t a revelation but it is a very entertaining package, and that largely comes down to the studio investing in yet another unlikely candidate for the job. The New Zealand-born comedian-turned-director has the global audience in his hands as he sets about parodying the realm of fancily-clad, musclebound superheroes into oblivion.

Rarely do you find a franchise hitting a high note late into their run, yet here we are three films in and Ragnarok is unequivocally one of those highs. Thor (2011) had its moments but too often it took pleasure in slamming you in the gut with corny dialogue and half-hearted attempts at levity. The Dark World in 2014 overcompensated by going really heavy and really broody. In the end it was even sillier than its predecessor. Cut to another eight films deeper into the superstructure of the MCU and we finally get a Thor film that beats everyone to the punch by being the first to make fun of itself. It’s still not quite a balanced effort but Thor: Ragnarok is a much better film for using humor as its primary weapon.

From the opening scene it’s apparent things are going to work a little differently under the Kiwi’s creative leadership. In his fifth reprisal of the legendary son of Odin, Chris Hemsworth is able to find the funny in everything, including being hogtied upside-down and held captive at the hands of the fire demon Surtur on a remote planet. (Well, almost everything. He doesn’t seem to enjoy being tasered, being bound to a chair or losing his beloved Mjölnir.) It’s been two years since we’ve last seen Thor, when the Republic of Sokovia was lifted dramatically skyward during another marquee Avengers moment. He’s been scouring the Nine Realms for the remaining Infinity Stones ever since but we find him now caught in a bind.

Spewing exposition for the benefit of the audience is never a glamorous job, so Waititi figures why not let it fall to an anthropomorphic molten rock thingy. Surtur informs us that ‘Ragnarök’ — the prophesied destruction of Thor’s home world — is nigh, and that essentially nothing can stop it. Even though he Houdini’s his way out of this initial hang-up, Thor is sent on a collision course with an even bigger problem: dealing with his incredibly dysfunctional family. In tracking down Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who is in failing health and has exiled himself from Asgard, Thor, along with half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), learn about the sister they never knew they had in Hela (Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett) as well as her imminent return to Asgard.

And it is imminent. Hopkins has barely finished his monologue before we get our first glimpse of a goddess scorned. Blanchett, resembling at the very least in her eye shadow an evil version of Canadian pop singer Avril Lavigne, comes storming on to the scene, a wicked grin transforming her naturally pretty visage. The anticipation of her return proves to be far more interesting than the return itself however, as not even Ragnarok can stem the tide of Marvel’s history of disappointing villains (though the irony of this franchise spawning arguably the entire MCU’s best baddie is never lost). Spouting the platitudes of power-hungry deities isn’t the actor’s forte, yet Blanchett is such a pro she hides her inexperience well, clearly relishing the opportunity to do something a little different. If only the writing around her character aspired to do something different as well.

The major beats of the story ping-pong us back and forth between two alien worlds, the Eden-above-Eden that is Asgard, and a garbage planet called Sakaar, a wild land that feels like an extension of a music video for Empire of the Sun. There we are walking not on a dream, but amongst the brokenness of dreams, of spirits. It’s a planet literally comprised of junk and over which Jeff Goldblum‘s Grandmaster deludedly reigns. As the resident Crazy, the Grandmaster likes to put on gladiatorial battles for his scavenging underlings to drool over. (Cue Thor’s involvement and, so as to emphasize the film’s newfound identity, his new haircut.)

Contrived writing and trailer-provided spoilers aside, this is an important detour as it introduces a pair of fringe players who end up vying for MVP of the movie. And when Waititi prioritizes entertainment over logic at almost every turn he could always use more hands on deck. In the arena we meet Korg, a warrior made out of rocks and brought to life by Waititi himself in a motion capture performance. He’s a gentle giant whose voice is guaranteed to throw you for a loop. Then there’s Tessa Thompson’s hard-drinking bounty hunter, who at the behest of the screenwriters consistently rejects Thor’s pleas for help. The Valkyrie brings a beguiling new attitude that makes her eventual turnaround not only convincing but emotionally satisfying. She needs a movie of her own.

Thor: Ragnarok is a spirited good time, and it is surely an impressive feat for a director who considers himself decidedly more indie. The guys over at Industrial Light and Magic contribute an appropriate sense of scale and the rich textures needed to make these alien environments feel lived-in. The world-building is beyond reproach, but not even Waititi’s brand of comedy is enough to cover up all the existent flaws in the design, the likes of which seem to accrue rapidly along a common fault. The tonal shift is so jarring between the events taking place on poor old vulnerable Ass-guard and those on Sakaar that the film could be clinically diagnosed as bipolar. One part of the film is unapologetically fun, the other — Hela’s brave new world — feels like Game of Thrones. Enormous man-eating wolves only solidify that impression.

It’s ironic that the third Thor film suffers from precisely the opposite problem its predecessors had. It seems almost unfair or overly harsh to criticize the new one for correcting and then overcorrecting, but the scales are nevertheless still unbalanced. The comedy is too varied for Ragnarok to be dismissed as purely asinine — you’ll find elements of slapstick coexisting with wry observational humor, and then there’s always the familiar Marvel formula for giving us a sense of power dynamics (the Hulk smash is once again invoked, and we all know that’s not something Waititi invented). Indeed, there’s much to celebrate with this movie, and while there’s nearly as much to criticize, I’d call this progress. Significant progress at that.

Recommendation: Colorful, energetic, popcorn-destroying fun. The continued adventures of Thor are given a new lease on life with the Johnny-come-lately director who seems to take advantage of the timing of his arrival. When in full comedy mode, Thor: Ragnarok is at its best but as with all of these movies, I’m not the expert. I wonder how more dedicated fans in the long run come to view movies like this, like Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. Will these movies be remembered for the history they helped shape or what they had to sacrifice in order to make room for more laughs? 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins. 

Something kinda neat: Thor’s “friend from work” line about the Hulk was suggested to Chris Hemsworth by a Make-A-Wish child who paid a visit to the set on the day the scene was filmed.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.flickeringmyth.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Month in Review: October ’17

To encourage a bit more variety in my blogging posts and to help distance this site from the one of old, I’m installing this monthly post where I summarize the previous month’s activity in a wraparound that will hopefully give people the chance to go back and find stuff they might have missed, as well as keep them apprised of any changes or news that happened that month.

Ah, nothing like putting out a Month in Review post a week late. And as you may have noticed, October was another insanely busy month of film reviewing on Thomas J. For those of you who have been able to keep up with this blistering pace, man. You all are the real MVP. And I thank you with one winky face.

😉

In this edition join me on the confession couch as I open up about major movie omissions and my inexplicably resurgent interest in watching more Independence Day. I also lament the disappearance of my all-time favorite movie candy and $6 Tuesdays.

Thor: Ragnarok — TONIGHT! See you there?


New Posts

New Releases: Stronger; The Foreigner

Blindspot Selection: Cujo (1983)


What’s Been Playing in the Background

October introduced me to Bladerunner. You read me right. I had never seen Ridley Scott’s classic science fiction epic until a few weeks ago. I instantly fell in love, but then, that was kind of my destiny. The Tears in Rain monologue in particular trapped me in a glass case of emotion. I don’t know how you really sort through your favorite movie moments of all time, but I do know that Roy Batty’s eventual acceptance of his own mortality is one of them. The plan was, of course, to see the original in advance of the premiere of Denis Villeneuve’s sequel. You haven’t missed anything there. As soon as I see 2049, you’ll know about it.

And speaking of falling in love: Stranger Things 2 will be my winter warmer for the next several weeks. This show is phenomenal and I have become so cozy in its world. I expect to find much solace in it while House of Cards, my first true Netflix love, is apparently collapsing.

But here’s where things get weird. While I’ve been procrastinating tending to my Blind Spot reviews and learning what those Nexus replicants are all about, I’ve had no such hesitation returning (again and again) to that terrible and awful and embarrassing sequel to Independence Day. (If you’re going to throw things at me after reading this, try to at least throw things that are soft. You know, pies and things of that nature. No beer bottles, please.) Anyway, yeah. It didn’t take many not-very-sober viewings to confirm that indeed Resurgence is, as the French would say, merde. But then I started to think about how dumb it was that Jeff Goldblum saved us from those little green bastards by infecting the mother ship with a computer virus . . . in an age where we were running Windows ’95.

Big Tom has realized that some things in this world just aren’t as holy as they were to Little Tom. The sequel may be in direct competition with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice in terms of being 2016’s most hated movie. Audiences everywhere took this long-delayed/ill-advised sequel as a personal sleight. The writers had 20 years to prepare, apparently — so why didn’t they prepare better lines? “This is definitely bigger than the last one” is a pretty poor attempt to deflect from the fact that there’s really no justifying the aliens coming back. But, whatever. This movie has grown on me, like a benign tumor. Dr. Brakish Okun’s reappearance is the most unlikely thing ever, but I’m glad it was able to be contrived. Brent Spiner is a lot of fun in these movies. And though Liam Hemsworth is no Will Smith, I’ve also warmed to him. So here is where I stand  (and talk about damning with faint praise): Resurgence has improved from being “terrible and awful and embarrassing” to being just “terrible.”

Meanwhile, and on a less serious note (what am I talking about, this is way more serious!), my regular enjoyment of movie theater snacks has been somewhat interrupted because of Maltesers. Specifically, the disappearance thereof. My local AMC theater used to carry them. It was pretty random, though. You get shelves overflowing with American confections and then you get this one British outcast. As someone who regularly shuns concessions at the theater because things like the Dollar Tree exist and you can buy candy there for less than the mark-up price at the theater, I made the exception for these tasty little pooh-colored morsels.* What do they expect me to do now, go back to Skittles? Ugh.

This isn’t as annoying as my even-more-local Cinépolis seemingly doing away with $6 ticket Tuesdays. Down the road from me is a crummy little complex at the end of a crummy little strip mall where crummy projectors often play good movies, but those discount rates have made visits there more attractive. That theater has changed ownership more times than I can count, yet $6 night has been the one constant. (Well that and the fact that you really don’t want to touch anything once inside the theater.) The price may have only gone up a dollar, but what’s to stop it going up again? And if it does, I may have to start prioritizing my theater trips. It may well be time I start ravaging Netflix for more alternatives. Maybe I’ll become a more regular patron of AMC if it does one of two things: 1) diversifies its weekly showings or, better yet 2) BRINGS BACK MY DAMNED MALTESERS!


Double Feature

Baby Driver · June 28, 2017 · Directed by Edgar Wright · If all you need is one killer track, I choose Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. This high-energy heist film leaks charisma all over the road as it follows a youthful and talented getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) who burns rubber day and night for Doc, a shady mob boss played by Kevin Spacey. When a meet-cute with a diner waitress (Lily James) pumps the brakes on Baby’s aimless drifting, Doc’s Good Luck Charm must make a choice between a life of crime and an uncertain future with Debora. The story’s assembled out of parts from countless other films of course, but it’s the synergy between the production’s aural and visual elements that not only make Baby Driver instantly engaging, but consistently and almost unreasonably entertaining. The choreography on display is such that Wright’s new movie becomes more a musical sans the random dance interludes, one where the song selection may be important but the placement of those songs is where the true artistry lies. Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss’ editing entrances with rhythmic precision and the director’s familiar energy and passion ensure the project steers as far away as possible from self-conscious affectedness, while barreling down the road with purpose and a great sense of humor toward something more pure and honest. One of the summer’s most feel-good and bittersweetly fleeting escapades. (4/5)

Only the Brave · October 20, 2017 · Directed by Joseph Kosinski · Only the Brave presents Mother Nature as an ultimate and merciless foe as a group of dedicated firefighters seek to prove themselves among America’s most elite responders. From the director of such vacuous (if gorgeous) sci fi fare as Tron: Legacy and Oblivion comes an altogether more impressive work, one that deftly balances visual spectacle with touching human drama. Joseph Kosinski’s steadily absorbing tribute pulls inspiration from the GQ article by Sean Flynn, dedicating the bulk of its two-hour running time to fleshing out a handful of the 20-member Granite Mountain Hotshots, a Prescott, Arizona-based squad who faced the ultimate test when they came up against the infamously deadly Yarnell Hill fire in the summer of 2013. The cinematic treatment benefits from an all-star cast who provide great depth to broadly drawn characters, with Josh Brolin leading the charge as the gruff but likable crew supervisor Eric Marsh, torn between his professional and personal commitments. He’s got a lot of support from the likes of James Badge Dale and Taylor Kitsch who contribute to the Band of Brothers-esque camaraderie but arguably overshadowing them all is Miles Teller as Brendan ‘Donut’ McDonough, a former heroin addict who vows to turn his life around by seeking employment with the volunteer fire department. Only the Brave may be the beneficiary of the gut-wrenching facts upon which it is based (the likes of which you are strongly encouraged to ignore until after you’ve experienced the film), and yet the contributions of Academy Award winners Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly are as indelible as they’ve ever been. (4/5)

 

* If you’ve never had Maltesers, don’t let anyone try to convince you they’re the English equivalent of Whoppers. That’s a HEINOUS lie.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com