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:Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Thor:  Ragnarok
Release Date:  November 3, 2017 (USA)
Studio:  Marvel Studios
Starring:  Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins
Music:  Mark Mothersbaugh
Director:  Taika Waititi
Rated PG-13

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English, Beacon College

This edition of Thor has a different feel.  For example, in the opening of the movie, Thor is chained and dangling and as he slowly rotates around, he asks Surtur, the fire demon imprisoning him, to wait until he comes back into view.  The conversation starts and stops as Thor explains that he is not the one causing himself to spin.  It’s not as funny as it’s meant to be.  What’s going on here is what we might call the Deadpool Effect.  Those who have seen Deadpool will recall that it consists of a lot of humor, wisecracking, sarcasm, snappy one-liners, and to some extent self-awareness of the superhero genre.

Watching Thor:  Ragnarok is a jarring experience: the humor and action don’t always blend or transition well from the one to the other.  We’re never quite sure if the humor is going to end and we’re going to enter a straight action movie.  Perhaps Marvel wanted to test it out and not fully commit.  After a time we get used to the turbulence caused by skipping back and forth between genres.  Sometimes the gears grind, but as the movie progresses, it does a better job of mixing and switching between the two genres.  While the action is always solid, the humor sometimes fails unlike Deadpool.  That’s another of the differences between Thor:  Ragnarok and Deadpool:  the first has the pen of a PG-13 rating around it and the second has the more open R rating.  The R rating gives Deadpool a larger field to play in.  Like a large dog chained to a tree, lunging but constantly getting pulled back, Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t get as much room to run as it needs.  It becomes, in effect, Deadpool-lite.  Still, it’s a fun movie, a lot of the humor is good, and it’s probably a better movie for including the humor.

When the humor lands, it sticks the landing.  For example, when Thor returns to Asgard, he finds Loki impersonating his father Odin, lounging around having grapes fed to him while he watches a skit of Thor and Loki reenacting Loki’s death in Thor:  The Dark World.  The play presents Loki as a tragic hero.  The meta-humor is that Luke Hemsworth, brother of Chris, plays Thor and Matt Damon plays Loki.  I suspect the film becomes funnier with repeated viewings.  Although comedy often relies on the novel and unexpected, it may be easier to grasp the film’s humor after adjusting to its style.  (I am very curious to see what extra scenes didn’t make the official version.)

The general plot is that Thor finds himself stranded on the planet Sakaar.  He must escape so that he can return to Asgard and defeat his sister, Hela, who is determined to rule Asgard and the entire cosmos (while she is extremely one-dimensional, she is also incredibly powerful as she demonstrates when she crushes Thor’s hammer to bits with one hand).  While on Sakaar, Thor must fight the Hulk.  He encounters the last of the Valkyrior, Valkyrie, now a booze-swilling bounty hunter with sass that helps balance the dark and always serious Hela.  Adopted brother Loki is there as well.  The planet is ruled by the Grandmaster played by Jeff Goldblum who amplifies—if not steals—every scene of Thor:  Ragnarok that he appears in.  Following the typical superhero film formula, everybody unites to fight Hela (surely, this not a spoiler).  It’s sort of a buddy, road-trip film with Thor and the Hulk as two guys just trying to make their way as best they can through hostile environments—a bit of On the Road in hyperspace.

The film has its dramatic moments.   A slow motion flashback depicting the fall of the Valkyrior against Hela is particularly well done.  Also, we learn that originally Odin and Hela were war-mongers taking over planets and this secret history models the early, violent histories of many countries such as The United States of America.  Several times Thor meets with his father Odin and all of these scenes are effective.

If you have a strict view of superhero movies and don’t think all of this clowning around is appropriate, you should probably skip this one.  If you like humor, want to see the rules of the genre bent, are open to seeing a movie that takes some risks, hits the target sometimes, and misses it at other times, then try it out. 

In Norse mythology Ragnarök amounts to an apocalyptic scenario in which gods die, natural disasters wreck the world, and the world descends into water.  Thor:  Ragnarok is not the final destruction of all that has come before in the Thor franchise.  Rather, it’s more a disruption than a devastation.  When Ragnarök concludes, the planet rises anew from the water.  While Thor:  Ragnarok is not a complete rebirth of the series, it is a promising and mostly successful attempt at revising and refreshing it.

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