THOR: RAGNAROK

Published On November 3, 2017 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

THOR: RAGNAROK
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston, Karl Urban, Taika Waititi, Tessa Thompson
Directed by Taika Waititi
Screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost
Based on the “Thor” comic books and original stories by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber and Jack Kirby
Produced by Kevin Feige
Cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe
Edited by Joel Negron and Zene Baker
Music by Mark Mothersbaugh

 

“Thor: Ragnarok,” the third film in the Marvel Studios film series based on Stan Lee’s, Larry Leiber’s and Jack Kirby’s original “Thor” comic books and stories, is a thrilling, fun, spacey, colorful, dazzling—and funny, hilarious, even—time at the movies.

The third “Thor” film lives up to its expectations, its estimated $180 million budget (there is much up on the screen to justify the budget), its huge cast (including scene-stealers–in good ways–Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum), and its array of dazzling, psychedelic and, at times, breathtaking, special effects.

However, one simple aspect raises the film up to a wonderfully, wildly, enjoyably breezy and fun level: humor. The film is consistently funny, from start to finish, literally, and the movie never takes itself too seriously, to its credit. “Thor” will thrill and chill–but it will also make you laugh. And “Thor” manages to be far more funny than most recent traditional, non-genre film comedies, which is hilarious in itself. Thor is just a fun hoot of a super hero comic book movie. And these days, that’s most welcome at the movie theaters.

“Thor” opens everywhere this Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. Go see it at the only place a movie deserves to be seen–in a movie theater!  “Thor: Ragnarok” continues a now-years-long successful streak of above-average, at times simply excellent, super hero and comic books science-fiction and fantasy movies after a couple of years of extreme duds, flops, misfires and over-done and over-cooked—as in, too many cooks in the creative kitchen causing catastrophe in casting, production and direction—movies that almost doomed the genre for a brief period. But the wise folks at Marvel and D.C. and the major studios seemed to regroup a few years ago, re-tool their approach, hire some young directors, writers, editors and cinematographers with some genuinely new and fresh ideas, dig up some long-lost characters and story lines and inspirational background stories, and generally start a new, positive—and most welcome—series of just-plain-fun movies, including, surprisingly, some sequels and reboots that actually worked! The two “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, “Doctor Strange,” the latter “Captain America” and “Avengers” movies, “Suicide Squad”—yes, that’s right, “Suicide Squad,” which was actually quite good—“Spiderman: Homecoming,” a whopper of a surprisingly good, fun movie, the absolutely excellent “Wonder Woman,” the excellent “Atomic Blonde,” and, now, the third “Thor” movie—and others—all show that with a little retooling, reworking, refreshing and re-doing, there can indeed be a bevy of original, fresh superhero, comic book, fantasy and science fiction films in these particular veins and genres.

The first credits for the success of “Thor: Ragnarok” go straight to director Taika Waititi and screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. These four talented filmmakers have to be praised for many positive elements of this film, but, again, they must first be congratulated for doing what dozens of the predecessor comic book and superhero films should have had in the first place: consistent, genuine and actually funny humor. “Thor” may have the requisite fights, explosions, impending doom, scary villians, otherwordly peoples and creatures and a humongous budget’s worth of special effects—all of which, by the way, actually work well and are actually welcome in this movie—but it’s the humor—the real laughs—that make this movie so damn entertaining. Again, too many previous films in this genre took themselves waaayyyy too seriously—yes, that’s “way” with three “as” and four “y,” so the point is obvious—and were far too dark, gloomy, doomy and just plain, at times, downer depressing. And audiences responded—by either venting frustrations loudly wherever they could and, eventually, by not buying tickets to too many downer sequels, reboots and remakes.

But by hiring young, energetic, hard-working and hungry directors and writers—such as Waititi, Pearson, Kyle and Yost in the case of “Thor: Ragnarok” and many others in the cases of the other more recent successful comic book and superhero movies—the studios are proving again that there are fresh ways to make these movies, well, fresh, original, fun and interesting.

“Thor: Ragnarok” starts with a great, tongue-in-cheek cheeky, breezy humor in the very first scene, as title character Thor (Chris Hemsworth, continuing to refine and refresh himself in terms of his ever-developing and improving comic chops and inherent sense of personal humor), bound and chained in some type of horrible, gruesome, firey hellword, lorded over by a fire creature intent on simply wiping out Thor’s homeland and everything else that’s good and godly and Marvelish in the universe, and seemingly about to die—cracks a series of jokes about the fire creature, about his situation and about possibly contributing the destruction of everything. But, like any good superhero, there’s a method to the madness, and—it’s not giving anything away, because it’s the first scene, and if Thor died in the first scene, the movie would be the first $180 million short film—Thor breaks free, overcomes the fire monster, destroys his little fire hell world, and lives to fight to save the Marvel cinematic universe another day.

But what’s good is that the jokes not only continue to roll, they steadily increase, to the point where the movie—again, to its complete credit—rises to the level of a comedy action-adventure sci-fi fantasy comic book and superhero movie, just like the “Guardian” movies and “Doctor Strange.” And this humor development in recent comic book films shouldn’t be much of a surprise—the better, most lasting and more enduring and endearing comics and comic characters had real senses of humor—they are, after all, COMIC books.

“Thor: Ragnarok” tells the story of Thor’s fight to save his beautiful homeland, Asgard, from his bizarrely sexy, evil, dangerous, beautiful and scary sister Hela (a sexy, evil and wholly captivating Cate Blanchett, vamping it up like some devil-world Cruella de Vil and somehow being sexy and evil and scary at the same time) and her army of “Lord of the Rings”-style mutant creature soldiers before they literally kill everyone, wipe out the good gods and rule an empire of darkness and evil. Does that sound like “Lord of the Rings” and a thousand other fantasy, sci-fi, comic book and super hero movies? Of course it does—but, again, even the cliched storylines work well in “Ragnarok” because of the director’s and screenwriter’s fun, fresh, refreshing overall approach, by keeping things light even amid the darkness. And there is the requisite darkness, because Thor’s also trying to stop some type of comic-book-world, otherworldy-god-world impending apocalypse, the Ragnarok of the title, a prophetic, foretold series of actions that could indeed wipe out Asgard, Thor, all of the gods and everything good.

Thor’s fight and journey takes him to several bizarro, quirky, weird alternate worlds, and they’re all a crazy hoot to visit, despite the underlying impending doom. Thor is guided by his father, Odin—a wonderfully relatable, likeable and understated Anthony Hopkins, appearing more like a loveable granddad than the most powerful of all the gods—whose presence may invoke obvious thoughts of Obi Wan Kenobi in the “Star Wars” movies. Does it matter that the Odin gimmick so resembles the Kenobi gimmick? Not really. Thor is aided by a ragtag group of super heroes—an increasing Marvel gimmick that’s starting to irk many fans, as too many movies seem to be too overloaded with too many characters, at the expense of story, plot and story and plot development. And that is one nitpick with “Thor: Ragnarok” and some of the other recent comic book films—every film does not need to have every single superhero in the movie. Give some of them a cinematic rest for a few movies—the actors will certainly be able to find other work, really.
However, as noted, it all tends to work somehow in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Who appears where and when and how will not be revealed here, lest those reveals act as spoilers. But be reassured that the appearances of many characters in this movie serve a good purpose, are welcome, and are indeed handled well. Once again, the humor and lighthearted overall approach in this film and the appearance of several well-known characters just make everything seem like a huge, psychedelic superhero and comic book party to which moviegoers are cordially invited. Psychedelic because the humor seems to have been transferred—intentionally—to the film’s overall art direction and production design. Sets, costumes, music, make-up and scenery are often psychedelic, colorful, quirky, full of oddball colors and color schemes, dazzling—and wholly original. This was intended by Waititi and the producer, Kevin Feige, who wanted to have that Jack Kirby-esque color quality to the movie. Kirby was the hugely talented comic book artist who illustrated so many quality comic books and comic book characters, he rose to be considered one of the premiere kings of the art form. And “Thor: Ragnarok,” with its great art direction and production design, succeeds in being a homage to Kirby—and that unique design and look is another positive factor that contributes to the film’s quality.

The movie, as noted, is populated with quirky, funny characters, but one can be noted without being a spoiler: Jeff Goldblum’s bizarre performance as the oddball, dangerous, funny—and somewhat neurotic and completely insane—Grandmaster. Yes, Grandmaster—a thin, nattering, nitpicky, icky—and psycho—leader of a planet full of trash and junk—it’s all literally raining down on the planet from some wormholes or openings in the atmosphere. Grandmaster, though, isn’t all funny—he enslaves people, rules his planet with threats of death and destruction, and lords over gladiator-style arena fights to the death before bloodthirsty, entertainment-starved masses. Is this the same scenario as in “Escape From New York,” Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” famous episodes of “Star Trek,” about five-thousand action-adventure movies, some scenes from some James Bond films and most of the movie “Gladiator?” Of course it is—the gimmick of having protagonists fight to the death, against their will, against huge, gruesome creatures in seemingly impossible situations with impossible odds is so cliched, it should be banned from all movies for the next twenty years. But it keeps reappearing and reappearing, to the point where filmgoers simply want to throw filmmakers into some type of gladiator/Thunderdome/arena/boxing ring and have them fight it out to the death.

But, once yet again, in “Thor: Ragnarok,” Waititi and the screenwriters turn this cliché completely inside-out and upsidedown, providing a funny, fresh take on the cliché. And just having the quirky Jeff Goldblum playing a quirky, psycho overlord named Grandmaster and, at times, yammering and whining away like some type of sci-fi Goldblum-George Costanza-Woody Allen hybrid is just absolutely hilarious and fun. Watching Goldblum in this movie—and watching him steal scenes like only Jeff Goldblum can steal scenes—is fascinating. “There are 100,000 versions of Jeff Goldblum,” Waititi told Rolling Stone in a great interview about making the movie. “We got one of the most pure, uncut versions.”

That about says it all regarding Goldblum as Grandmaster in “Thor: Ragnarok.” You’ll just have to go out and see this performance—it’ just classic Jeff Goldblum.

A special note of kudos needs to go out to the hundreds and hundreds of special effects artists who worked on this movie to create several quite original sets, scenes, worlds, creatures, action sequences, stunts and other effects—the special effects are great in this movie. “Thor: Ragnarok” is worth seeing in Imax, but a word of caution: the movie does not need to be seen in 3-D. There’s barely anything 3-Dish, and the 3-D ends up being just a rip-off gimmick—just like it has been for years now in too many movies. There’s just no justification to see this movie in 3-D. It’s far past the time for Hollywood to end this continuing 3-D ripoff in modern-day movies.

Back on the positive side, Waititi also had a great take on the humor in the movie in that Rolling Stone interview.

“My thing with comedy in these kinds of films–in blockbusters in general–the jokes really feel like they were written eight months before they were shot,” Waititi told Rolling Stone. “Whereas all the humor in this film was discovered on the day we were shooting–which is why we had these tangential cerebral moments where people are just talking about weird, mundane things but in a hilarious way. [That made] it feel so different to every other film like this. For me, it was about tapping into Chris [Hemsworth’s] qualities in the real world. He’s not only good looking and good at everything, but he’s funny and he’s charming and he’s the kind of person [with whom] you want to go on adventure. That’s what I wanted for Thor.”

And what better place to end this analysis than with those insightful, perceptive words from the film’s director. Filmgoers will definitely want to go on this adventure with Hemsworth, Blanchett, Hopkins, Goldblum, the other actors and all of their respective characters in “Thor: Ragnarok.” And when they do go on this cinematic adventure, they’ll all be glad in the end that they had such a great—and funny—time at the movies.

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