Friday, 17 November 2017

Film Review No. 32 Thor: Ragnarok (12+)

Strong Points:
Great comedic moments
Amazing special effects
Superb fight scenes
Ties up a load of loose plot threads
Back-references galor
Sets up for Infinity War
The Valkyrie
Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster
Hulk’s Toddler-esque speech
Anthony Hopkins as "Loki"
Chris Hemsworth has been allowed some freedom
Luke Hemsworth and Matt Damon’s cameo
Thor’s lighting powers
Dr. Strange

Weak Points:
Some of the jokes are only going to be funny once or twice - rewatch-ers will miss the tension
Lack of tension due to continuous wisecracks
The whole ‘Hulk being all powerful’ scenario is becoming a bit unbelievable as he keeps losing
Are we supporting Loki now or...?
Where’s Jane Foster (and, for that matter, Lady Sif)?
The Warriors Three's end

Spoilers ahead:
In-depth Review:

Ah, Ragnarok, the prophesied end times. Well, this Ragnarok certainly doesn't mark the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's grips on cinema and my time and money. Finishing arguably the dullest Marvel trilogy, Ragnarok finally embraces the chaos and lunacy of the characters and story and thoroughly benefits from it in almost every way. Starting with a Thor who has spent the last two years, after Age of Ultron, exploring the universe in a vain attempt to solve both the problems of his vision of Ragnarok and the sudden appearance of almost every Infinity Stone, being trapped in Muspelheim before lightheartedly arguing with Surtr, the demon who is prophesied to bring about said end times, and then fighting his way out of hell (okay, it's not technically hell but anyway) and the drudgery of his first two films. Finally Chris Hemsworth is allowed to throw off his naive strongman character, along with his long flowing locks (in yet another superb Stan Lee cameo) and goes straight into a wisecracking strongman with a sarcasm level about halfway between Tony Stark and Peter Quill. This, added to the continuous flow of superb one-liners and slapstick humour (Banner and the Bifrost being a personal favourite) pushes the franchise into Guardian's territory and, sometimes, way past it.

Now, while this is mainly a good thing and allows for the characters and actors to test their mettle, it does make me slightly concerned. This is because, with some of the comedy such as Korg's one-liner as Ragnarok finally arrived, it could get rather stale on re-watches although, of course, I'll have to wait for the DVD for that test. In addition, some of the more serious bits, such as Odin's scenes and Thor's final battle, lost some of their tension, not because of comedy within the scene but because I was still recovering from my laughing fit beforehand (this is especially true with Odin's death which came just after Dr. Strange's superb cameo, which I'll get onto in a bit). It just feels like a shame that I didn't get to appreciate Odin's final words and reconciliation with his sons because I was still chuckling to myself. Furthermore, the continued, and valid, success of Guardians and this new outlook on Thor makes me worried that they'll attempt the same with Infinity War which, while I don't want to be Saving Private Ryan level of seriousness, I'll definitely be disappointed if all the tension is removed.

But enough with that, for the other thing the film does brilliantly is the special effects and fight scenes. Starting with a fight in Muspelheim against an army of demons and either Nidhogg or the Midgard Serpent or some splice of the two (I'm not really sure which one it seemed more like), going through another fight against the Hulk, a starship battle and then culminating in an amazing standoff between the Goddess of Death and her undead army. At no point did the graphics struggle to show off and it just proves how every Marvel film is a testament to the continued advancements in graphical capability.

One character which proves this is the Hulk who has experienced both a face-lift and, for my next point, elocution lessons. The Hulk, who has overpowered puny Banner for two years, now has roughly the vocabulary of a toddler which leads to some great banter between him and Thor (just who is the strongest Avenger?) and allows some development of what has been until now just a green nuke (apparently this sets up a three movie story arc for the Hulk as well which is very exciting). We also get yet another battle between the great, green giant and another super, this time a Mega Evolved Thor, which led to both some great lines ('he's a friend from work') and some brilliant fight scenes with the two strongest Avengers trading blows continuously. However, I'm afraid that the whole 'oh no, it's the Hulk, how ever can I win?' arc is beginning to run thin considering the amount of times the Hulk has been beaten now (the Chitari had a good go, the Hulkbuster knocked him out and we've already seen him dead in Stark's vision). That's not to say it wasn't a brilliant battle however.

The cause of Thor and Hulk's battle is that they are competing in the Contest of Champions, a contest of strength created for the amusement of the Grandmaster on Sakaar, the Planet of Lost Things. Jeff Goldblum plays this maniacal, egotistical, extravagant slave driver to an appropriately ridiculous degree and was not only one of the best parts of the film, but also one of the best Marvel villains (perhaps not considered to be a different height to reach but he's still really good). Cate Blanchett also plays the Goddess of Death, Hela, very well, certainly getting her exasperation and sarcasm of having her conquest delayed for so long absolutely dead on. However, while she does have a certain sadist quality to her (don't worry Cate, I mean it as a compliment), I didn't think it went far enough or was used to control the set enough for her to reach villain hall of fame status. Surtr was very one note ('I'm a giant demon who is hell-bent on destroying Asgard and once I've achieved that I'll disappear') but still worked very well as a tertiary villain/nuke. The other villains are a bit more complicated and come in the form of Loki and, in an expected but no less welcome turn, Odin.

Near the beginning of the film we find out that Loki, who had deposed Odin at the end of Dark World, has been ruling Asgard in his stead for the last four years and has turned it into a place of worship for the God of Mischief. This is effective because it both shows us that Loki is not the legendary leader that he always thought he was (the Nine Realms have been thrown into chaos and Asgard has become a kingdom of hedonism) and allows us for some of the best comedy in the whole film (namely Hopkins playing the Trickster God and an appropriately hammy cameo from both Matt Damon and Luke Hemsworth as Loki and Thor, respectively). However, it does bring down the seriousness of Loki's usurpation of Odin, especially when Thor effectively deals with it in about five minutes. Thor and Loki's relationship is explored further as well, with Thor having stopped feeling any sort of love or hate for his adopted brother and instead feeling nothing but indifference. This is really interesting as the one thing that Loki wants least is to be ignored by his brother and then Thor gets another one-up on him by predicting his later betrayal. It really summed up their fights throughout the four films they've been in together and finally reduced Loki to the annoying little brother status that Thor seems to always have considered him. My only problem with this is that the film seems to be encouraging us to just forgive Loki for his various crimes in both Thor 1 and The Avengers. Now, I'm sure that Loki's trickster ways aren't over yet so we might see a u-turn on this view later on (especially with his glance towards the Tesseract) but it was still a bit weird - like Batman just shaking The Joker's hand and saying 'well you've helped me out once or twice so we'll just forget the murders'.

Odin is the final 'villain' and one of the most interesting. In the film we find out that Odin was actually a conqueror of the Nine Realms rather than a protector, although he gives up his ambition (leading to Hela being imprisoned for insubordination) and does end up protecting the Nine Realms for a few thousand years. However, he has been growing weak for years (one theory is that this is why Thanos has begun to show up, because Odin no longer has the power to stop him) and eventually dies after finally coming to at least a moderate peace with his two sons. However, that is not the last we see of him as he later comes to Thor in a vision to remind him of his true power and to virtually quote King Lear at him (although that might just be because I've been studying it recently and it's virtually stuck in my mind). It was interesting to finally find out what has been feeling so dark around Odin ever since he was introduced (of course, it could have been worked out with him being a Norse god) but it went by so quickly that I didn't appreciate it until much later.

The other new character to be introduced is the Valkyrie, a butt-kicking, wise-cracking, alcoholic, ancient warrior who ran from the fight that killed her sisters (in one of the coolest cinematic shots I've ever seen) and has been running ever since. If I'm honest she fits right in with the other Marvel characters and I look forward to her later films, especially her relationship with the Hulk (one that reminded me of an older sister) and her inevitable word-off with Stark. However, the introduction of Valkyrie as the love-interest for Thor does mean that Jane Foster and Lady Sif are now no-where to be seen. Now, this strikes me as odd because the first two Thor films have made it explicitly clear that Thor only wants Jane and no-one else will do but apparently that is no longer the case. Now, I know that the actual reason for Jane's disappearance is a combination of the lack of Earth scenes (a good thing, really) and Natalie Portman's boredom with the character but it still annoys me to see this plot thread just cut short. Also, Sif is missing because Jamie Alexander was acting in the TV show 'Blindspot' at the time of filming. Apparently, this means that she could be the only one of Thor's original friends that could have survived Ragnarok and appear in a future film.

Anyway, while there were some continuity problems due to missing actresses, there were even more Easter Eggs and back references to past MCU films, as usual to the extent that it's going to take quite a few re-watches to catch them all. However, I would like to draw particular attention to two, namely Hela pushing over the Infinity Gauntlet only to say that it was a fake all along (she also says that the Teserract is a convincing fake but I think she might be wrong there), and Hulk throwing Thor around in exactly the same way that he threw Loki around in The Avengers five years ago, with Loki even saying that Thor now knew how it felt. Once again, this proves just how huge and complicated the MCU is now and how brilliant their continuity is most of the time. However, it does remind me that I have to rewatch all of them again. Oh, and one more thing, the Dr Strange cameo was just superb. That's all I'll say.

Finally, I'm afraid I have a complaint. Why, oh why are the trailers for films recently so spoiler filled?I mean, I only watched the first one and accidentally caught the end of another one while watching Kingsman: The Golden Circle, but already knew that Mjolnir would be destroyed - something that I think would have been astonishing if I didn't know it was coming as well as that Surtr would grow to beyond Hulk size. It's even gotten to the point where I, and Satamer, have had to run out of the cinema twice in order to escape The Last Jedi spoilers. It just annoys me that the trailers can give away so much - I mean, the director for The Last Jedi has had to warn people not to watch a trailer which I think just proves there's a problem. If you want a Rant post where I'll go into further detail, please drop us a comment.

Conclusion: overall, Thor Ragnarok is a superb film that takes all the best bits of the Thor films, adds in a nice amount of Guardians of Galaxy, mixes it around in the pot of the extended MCU and makes me even more excited for Avengers: Infinity War.

Rating: 87%

Goodbye for now, Harry

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