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‘Thor: Ragnarok’ (review by Kristen Halbert)

Produced by Kevin Feige
Written by Eric Pearson,
Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Based on Thor by Jack Kirby,
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber,
Directed by Taika Waititi
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston,
Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum,
Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban,
Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins

 

On his sixth turn gracing the screen and the seventh already in post-production with Avengers: Infinity War, it’s suffice to say that Thor has been well-covered. What could be left to say?

That may be why director Taika Waititi decided to go in a completely different direction from the stoic and noble Thor the world knows.

Thor: Ragnarok takes significant departures from the tone of the franchise, and instead gives us a film that plays out like an “Adventures of Thor” Saturday morning cartoon. It’s fresh, funny, and a welcome break that keeps the fights but loses the severity.

In Ragnarok Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself on the other side of the universe and a gladiator battle against one of his own teammates. With the help of old friends and some new, he races to get back to Asgard before his sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the previously exiled goddess of death, destroys their homeland.

There is a lot of ground to cover here. This film closes several loose ends (some relating to Infinity War) and moves pretty quickly to do so. Not only do we have a major boss battle taking place in Asgard but you also have a fair amount of fights and alliances taking place on the intergalactic dumping ground of Sakaar, where Thor unceremoniously lands after his first brush with Hela.

At 2 hours and 10 minutes this is the longest movie in the Thor franchise but Waititi uses the time perfectly. It never drags but and does not seem overly rushed except in one or two places. The pacing is some of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are characters and arcs that could use a little bit more time to share back story but it’s not a significant detractor. It is a shame that the Valkyries are reduced to an all-too-brief battle flashback, but it is enough to introduce a new character. Anthony Hopkins received precious little screen time as Odin, but he is a powerhouse that makes each line worth several in inference and affect.

There’s a lot to love in this look at Thor and one gem is the acknowledgement that time spent on Earth has heavily influenced him. He makes jokes intentionally, flirts awkwardly as he tries to come off casual, and even takes selfies with fans on the street. Gone is the highborne Shakespearean-style prose of the last few outings.  It is replaced with a more colloquial and modern flow that still booms with the power of the son of Odin. His interpersonal skills have also been updated. When Thor tries to play both sides and tells the Hulk (but later, also Bruce Banner) that he “obviously prefers him over the other guy” while wheeling and dealing to get off Sakaar, the joke has several layers to franchise fans. Thor of yesteryear would never be able to handle that kind of social deception. But in this, Hemsworth makes it look not only plausible, but easy and fun.

The same goes for the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who seems to speak more lines as the green clobbering machine then the MCU has ever given him before. The short bursts of speech are funny, thoughtful, and at times vulnerable. It’s as if we are finally getting to see not just the anger but the actual character of the Hulk, separate from Bruce Banner and showing a previously unknown nuance and depth. This kind of exploring is impossible in a pack movie like The Avengers but Thor allows for it. Tom Hiddleston has Loki’s character down to an exact science of smarminess combined with last minute changes of heart, and gives us another flawless turn as Thor’s oft-maligned brother.

Do not assume that the movie is all laughs and character studies. There is a good amount of hand-to-hand combat throughout the film that showcases the sheer strength of the cast. In particular, Thor has some of the best male versus female fight scenes this year. The highlight, though, was not the pairing of Hela and Thor in the end battle (though it is one of the better ones). Instead, it was watching two of the strongest Avengers go all-out against each other in the gladiator pit. Other strong scenes include anything where Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie) gets to throw a punch.

While much of the film hangs on Hemsworth’s broad shoulders, the ensemble of Ruffalo, Hiddleston, and Thompson creates an elite and unlikely squad. Quirky performances including Jeff Goldblum channeling his own charismatic and slightly neurotic persona as The Grandmaster, and Cate Blanchett going big and having a blast as Hela, make the movie pop with energy. The only person that seemed out of place was an odd quick cameo from Doctor Strange that felt incredibly forced. It was as if the studio demanded Waititi to remind us that we are simply making a check-in between Avengers movies.

This is the third film in the MCU to come out this year with a significantly lighter feel than the way the franchise as a whole has been moving. Who can say if it is more to discover something new in the characters that we have already been watching for years, or if it this in particular is a carefully meditated move to create a relatable, funnier, and more approachable ruler of Asgard.

However this joyful new movie came to us, let’s just make sure to thank the gods.

 

 

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