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Welcome back to SBox Recommends, where our motto is "every film has its fans". Here I see a movie, review it, and then find out who will like it most and who will like it least.
While the #Marvel Cinematic Universe (aka Hollywood's elaborate game of cinematic connect-the-dots) is a series made up of multiple different #movies, it's important to remember that it was all built on the back of three trilogies starting around the same time: the Iron Man trilogy, the Captain America trilogy, and the Thor trilogy. These trilogies not only launched the #MCU, but also remained a constant of the series throughout the years. These are what brought everything together and developed the core of what the MCU is all about narratively and tonally. And now it's time for the last of these trilogies to come to an end.
Everybody knows the Avengers is incomplete without everyone's favorite, ginormous, Shakespearean, hammerhead blondie in a cape to bring it all together. Even if you believe his movies are the weakest of the MCU, you gotta love #Thor. In a story of traditional heroes with grounded backstories, Thor and his films provide a necessary sense of variety to the series which I appreciate. So, between my love for the Thor movies, my anticipation for Avengers 3, and the addition of the Hulk of all people to the story, how could I possibly miss the final installment in this often underappracieted trilogy? Let's see if Ragnarok is worth getting excited for!
Thor: Ragnarok is the third and final film in the Thor trilogy, based on the 1962 comic book character and drawing inspiration from both the 2004 "Ragnarok" storyline and the 2006 "Planet Hulk" storyline. It is the 17th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
After the events of Age of Ultron, Thor goes on a journey across the realms in search of the Infinity Stones; however, he finds his journey interrupted by the impending, doomsday-level prophesy known as Ragnarok. Brought about by Hela, the goddess of death, Ragnarok threatens to destroy his home of Asgard along with the entire Asgardian race. Unfortunately, Thor's attempt to stop Hela ends with him being exiled to a distant planet called Sakaar — a place ran by the Grandmaster where warriors are forced into gladiator type battles for his amusement. It's up to Thor to assemble a team of old and new faces in order to escape Sakaar and save Asgard from a terrible fate... and while he's at it, maybe invest in some hammer insurance.
You know, one thing I love about Marvel is how every film in the franchise seems fresh and distinct from the others. True, there is a consistent Marvel feel to each film, but by experimenting with different sub-genres and styles, they manage to create something fans never get tired of. For example, Guardians of the Galaxy is a buddy space film, Captain America is a political thriller, Spider-Man was an 80's-style teen movie, and the list goes on. So, what sub-genre will Thor: Ragnarok utilize?
... That's honestly a good question. In fact, Thor: Ragnarok may be the most unique MCU movie so far, even in terms of the previous two Thor movies. My best guess is that this is a straight-up comedy. Yes, even more so than Guardians or Ant-Man. This isn't an action comedy like those films; this is comedic-action. Allow me to explain.
The most jarring part of this movie compared to the rest of the MCU is that it's a comedy first and an action film second. (At least that's the vibe I picked up from it). Everything from the narrative to the action scenes are based around the intention of making the audience laugh. In fact, I can count on one hand how many scenes don't have at least one joke in them. Whereas even Ant-Man and Guardians appear to be action movies with comedic elements, this movie is a comedy, plain and simple; the action element is secondary.
This is important to note as your enjoyment of the movie will rely on your ability to accept that and roll with it. If you're expecting an action movie with comedic elements (e.g. Guardians), you may find yourself walking out of the theater complaining about how "jokey" the film was. And believe me, this is a rapid-fire comedy with at least one joke per minute on average. Come into the film with the right mindset, however, and you're in for a fantastic time in the theater.
This movie is definitely up there as one of the most fun films in the MCU with enough energy and charisma to reach anyone in the theater. It's actually really good at capturing your attention and keeping it, and I think that's due to a combination of it's light tone, mostly-tight narrative, and improv-heavy dialogue. In fact, I can see this movie working really well when it comes to cable, because the film has such a high level of pull and accessiblilty. You could probably walk into the movie halfway through and get immediately invested.
However, this approach isn't without its problems.
The first issue is in regards to the quality of the film's comedy. As I said earlier, the film is a rapid-fire comedy with jokes thrown at you at almost every opportunity. If a joke is possible, Ragnarok will and does go for it 9 times out of 10. On the one hand, this creates a very high-energy, casual tone for the film. Plus, the movie is very funny, especially when it comes to character interaction and how everyone bounces off of each other. The best moments of the movie are Thor's interactions with Loki, the Hulk, and a certain stranger I won't mention directly in case you don't know about that teased appearance. On the other hand, if you swing every time you're bound to miss a few hits, and when the movie misses it really misses. Thankfully those instances are few and far between.
The second issue involves the narrative. Now don't worry, the movie is actually very tightly written. Sure, maybe one or two plotpoints are glossed over, but nothing about it was movie-breaking. I actually find this an incredibly satisfying end to the Thor series. I love how Thor loses his hammer and has to figure out who he is without it. I love how Thor's arc as the heir to the Asgardian throne finally comes full circle. I love how they incorportated "Planet Hulk" with the "Ragnarok" story so harmoniously. I love their handling of Valkyrie and finding out what happened to characters like Loki, Odin and the Hulk. The story is by all accounts excellent and gripping.
My personal gripe is how the comedic edge serves the story. I personally believe that the light-hearted tone of the movie isn't the ideal one for this otherwise intense, semi-dark plot. As fun and entertaining as this is with its comedic tone, I can't help but feel that the story could've benefited from a slightly more straight-laced tone. That's just me, though.
Really it all comes down to the balance of joke and story, and while I have a couple gripes with it, I'd be a fool to claim these are major problems. I'd also be a liar to claim that this movie's writing wasn't good overall.
This may come as a surprise to some, but Thor: Ragnarok has some of the best action scenes in the MCU. No joke, this may be one of my top 5 favorite Marvel films in terms of action. I have not one complaint.
On the whole, Ragnarok has 8 action sequences (give or take) of varying size and scope — 5 major battles and 3 quick or small-scale battles. Each of them shares the same upbeat, high-energy nature as the film's tone and comedy style, but also adds a bit more to make them stand out among the other Marvel films. In accordance with the story, there's a certain high-stakes, intense feel whenever the characters go to fisticuffs with an enemy, an old comrade, or a giant, fiery lava monster. You really feel each battle is a do or die situation instead of just an obstacle you know the hero will overcome. And that's of course driven home by the central question of the story: Who is Thor without the hammer?
In finding out the answer to that question, combined with the sheer power of just about everyone around Thor, we bare witness to one of the most destructively satisfying action scenes in a standalone (non-Avengers) movie yet. They don't hold back on showing the audience exactly how powerful each character is. You see it clear as day, all with grace and brutality. This brings me to one more positive aspect to the film's action: It looks incredible.
In my Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 review, I mentioned how much more colorful and vibrant everything was and how that added to the experience. The same principle applies here, because the increased color pallet found in everything from the set design to the effects is next level. Everything is so much more vibrant here than in the past Thor films with colors such as green, red, yellow and white standing out among the rest. This enhances many of the action scenes and gives them that extra pop they need to stick in your mind well after you see it.
Speaking of the effects, everything's about as good as you'd expect for a MCU film. It is a CG-heavy film, but due to the setting and source material that's to be expected. What's different this time is how the CG is used in creative, beautiful ways compared to the average film. There's this one great scene when Thor is being transported to Asgard via the rainbow bridge mid-battle that looked phenomenal. Another great effects moment was the Valkyrie flashback scene. The film actually starts off with an excellent CG set piece, but I'll let you see that for yourself. I also enjoyed the designs of some of the Sakaar prisoners, and thought every CG character blended well with the live action characters.
Lastly, the Hulk's eyebrows are on fleek. Just thought I'd let you know.
Continuing its track record of excellent performances, Thor: Ragnarok is filled to the brim with talent.
By now, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Thor and Loki are iconic, so it goes without saying that they're great here, too. No need to go much further than that. What I will add is, though, is that their characters are bolstered by the Hemsworth and Hiddleston's flawless chemistry (both comedically and dramatically). Remember how the Thor and Loki interactions made for the best moments of in The Dark World? Yeah, that's a mere appetizer compared to how screentime the two share in this movie. I loved every minute the two were onscreen together, and I know you will, too.
Another performance whose quality goes without saying is Mark Ruffalo as the giant, green rage monster himself. Hulk actually has a bit more to him this time around than in previous films. For one thing you get more of the Jekyll/Hyde relationship between Hulk and Bruce Banner, mostly due to the Hulk having actual dialogue this time around. While it isn't exactly reinventing the wheel with how Hulk is different than Bruce (guess which one's the dumb one), it does increase your love for both versions of the character. Some of the best parts of the movie involve Thor trying to reason with the Hulk and having difficulty doing so; and I also liked seeing the comedic side of Bruce Banner for a change.
Other familiar faces to the Thor series come around to either pop their heads or provide support. In particular, Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Idris Elba as Heimdall are great as always in this movie even in their relatively small roles. But what about the not-so-familiar faces?
There's Tessa Thompson as Valyrie, one of the powerful protectors of the Agardian throne turned bounty hunter of Sakaar. She's a really good addition to the ever-expanding roster of Marvel heroes and provides a lot of great moments to the story, especially towards the climax. She shares great chemistry with each of the "Revengers", but my favorite of these interactions was the few moments we see with her and Loki. I won't go to much further as her arc is best experiences firsthand, but I hope to see her again in future Marvel films like Avengers: Infinity War. I'd like to see how this character grows with further installments.
The Grandmaster is played by one of the most likable actors in Hollywood today, Jeff Goldbum. As Goldbum fans are probably hoping for, his performance is exactly what you want it to be: humorous, tongue-in-cheek, and delivering lines with copious amounts of the word "um". He's great in this movie, turning an otherwise throwaway character into a highlight of the film. He's probably in the film only 15 or 20 minutes, but everytime he does it somehow acts as a trigger to make the audience smile. I don't know why it happens; it just does.
Karl Urban plays a character called Skurge, who I won't go too into for two reasons: 1) he's one of the few parts of the movie you don't see much of in the trailers; 2) there's not much to say. Urban does a great job with the material he is given and provides a few great lines with excellent delivery, but the character doesn't really do much for me.
Finally, there's Cate Blanchett as Hela, the goddess of death. Now, I know Marvel doesn't have the best track record when it comes to villains, but I feel that trend has been changing in recent films. Through Blanchett's commanding presence, great backstory, and surprisingly good comedic timing, Hela should now be in the conversation of best MCU villains. In fact, when I started noticing a comedic side to Hela I started to get a little worried, but she's given just the right amount of humor as to not make her less threatening. She has great lines, badass moments, and an excellent costume design worthy of a legendary actress such as Blanchett.
Lastly, I'm not sure how often I say this (probably a lot), but this may be one of my favorite Stan Lee cameos yet. Trust me!
One aspect I didn't mention in the Effects/Action category was how the action scenes benefited from the cinematography. I almost want to compare the action scenes to another unrelated comic book movie, Kingsman. Every action scene captures the destruction in a truly dynamic and smooth way, often using a longer take that moves with the protagonist. This creates a satisfying feeling to when Thor wrecks a large number of foes in a dire situation. There's also quite a bit of creativity in the way they shoot the action, with the first and final battles coming to mind.
The musical accompaniment is very fitting for the film, with a very good, albeit slightly forgettable, main theme... and of course the inclusion of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song". Oh, you thought that was just for the trailers? No, no, no. It's in the movie, because Taika Waititi is bae and allows for such things. There's also another nostalgic 80's tune in the middle of the film which I won't give away. The only downside I could possibly think of has nothing to do with the movie itself and more to do with this tidbit of information.
(Damn you AIDS... Damn you to hell!)
Other than that, everything else from camerawork to editing is pretty much standard Marvel quality.
I know I may have come off a bit negative in the earlier part of this review, but I hope by the end I was able to convince you that I do really like this movie. Like any movie it's not without its flaws, and I've gathered that not everyone was too fond of the new comedic approach. I am not among those people. Perhaps as an installment to the Thor series movie the comedic angle may be a bit jarring compared to Thor and The Dark World. However, as a MCU movie this is a perfect addition to the franchise. And as a movie in general this is a charming, fun, hilarious, high-energy, thrilling popcorn flick you won't regret seeing.
- This film is ideal for fans of the MCU, comic book movies in general, and those looking for a good comedy in the theater. Adults and kids alike will enjoy it.
- Those who like the MCU but aren't as fond of the Thor films will be pleasantly surprised by this movie's change in tone and direction. Give it a chance to prove you wrong.
- As I said earlier, this is a very joke-heavy movie. Expect a comedy, and you're almost bound to enjoy yourself.
- Those who aren't a fan of the MCU or who don't follow it may be able to get into this movie with no problem as the film's pretty self-contained. Consider this a decent entry point, but the film is best enjoyed after seeing the following films: Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Doctor Strange (optional)
- Purists may be a bit disappointed by the film's deviation in tone and narrative from the "Ragnarok" or "Planet Hulk" storylines.
- Those who aren't into comic book movies or action movies may be able to enjoy this as a light comedy, but wait for rental or DVD to try it out.
(For more articles, reviews, and other such posts like these, check out my personal Wordpress blog, The Ranting SBox! Thanks for reading)!