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Review: Thor Ragnarok

*There are some mild spoilers in this review, but nothing too revealing*

Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher L. Yost and directed by Taika Waititi, “Thor Ragnarok” is the third installment in the “Thor” franchise and easily one of the finest additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coming hot off the heels of Waititi’s last film “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” Ragnarok retains several actors from the kiwi adventure-comedy. Sam Neill shows up in a play on Asgard portraying Odin in a fun cameo while Waititi’s longtime collaborator Rima Te Wiata plays the role of the Grandmaster’s (Jeff Goldblum) security guard on the trash planet of Sakaar. This is a Thor film that sheds the weight of past films while embracing the greater cosmic scale that earlier films like “Doctor Strange” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” had already accelerated. But how did we get to this place? Let’s rewind a second and take a look at the franchise as a whole.

The first two “Thor” films, while having their fair share of fans and being generally well received, aren’t always near the top of the average moviegoers personal favorites of the MCU thus far. I believe one of the main reasons that’s led to this film being such a drastic departure from Thor’s past films was that Marvel Studios now has the confidence to embrace the more obscure aspects of their material after the successes of “The Guardians of the Galaxy” and it’s sequel. Marvel seems to know the conversation surrounding their brand of movies and taken some criticisms to heart. The studio now seems to embrace the expectations that their logo inspires as they’ve turned the tables on the audience by playing against these expectations. Which only reinforces my opinion that if you’re going to go make a sci-fi fantasy film, just go for it. Be unique, go for the weird and the unknown and see what works and what doesn’t. As it turns out, throwing the incredible Hulk into the far reaches of outer-space to fight aliens in a gladiator arena, while also having Thor attempting to stop the mythical end of Asgard called ‘Ragnarok’, is a pretty damn good idea.

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Since we’re playing in the sandbox of gods and kings, mythology and science fiction, it makes sense to acknowledge just how silly all of this really is. Taika Waititi never discredits the past or tosses around cruel or barbed comedy though- it’s all in good fun and is a refreshing change of pace for the franchise. In fact this year’s three releases from Marvel have been increasingly better at pairing comedy with their films. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”, “Spider-man Homecoming”, and this film all deftly weave comedy into their storylines without sacrificing quality or softening the threat of the villains of each story. I think it’s immensely important that neither James Gunn nor Taiki Waititi lost their comedic voices while engaging in the Marvel movie machine, Jon Watts might have also kept his comedic touches intact with the newest iteration of “Spider-Man” but I’m less familiar with his work. Though I’d be remiss not to mention the comedy gold in this film that is Korg, an alien gladiator made of rocks who also happens to be trapped on Sakaar-and portrayed by the director himself. If you’ve seen “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” imagine Ricky Baker as an alien rock gladiator- but with manners, and there you have it.

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So, there are essentially two things that made this film work as well as it did for me, the performances and the visuals. In various films throughout history there have been scene stealing actors or characters that charm us, fill our lungs with laughter, or terrify our very hearts-but this film is loaded those moments. There wasn’t a single character that overshadowed the rest of the cast. Each seemed to have something to contribute to the story or to keep the pace swiftly bouncing along with a joke or an escalation of violence that underlined the characters’ need to keep moving in the right direction. Taika Waititi has said that one of his chief intentions with the property was to make Thor the most interesting character in his own movie. This is something he succeeds in doing by stripping the character down, removing his hammer, forcing a new look upon the character, and dropping him in new environments with an earned confidence. The additions of Doctor Strange and Bruce Banner’s Hulk also have merit as they remain consistent while moving the various characters forward in development. Strange immediately whisks Loki away after the brothers arrive on Earth looking for Odin-a sign that he’s been studying and honing his craft of Sorcerer Supreme since his film’s end. Just as the Hulk has become a fully formed character after staying in his green form for two years while fighting, and winning, battles on Sakaar. New additions to the franchise weren’t ignored or phoned in either as Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie has a fully formed story arc that builds on Asgard’s past and towards it’s future. Cate Blanchett’s Hela was a fun creation of dangerous and menacing, though while there was some chewing some of the scenery at times, she remained a threat and clearly had fun on the production. Even Karl Urban’s Skurge, mostly a comedic relief character, has a complete arc across the film. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster was a joy to watch though, perfectly becoming an amalgamation of the audience’s perception of Goldblum, a playful nod to his own film past, while also becoming the character as opposed to the character becoming a riff on Goldblum’s own tendencies. Idris Elba also returned as Heimdall, everyone’s favorite all seeing Asgardian. This time around he’s been an outcast of Loki’s rule on Asgard and leads a secret resistance against Hela’s invasion while sporting a costume fit for Aragorn’s Strider from “Fellowship of the Ring”.

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Which brings me to the visuals. Personally, I loved the blending of the science fiction and fantasy locales and vistas of the film. I never thought there would be a day when I would see the Incredible Hulk suplex-ing an undying giant wolf on the rainbow bridge of Asgard. That is something that’s outright amazing to me, and maybe that won’t do it for everyone, but I loved it nontheless. Everything from the barrage of colors on Sakaar to the fiery lava fields of Muspelheim from the opening scene to the vibrant earthy tones of Asgard were a dazzling visual feast. I also really loved the way Valkyrie’s backstory was shot with the Pegasus riding female warriors launching an attack against Hela years prior. It reminded me of the painting scene in Wonder Woman, but with more slow paced action taking place onscreen. Skurge also received this perspective while leaping from a spaceship into a crowd of undead Asgardians and wielding two AK-47s. The film as a whole was a joy to watch from beginning to end. This is the third film of Taika Waititi’s that I’ve seen and I will most assuredly be seeking out all that remains as soon as possible. This film was quite and enjoyable time and I highly recommend it. Though, if you’re not on the Marvel Studios bandwagon by now this one probably won’t sway you.

Final Score: Four Asgardian Gods and a Hulk

 

 

 

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Marvel Team Ups: Why they should happen more often

In recent news it was confirmed that Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk would be joining Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in his third solo movie subtitled ‘Ragnarok’. This is excellent news for any and all comic book fans, and most cinema goers are probably down for the added Avenger in ‘Ragnarok’ as well. In my opinion this is representative of the change Marvel Studios is going to need to keep up with as their movies keep coming out. Soon it won’t be enough to have just one character in any given movie anymore. You can’t go around saying ‘everything is connected’ when it seems that the solo movies barely have any reprecussions or connective tissue to the larger ‘Avengers’ model (With the exception of Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, but only because of the much hyped Infinity stone focus in the latter). They’ve already *SPOILERS* given us a taste of this in ‘Ant Man’ with Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang running into Anthony Mackie’s Falcon during a raid Ant Man does on the new Avengers Facility seen at the end of ‘Age of Ultron’. This is a great first step towards making the solo films feel more integrated into the series as a whole. Although, admittedly, it must be quite the series of flaming hoops for the creative teams that are routinely swapped in and out of each film. There is a difference between setting up multiple storylines to pay off in another movie altogether and having a fan favorite  character depict a smart and sensible cameo a la ‘Ant Man’ though.

Possibly more important though is the inclusion of characters from both the television side of Marvel and their big cinema brothers. This is especially true for the Netflix shows that Marvel has begun to roll out. The addition of the Punisher to Daredevil season two is a slam dunk in this ideology of connectedness. Hopefully this is what will happen with other similar heroes that typically fall under the Marvel ‘Knights’  paradigm. Blade, Ghost Rider, and Moon Knight in particular could all benefit whatever series they are introduced in, just as long as it makes sense in service to the story being told. That was intrinsically the best aspect to this new iteration of Daredevil, the story. It was well written and heavily relied on dialouge with crushingly violent and dark sequences spattered throughout to avoid lag or boredom in the script machinations. As long as we aren’t simply tossing in cameos for no good reason.

I believe this to also be true for the upcoming ‘Jessica Jones’ series. Since she is mostly unknown (in the real and print world of comics) she would benefit from the inclusion of a character or two dropping by. Who wouldn’t be pleased as punch to see Paul Rudd’s Ant Man in an episode? Even a simple Foggy, from Daredevil, cameo would blow people’s minds. There’s also a rumor, with a heaping pile of salt, going around about the possibility of Spiderman making an appearance in the second season of Daredevil, which would make all the sense in the world. Spiderman and Daredevil have collided and teamed up previously many times in the past several decades of comics, why not use Tom Holland while we’ve got him? This would also highly benefit Sony, the more people come to recognize this new Actor as THE new Spiderman that gets to interact with all of Marvel Studio’s properties, the more money comes back to them when his solo movie opens. It’s a win-win for everyone barring this kid doesn’t become the new Hayden Christensen.. he’d have to try pretty hard to commit to that level of terrible though. There’s also the circulating rumor that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange will appear in the ‘Defenders’ show once that hits, which is appropriate in my mind as Doctor Strange doesn’t show up all that much, but when he does, it’s usually a big deal, this would only serve to bolster whatever threat level has been introduced to the street level heroes of New York City.

It’s this type of interconnectedness that’s so exciting about what Marvel is doing. In the comics when Spiderman shows up out of nowhere in a Punisher storyline, or Black Panther in an Iron Man book, it’s exciting, scintillating, thrilling. Seeing these characters interact with each other is the basis of why the comics are so fun to begin with because the storytelling options can be endless. It doesn’t always work out, some will be destined to fail by their very nature, but what in God’s name is the point of having Avengers movies and tie ins if you aren’t going to utilize the characters you have access to? This was the downfall to phase two of Marvel Studios’ films in my opinion. I enjoyed those films, but why wouldn’t Tony Stark call for some sort of help when the President of the United States is in Danger? Or any of the scenarios that took place in these films? I understand, that’s part of the allure, an eventual collection of heroes in a “One Shot Annual”, but at least if we’re going to do that, can we make the sparing team ups of a revered quality? Age of Ultron was entertaining and did some things very well, but ultimately failed because of its weighty ambitions (Setting up multiple storylines to pay off in another movie altogether, clear marketing decisions etc). My point being, yes, we should definitely get more team ups, but lets give the creative teams some time, quality is important.