So, I went to the movies last weekend. One guess on what I saw.
I enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok! I don’t think I liked it quite as much as other people, which I guess is just normal now? Still, I had a good time.
There won’t be any SPOILERS for Ragnarok before the aptly named Spoiler Section (or at least they should be pretty mild), but there might be some for both The Dark World and Age of Ultron. You have been warned.
After being defeated by Hela (Cate Blanchett), Thor ends up a prisoner/gladiator on an alien world. Eventually, with the (often dubious) help of his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), badass Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor must find a way to get home to save his people.
1. So, okay. Obviously we’re gonna have to discuss the comedy.
As has been widely reported by basically everyone ever, Thor: Ragnarok is a comedy first, a superhero film second–something that’s mildly amusing, considering that, mythologically speaking, Ragnarok isn’t exactly a light-hearted affair. It’d be sort of like Marvel Comics making a Biblical superhero, throwing him in a bunch of save-the-world action movies, and then making a comedy based on the Book of Revelation. But hey, that’s not a complaint. I would absolutely watch that movie.
The majority of people I’ve seen consider Ragnarok the funniest Marvel movie, hands down. The problem for me is, I don’t know that I would. Not because I don’t like it or because “nothing will knock [insert film here] off the throne,” but because the comedy doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes it absolutely does. There are scenes that made me laugh so hard I almost cried. But there are definitely jokes that didn’t land, and I’m not talking a couple of bad puns in one scene, either. I’m talking bits of humor throughout the entire movie that felt forced to me.
Without going into too many details, here are some moments that cracked me up:
Pretty much everything about Thor vs. Hulk, especially a certain character’s reaction to it
Nearly every interaction between Thor and Loki
Especially the snake story. The snake story is the best.
And here are some comedic moments and/or characters that left me cold or just felt off:
The Devil’s Anus
The opening scene
A fair chunk of Hulk’s dialogue
A fair chunk of Banner’s dialogue
So, it’s something of a mixed bag for me. I love to laugh and am happy to see Marvel embracing its comedic side here, but I wish the comedy worked more consistently.
2. Discussing the ladies of Ragnarok:
Holy shit, yes. Hela–who I keep trying to write as Hel, which my autocorrect keeps trying to make Helming–is a superb villain. She is fun, well-acted, has actual motivation, poses a huge threat, has great makeup and costuming (seriously, look at that headpiece), etc. Marvel has continuously struggled with their villains (Malekith in Thor 2 remains a franchise embarrassment), so it’s nice to see them get it right here, especially since Hela is a woman, and lady super villains have been pretty much absent from these movies. (Which is especially disappointing, considering some of the amazing female villains on Marvel TV shows, like Mariah Dillard from Luke Cage, Aida from Agents of Shield, and both Whitney Frost and Dottie Underwood from Agent Carter.)
Anyway, Hela is pretty great. There is one minor aspect about her character that didn’t seem wholly necessary to me, but honestly, it’s not really that big of a deal.
Meanwhile, we also have Valkyrie.
Yes. YES. I’m all about Valkyrie. Valkyrie is the best. She is a hard-drinking, emotionally screwed up badass, and I love that. It’s so common for female characters, particularly love interests, to be portrayed as these Ideal, Flawless Women, like, they’re rarely allowed to be weird, and their biggest problem–other than being kidnapped by whichever Big Bad–is usually that the hero isn’t putting their relationship before saving the world or whatever. But Valkyrie has got her own story. She feels different, interesting. I’m absolutely putting her on my ongoing list of Lady Superhero Films I Desperately Want, Even Though I’ll Never Get Them. (And in this film, we can unambiguously show that she’s bisexual, because we didn’t quite accomplish that here. Sigh.)
It probably helps that, despite being called a love interest during interviews and the like, Valkyrie and Thor don’t so much as lock lips in Ragnarok. She is, at best, a potential love interest, which is a smart call. Like if they get together eventually, cool. All for it. But if it had happened here, it would have felt rushed and dumb, especially if Valkyrie had made both important life and plot-altering decisions just because of how her heart pitter patters for Thor’s big guns. Ugh. No, this is a much, much smarter play.
Also: I really enjoyed Rachel House as Topaz, The Grand Master’s right hand woman. She’s just a great scene stealer. I liked her immensely.
We will briefly have to discuss the ladies who noticeably aren’t in Ragnarok, but that’s best left for the Spoiler Section, I think.
3. As far as the male newcomers go:
As previously mentioned, Jeff Goldblum is, well. He’s very much Jeff Goldblum here. I can’t pretend I have anything particularly insightful to say about the Grandmaster. He’s just pretty much glorious.
Skurge (Karl Urban), on the other hand, was definitely a surprise. I can’t speak too much about him before the Spoiler Section, but I actually quite liked Skurge, partially because it’s really unlike anything I’ve seen Urban do before, and partially because this guy can do some pretty heavy-lifting acting with just his facial expressions.
4. And we might as well talk about the Hulk, too, because while he’s not a new character, he certainly has much more screen time than he’s had in previous movies.
He’s also being voiced by Mark Ruffalo for the first time. And I don’t know what it is exactly . . . the dialogue itself, Ruffalo’s performance, simply getting used to hearing the Hulk speak in complete sentences . . . but a lot of Hulk’s stuff outside the arena doesn’t quite work for me. Personally, I suspect it’s a combination of these factors. Or maybe it’s just that I think a few of these scenes run too long. Which leads me to my final note before we get into the nitty-gritty:
5. Thor: Ragnarok is a 2 hour, 10 minute movie.
Marvel. PLEASE stop doing this.
Look, Ragnarok is an entertaining movie. I had a really good time watching it. But the middle feels a little heavy because really, there’s just nothing in this plot that necessitates a runtime over two hours. Don’t get me wrong: there are other superhero films that drag on much, much longer, but still, I think this could’ve been a tighter film.
A film I shall now discuss in considerably more detail. If you haven’t seen it and have any interest, I urge you to turn away now: there really are some nice, fun surprises in here that I suspect are best experienced unspoiled.
We begin Ragnarok with Thor tied up in chains. Settle. He’s fully clothed at this point.
Thor has been captured by giant demon dude Surtur (Clancy Brown), whose voice I couldn’t place for the life of me, much to my irritation. Surtur wants to go to Asgard and dump his big crown into the Eternal Flame, which will start Ragnarok and the total destruction of Asgard. (An aside: I forgot to mention earlier that Ragnarok has a pretty awesome soundtrack–“Immigrant Song” will obviously be burned into my brain all month–but I am now a bit disappointed that nobody found a way to get “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles in there.) Anyway, this whole bit is funny enough; it just . . . it really feels like a bit, you know? Like you can almost hear the screenwriters realizing they need to write an opening scene that establishes the movie’s new tone here. And most of Thor’s dialogue feels just a little OOC to me, too. None of it’s terrible, but it’s enough to keep me from sinking into the movie right away.
So, Thor steals Surtur’s crown and escapes, dumping it into Odin’s Room of Treasures, where I’m absolutely sure it won’t come up again. He also quickly finds out that Loki has secretly taken Odin’s place. A few things tip him off: one is the giant statue of Loki; the other is the melodramatic play Odin is currently watching. The play is all about Loki’s heroic “death” from The Dark World, and–as you might imagine–it skews pretty heavily in Loki’s favor.
A couple of things about the play:
A. It’s absolutely hilarious. I was DYING.
B. I was also squinting because the actor playing Loki looked like Matt Damon to me, but I was like . . . nah. Nah, that’s not Matt Damon. Well, friends, it was indeed Matt Damon. Also, Liam Hemsworth was playing Thor, and Sam Neill was playing Odin/Narrator. (I must admit, I completely missed the latter.)
Loki promises to take Thor to where he’s stashed Odin on Earth, but that turns out to be a nursing home currently in the process of being demolished, so no dice. Dr. Strange ends up giving the vital assist to finally get them to their father, who’s busy standing on a cliffside in a little hidden pocket of Norway. Odin warns Loki and Thor that they have an evil sister who’s coming, a sister Odin’s been able to fend her off so far. Unfortunately, now it’s his time to die and be with Frigga or whatever. He promptly bites it.
A. I like Dr. Strange’s cameo here about 80 times more than I liked his actual movie. Maybe he works better in a supporting role?
B. Odin’s death feels . . . pretty convenient to me.
While watching the film, I couldn’t quite decide if Odin had grown deathly ill because of what Loki had done, or if he just sort of evaporated because he couldn’t live without Frigga anymore. Thor later accuses Loki of the former, but logically, that doesn’t seem to track–after all, Odin had already broken free of the spell and presumably could have returned to Asgard at any time if he’d wished.
But if it’s the latter . . . like, that pretty much means Odin just said, “Look, your sister is coming and she’s pretty much going to destroy everything, but while I was the only one who could ever stop her before . . . like, I miss Frigga, so, peace.” And don’t get me wrong: Frigga was awesome and I get missing her, but Odin is completely abandoning both his kids and his kingdom about four seconds before the apocalypse begins, which seems pretty shitty. Although I suppose that’s not entirely out of character for Odin, who, historically speaking, is kind of a dick in these movies.
Still, I can’t help but feel that Odin really dies because of Plot Reasons, and while I don’t exactly mind–Odin feels a bit played out as a character, and Sir Anthony Hopkins, while a fantastic actor, does have a tendency to phone it in now and then–I can’t help but wish this was all a touch less conveniently timed. (Though credit where credit’s due: Hopkins is actually pretty great here. I adored him in the scene where he’s playing Loki playing Odin. Loved. It.)
Anyway, Odin peaces out and Hela pops up about five seconds later.
Her story is interesting: she’s Odin’s first-born, the Goddess of Death, and helped brutally conquer the Nine Realms before being banished and written out of history when she no longer fit into the peaceful narrative Odin constructed. That’s . . . actually a really great backstory, like, not only does it give her solid motivation, it also gives the whole story this surprisingly dark history of imperialism that I really like. I’m not entirely sure Hela needed to be a firstborn to make it work–I feel she could just as easily have been Odin’s right-hand, a badass general instead of a trope-y secret sibling–but thinking about it now, it doesn’t really bother me that much. After all, it’s not like Thor and Loki knew about her existence and just hadn’t mentioned it during several films and television shows over multiple decades. Cough, fucking cough, STAR TREK.
Anyway, Hela easily destroys Mjolnir, which is obviously sad. Like, I’ll miss you most of all, Mjolnir! Still, it had to happen. After all, Thor needs to learn by the end of the movie that he never needed those ruby slippers; the power was in him all along! (I mock, but honestly, it’s pretty awesome. I’m all about Thor’s badass lightning powers.)
Loki tries to retreat back to Asgard through the Bifrost, but Hela follows them and flings them out to their apparent doom. (Spoilers: they both survive.) She then makes it to Asgard, immediately kills Volstagg and Fandral, gains a Chief Henchman in Skurge, raises Fenrir, raises an undead army, and kills a shit ton more people, including Hogun, the last of the the Warriors Three.
A. I don’t love how the Warriors Three are killed. I don’t mind that they get killed, exactly, but you only need to nonchalantly kill one dude for a Big Shock Moment, not two. Hogun, at least, gets a slightly better death . . . but only slightly better. I really wish at least one of them could have lasted until the Big Fight–protecting the people with Heimdall, maybe. I don’t know. It just bugs me.
B. Heimdall lives, though. So, that’s something at least. Heimdall is never, ever allowed to die.
C. Unfortunately, I can’t actually tell you if Sif lives because she never appears in this movie. I can’t exactly blame this on Taika Waititi because Jaime Alexander wasn’t available, but–even knowing that the dialogue would’ve been a little awkward–I still wish her absence had been somehow addressed, like, Thor mentioning in his opening monologue that Sif is still looking for those Infinity Stones he couldn’t find, or something.
Cause the thing is, I’m starting to get a bit concerned about Marvel’s Disposable Women. Tony breaking up with Pepper offscreen in Civil War, for instance? Absolute bullshit. Thor and Jane having broken up off screen isn’t nearly as bad, but still . . . like her or hate her, Jane is an important character in the Thor franchise. Even if Jane and Thor have been broken up for a while (apparently, it was implied in Age of Ultron, but honestly I haven’t watched that movie since it came out, so I just don’t remember), like, we’re talking two offhand lines in a couple of movies. And I’m just not sure that kind of thing happens to important male characters. Like, I’m trying to picture someone in a theoretical Iron Man 4 telling Tony, “Man, heard you and Rhodey aren’t friends anymore. That sucks, huh?” Like, yeah, they recast Rhodey, but they didn’t just drop the character.
Sif isn’t quite the same, I know. I’m just saying, I don’t want this to become a Marvel trend. Actually, you know what I really wish had happened? I wish Sif had come back to Asgard during the end credits to find her planet destroyed and her people vanished. And she’d be all like, “What the FUCK” and then later we’d get a whole movie about Captain Sif who has since commandeered a spaceship and is searching the galaxies for her people.
Yup. Officially adding it to The List.
D. Skurge works, like, astonishingly well.
So, initially, Skurge is pretty much just a giant tool. He’s like a frat boy warrior, not terribly bright and more interested in impressing girls than anything else. It’s kinda great, honestly, because I’ve seen Urban play Anguished Human Warrior and Anxious, Cranky Doctor and Badass Executioner Cop, but I’ve never seen him play such an intentionally comedic dick monkey before. It’s fun to watch.
But then Skurge reluctantly agrees to serve as Hela’s executioner in order to save his own skin, and like, Urban brings the acting. His redemption arc is obvious, up to and including his sacrificial death, but Urban really only has a few scenes–none with dialogue–to effectively sell his mounting guilt, and he really does. For such a predictable part, I like this character an awful lot.
All right, let’s see. Where were we . . . right, Planet Sakaar.
So, sorry folks, but I’m just rapidly running out of steam on this review, so instead of recapping scene by scene, let’s just speed things up and ABC all of Planet Sakaar:
A. Did I mention I love Valkyrie? Cause I do. She’s the one who captures Thor and sells him to the Grandmaster, and her introduction scene is pretty great. Maybe it’s a weird detail to fixate on, but I just kind of love that Valkyrie is so drunk in her very first scene that she falls off her own ship . . . but still knocks out the other dudes and easily captures Thor anyway. It just seems like the kind of thing you’d get from, say, an awesome drunken pirate dude, but not so much from a female character. I’m here for it.
B. Thor has to fight Hulk.
Everything about this is glorious, but specific highlights include Thor trying to use the dumb lullaby from Age of Ultron to calm Hulk down (you know, that whole Faye Wray shit), and then Loki’s ecstatic reaction when the lullaby fails, and Hulk smashes Thor all around the ring. Oh God, I was laughing so hard at this part.
C. We spend a huge of the chunk of the movie at Sakaar. A little too much time, I think: I like most everything that happens there, but I also feel like a lot of it could be trimmed down for a stronger second act. The easiest way to shave off some unnecessary minutes might be to cut Korg (Taika Waititi), who’s only so-so funny and not super plot relevant. It’d be pretty easy to write around him, I think.
I also think we might spend a little too much time with Hulk before he turns into Bruce Banner. I’m not sure. I feel like I’d need to watch the film again, but neither character quite plays right to me. Like, I’m all for the evolution of Hulk, but . . . I don’t know, some of his interactions just came across wrong. And some of Banner’s stuff, like, dressing up as Tony or whatever for a secret disguise? IDK, it just didn’t land. I kept feeling like the movie was shoving jokes into scenes where it’d be better to let them breathe a bit. (Though I must say, the part where Thor keeps repeating the lullaby over and over to try and keep Bruce calm? I loved that bit. And the part where Bruce almost turns back into the Hulk, like, that ripple of green? Yeah, that was cool.)
D. Look, I’m not saying no to all butt related humor, but come on. The Devil’s Anus? That’s just trying way too hard.
E. OTOH, using “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Goddamn stroke of genius. A tip of my hat to you, Mr. Waititi.
Eventually, our heroes get off Sakaar and return to Asgard.
A. Hela gains her power from Asgard. Multiple people say this, like, five separate times at least. Despite this, it takes a ridiculously long time for Thor and company to realize they need to blow up Asgard. It was starting to make my hands twitch. (Similarly, I really like the sentiment that Asgard isn’t a place; it’s a people. That being said, I think they say it three times in under ten minutes, and no, guys. Nobody needs that.)
B. I despise Valkryie’s Final Battle costume. I understand it’s basically what she wears in the comics. I get its thematic significance. I don’t care if no one else minded it. It is so UGLY. I can deal with the gray and gold combo, and I’m ecstatic Valkryie doesn’t have, like, cone boob armor or something, but everything chest down doesn’t work for me, and that blue cape looks so cheap and tacked on, like that’s a cape in a packaged Halloween costume. No. Not a fan.
C. Hela cuts out Thor’s eye, and it never magically grows back. YES. LOVE THIS.
D. Also, loving Thor getting his groove on with the whole storm god shit on. Like, I’m not gonna lie: Thor has this big shirtless scene earlier in the film, right? Yeah, I barely paid any attention to that, and it’s not because Chris Hemsworth isn’t a ridiculously good looking man with nice muscles. Obviously, he is. It just didn’t stick with me as a good “ooh-la-la” moment. On the other hand, Thor kicking some ass with his lightning eye? Yeah, I’m liking that.
E. I am so, so happy Loki doesn’t fake die again. Like, honestly. Enough is enough.
At the end of the film, Asgard is destroyed, Hela is probably dead, and all of the Asgardians have escaped on a giant spaceship. And this, I mean, I love the sheer possibility of this. Like, I want Thor 4 to be a fucking space opera, right? There are so many interesting ways this could go! I immediately jumped to Thor meeting up with the Guardians of the Galaxy. My friend Robyn thought it’d have been cool to set up the upcoming Captain Marvel film with the end credits. I feel like we’ve got all of creation at our fingertips here . . .
. . . and they’re going to Earth? EARTH?
I mean, it’s not a serious problem. Presumably, they’re heading towards Odin’s Secret Slice of Norway (which, shamefully, I’d completely forgot about by this point), and who knows if they’ll even get there for a while, especially if they’ve actually run into Thanos (as the end credits seem to suggest). I just thought the idea of leaving the Asgardians in space, potentially getting into cool star adventures and searching for a new home and all, was a much more creative ending. Like, there’s some awesome genre-bending shit right there, right?
Sometimes, Marvel’s need to tie everything together and tease their upcoming shit actually makes for a less satisfying conclusion.
Thor: “She’s too powerful. I have no hammer.”
Odin: “What are you, Thor, God of Hammers?”
Loki: “YES! That’s what it feels like!”
Loki: “I’ve been falling for thirty minutes!”
(The Hulk has just appeared in the gladiatorial ring.)
Thor: “Loki, look who it is!”
Loki: “I have to get off this planet.”
Bruce: “Last time we saw you, you were trying to kill everyone. What are you up to these days?”
Loki: “It varies moment to moment.”
Grandmaster: “Why are you handing me the melt stick? He interrupted me. That isn’t a capital crime.”
Thor: “There was one time when we were children. He transformed himself into a snake, and he knows I love snakes. So I picked up the snake to admire it, and he transformed back into himself, and he was like “Wah, it’s me!” And then he stabbed me.”
Hogun: “Whoever you are, you will be stopped.”
Hela: “Whoever I am? Did you not just hear a word I said?”
Thor: “So much has happened since I last saw you! I lost my hammer, like, yesterday, so that’s pretty fresh.”
Thor: “Use one of your PhD’s.”
Bruce: “None of them are about driving alien spaceships!”
Thor: “A creepy old man cut my hair off!”
Grandmaster: “I just, I gotta say. I’m proud of you all. This revolution has been a huge success. Yay us! Pat, pat on the back. Pat on the back. Come on. No? Me, too. ‘Cause I’ve been a big part of it. Can’t have a revolution without somebody to overthrow! So, ah, you’re welcome. And, uh, it’s a tie.”
Odin: “Even when you had two eyes, you only saw half the picture.”
I enjoyed this, but right now it’s definitely not cracking Top 3 for me. Maybe Top 5. I haven’t decided yet. Still, 8 out of 10 Goldblums.
Shit. This is really hard. I think I’m gonna go with Tessa Thompson, but good Christ, Cate Blanchett is so awesome too.
Power is inside you, not inside your talisman or tools. No one is the God of Hammers.