An outsider’s take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ (2017) (Movie review)

This blog series chronicles my first viewing of the complete MCU movie saga. I’ll examine each film under various categories that reflect popular discussion points. Next up is the 17th film, “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017):

STRENGTHS

I feared based on scuttlebutt that “Ragnarok” was an outright comedy. But the film works so well as an action-romp character piece that I could focus on those aspects and enjoy the funny bits as a spice and not be bothered when the comedy gets too big. This film is propulsive, whereas “Guardians Vol. 2” pauses for the comedy slightly too much for my taste. Mark Mothersbaugh’s score, which draws on 1980s arcade-game sounds, fits nicely with the colorful design palette and is a pleasant departure from the sweeping orchestral scores you’d expect from the MCU. “Ragnarok” also features the best use of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” since “School of Rock.”

WEAKNESSES

I missed Jane (Natalie Portman) and her Earth friends. And we learn in a joke line that she and Thor broke up? Say it ain’t so! In addition to the fact of the breakup, this illustrates a distressing trend of couples’ dramas happening mostly off-screen in the MCU, as with Iron Man and Pepper post-“Iron Man 3.”

HEROES

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must once again deal with a family squabble that threatens all of Asgard, this time in the form of a long-lost and supremely evil sister. Hemsworth nicely adds a tinge of exasperation to his performance as Thor is thrown into a slave ring and has to deal with initially shaky allies like Hulk, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Heck, the rock monster Korg (voiced by director Taika Waititi) is his most reliable friend. Despite the title, this is just as pivotal of a film for Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), as Bruce reveals that he doesn’t feel like he has “a hand on the wheel” in Hulk form; it’s getting harder for him to change back into human form.

VILLAINS

Cate Blanchett’s Hela is a personal, powerful and entertaining villain. The slave-fight-ring-operating Grandmaster is exactly what you’d expect from Jeff Goldblum (in a good way). Karl Urban’s Skurge gets a nice little arc as Hela’s executioner. And the big CGI lava creature Surtur is smartly used in the narrative, as Thor unleashes him – fulfilling the Ragnarok prophecy — so Surtur and Hela will wipe out each other.

WOMEN

Valkyrie has a big personality (trying to drink away her misery) and a tragic character arc (being the last of her band of Asgardian warriors). Hela is the best female villain in the saga so far. Only because of a brief exchange between this pair during the final battle does “Ragnarok” pass the Bechdel Test.

MIRROR TO REALITY

The themes of slavery and power plays for a throne are presented on grand comic-book scale here, but of course parallels can be made to Earth history and current politics if one desires.

BEST ACTION SCENE

It’s a wonder to behold our heroes escaping in the Grandmaster’s aircraft and being pursued as they skim above the world’s water and islands, with Valkyrie jumping between ships and Mothersbaugh’s score in full effect.

BEST COMEDIC MOMENT

You can’t go wrong with a Hulk penis joke — well, maybe you can, as Iron Man proved in “Age of Ultron” with the inappropriate timing of his “hide the zucchini” line. At any rate, it’s worth a chuckle when Hulk climbs out of the hot tub naked and Thor remarks that he “can’t unsee that.”

WORLD BUILDING

In the first “Thor,” Asgard was basically pixels in a computer, in “The Dark World” we saw more people living there, and in “Ragnarok” it’s a real place – just in time for the heartbreaking revelation that they’ll have to abandon it. Along with that, we get the nice theme that Asgard isn’t a place, it’s a people.

We learn that Odin (Anthony Hopkins) was a conqueror (that’s how the Nine Realms were established) before he become a benevolent king, although we don’t learn the spark that changed his mind. Maybe it was simply seeing the bloodlust of his daughter and partner-in-conquest, Hela.

The cosmic geography covered by the “Thor” and “Guardians” films haven’t precisely crossed over yet, but Xandar is mentioned in this movie, at least.

FINAL THOUGHTS/EXPECTATIONS

“Ragnarok” is a smile-on-your-face actioner packed with great characters and a magnificent sense of visual and aural style. After a while, I no longer missed Jane and her Earth friends, although I hold out hope they’ll return in a future installment.


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