RECAP: Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok (2017): Taika Waititi

Thor: Ragnarok is Marvel’s third trilogy about some of the individual members of The Avengers. They made all these movies in fewer than 10 years, plus Marvel through in an Avengers trilogy, a couple Guardians flicks, Ant-Man and Spider-Man (the two hyphens) got some love as well. Black Panther debuts his franchise in 2018, the last movie before the start of the Infinity War.

It’s been a long strange trip, and it’s gonna get weirder. Here’s where Ragnarok comes in. Are you ready for a space adventure comedy? Are you ready for Loki to scythe word “anus?” Are you ready for Jeff Goldblum’s least acted career performance? You better be. Let’s roll.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Two years after fleeing Earth and Ultron’s attack on Sokovia, Thor meets his sister, finds Hulk, loses his hammer, and gains a kingdom, all in a couple of days. 

Hero (5/10)

The titular hero (Chris Hemsworth) opens Thor: Ragnarok locked in a cage, talking to a skeleton, narrating his previous two years (following the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron) traversing the galaxy looking for lost Infinity Stones. He hasn’t found any, nor information about their locations. Sometimes, Thor says, you have to get captured just to get answers.

Thor: Ragnarok wastes little time making a break from previous Thor films. Earth will not be in danger, Thor’s girlfriend will not appear, and you will laugh. That skeleton that Thor’s speaks to loses its jaw in a funny manner. Director Taika Waititi cut his chops in New Zealand making indy comedies. Suddenly he’s drafted into Marvel’s stable, heading one of the biggest franchises in the world.

Look at Thor’s new ‘do, courtesy creepy old Stan Lee.

Thor’s interrogated by Surtur, a fire demon destined to obliterate Asgard. First, though, he wants to toy with Asgard’s favorite son. Thor, however, takes his journey jokingly. Pretty soon he’ll watch his father die, meet his sister for the first time, and watch the destruction of Asgard. Despite these personality-defining events, Thor acts like an angry dork.

Thor’s antagonist is his older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), a dark-clad woman eager to rule Asgard and, later, the universe. Early in Ragnarok, Thor loses his famed hammer Mjolnir, when Hela destroys it, moments after watching his father die. Most people would break at either of these moments. That includes Thor, who suffers a loss of confidence, forcing him to strengthen other skills that come into play later.

Soon after Thor journeys to Sakaar, a planet of lost and unloved things, where he meets Hulk, who’s been missing from Earth for two years (same movie), and a Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) , the last remaining of Asgard’s famed platoon of elite female warriors.

Thor argues with Valkyrie and Hulk, desperate to enlist their help in saving Asgard, though they aren’t interested. Later, when Hulk turns back into Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor soothes the doctor’s fears.

The God of Thunder spends much of time politicking and manipulating others. Before fleeing Sakaar, Thor correctly anticipates a betrayal by his brother and snake in the grass Loki. He tells Loki that he’s too predictable, and he needs to learn how to change, like Thor is changing.

Oops, how did this get here?

Twice in Ragnarok Thor has visions of his dead father. The sight of Odin helps him capture a sparking energy that the God of Thunder possessed all along. Later, when Thor is nearly dead under his sister’s hands, he hears his father coach him to capture the lightning and embrace his destiny. The God of Thunder uses thunder and lightning to fight Hela and her zombie army and save Asgard. Sort of. More on that below.

Hemsworth isn’t the most gifted comic actor. He’s well known for his slamming bod, and we get a drool-inducing scene of his shirtless chest waking up in and walking around a strange room. Good times.

He’s funny though. Ragnarok might span star systems and send its characters through wormholes, but it does comedy subtly. Thor is dragged through his scenes playing straight man to weirder characters: Loki, a drunk Valkyrie, and Hulk.

Villain (5/10)

Hela, Goddess of Death and sister to Thor and Loki, has spent millennia locked away in some Norse purgatory, put their by her father, Odin, and kept there by his survival.

Odin dies after a final meeting with his sons, and moments later the sons meet their sister who they just found out exists. Cate Blanchett walks onto the screen in a green-accented black leotard, with black locks of hair, like a grown up girl walking out of the TV at the end of The Ring.

Hello Hela

This goth warrior has waited a long time to return to what she believes is her rightful place in the universe–ruling it. Long Odin’s second-in-command and his official executioner, Hela doesn’t find her brothers welcoming. Thor takes one look at Hela and is like “Nuh uh you won’t take over Asgard.” He throws his hammer at her. Hela catches it. “That’s not possible,” Thor says. “Darling,” Hela says, “You have no idea what’s possible.” Hela shatters Mjolnir.

Thor’s greatest opponents have been of his blood, and Hela is his greatest. He and Loki know that Hela cannot be allowed into Asgard, because that’s where she will draw power, which will be “limitless.” After Hela shatters Mjolnir, the brothers immediately call Heimdall for a return to Asgard, which means they yell at him until he returns them. They and Hela ascend the portal and fight. Hela easily dispatches her brothers from the interstellar traveling tube, or whatever it is, sending them to Sakaar for the film’s second act.

Hela arrives in Asgard. He first act is to murder Thor’s best friends before she’s taken three steps in her old home. She later dispatches Asgard’s entire army and seeks the surviving citizens and Heimdall, the holder of the sword that can transport her from Asgard to take over the other worlds.

Hela grows antlers when she dresses for formal occasions.

What does Hela want? She enters her father’s palace and does some redecorating, blasting away the altruistic art on the ceiling that commemorates Odin’s revision of history. “Peace,” Hela spits, disgusted at this revisionist history. Beneath the niceties of Odin’s late career we find panels honoring Odin’s conquering phase. “Where do you think all this gold came from?” she’ll ask Thor later. Hela sat beside Odin as he ravaged the Nine Realms, taking what he wanted.

Hela throws her knives into the trash art decorating the throne room ceiling.

One day, so Hela tells it, her ambition outgrew Odin’s, so daddy decided her too dangerous and banished her. Only his life force kept her at bay.

Hela stands before her people and tells them that Odin’s dead and she’s in charge now. “You’re welcome,” she quips. Blanchett is a joy to watch. She plays Hela like the vamp queen she appears to be. “I am the Goddess of Death,” is her favorite saying.

The producers smashed in a Hulk storyline, and that forced them to make cuts elsewhere. Hela loses screen time, and with a world class actor like Blacnhett, that’s a loss. Hulk is an Avenger, but Blanchett is a two-time Oscar winner. The median score reflects her lack of screen time.

Action/Effects (5/10)

Thor: Ragnarok would rather make you laugh than get your adrenaline pumping. The action scenes last briefly, jokes inserted in unusual places.

Two early fights contrast Thor and Hela. The first opens the film, deep underground on some dusty planet. Thor, caged and changed, meets Surtur, a horned fire demon who can’t wait to start Ragnarok, the foretold destruction of Asgard. It’s literally his raison d’être.

Thor calls his hammer and bursts from his shackles. Some little demons crawl down the stalactites and try to capture or kill Thor. We’ve seen Thor and Mjolnir escape scrapes many times. This scene shows Thor use the hammer’s twirl technique several times, like he’s a Street Fighter character with a 100-hit combo. (Wrong game? I dunno. I don’t play fighting games.)

The camera in Thor: Ragnarok loves encircling its fighters, a tactic used often and with dramatic effect, easily achieved for the green screen work used to project enemies. Thor defeats the little guys and attacks Surtur, beheading him with ease, seizing his horns, and returning to Asgard to lock them away.

Hela, the green-clad sister recently returned from ethereal exile, enters Asgard after sending her brothers to the junk world of Sakaar. She greets the people as their rightful heir, but the locals don’t seem excited. Their reticence might stem from the unceremonious manner in which she murdered two of Thor’s best friends, by throwing knives into them.

All these soldiers are about to die.

Outside Odin’s palace, Thor’s remaining friend and all the Asgardian soldiers face off against her. They attack. Hela leaps amongst them and shows off her own 100-hit combo. With the power to generate bladed and blunt weapons at will, Hela possesses an unending supply of ammunition. She dodges, stabs, kicks, and punches dozens of armed soldiers. In one moment she hurls multiple knives at attacking aircraft, exploding four simultaneously. She’s stabbed in the gut, and nothing happens to her. In moments the entire garrison lies dead at her feat.

These scenes are short and sweet. They are meant to show what the characters can do, and not how well the choreographers can plot a scene. Thor: Ragnarok is, therefore, one of Marvel’s most unusual films. Consider the amazing fight sequences in the most recent third installment of an Avenger movie: Captain America: Civil War. That movie has three action sequences that last longer (or seem to) than either of the above described ones.

More time for banter and killer effects. Most impressive of the CGI characters was Korg, the blue rock creature who is definitely not The Thing. The details were superb, including a moment in which a rock chunk peels off the fighting boulder agglomeration.

The director voiced Korg.

An enjoyable flight sequence allows Thor, Valkyrie, and Banner to escape Sakaar. Again the action allows the characters to showcase their skills. As Banner flies the best ship on Sakaar from Sakaar, Valkyrie recognizes that the best way to stop their followers is to break their ships. She leaps from craft to craft, tearing out engines, stabbing fuselages, and turning a firing gun backward to shoot and kill other pursuing crafts.

If you didn’t know the ’80s were back in a big way, Ragnarok lets you in on the secret. Grand synthesizer beats overlay several scenes. I dug the Max Headroom-style animations that project Grandmaster across Sakaar, complete with pixelated, jerky 3D images.

Sidekicks (6/8)

Valkyrie: Valkyrie enters the film when she lands her jet on a trash pile on Sakaar. She’s noticed Thor, who is trapped by a net of the local scavengers. Valkyrie steps off her jet and falls drunk off the ramp. When she comes to, she claims ownership of Thor. The locals are like “Nuh uh.” Valkyrie powers up some device on her wrist, taps them together, and reveals the jet’s dual machine guns. Without warning she executes all the scavengers and takes Thor to sell to Grandmaster.

Asgard’s baddest fighter.

No mercy. That should be Valkyrie’s motto. And why not? She is the last surviving member of the Valkyrie, Asgard’s famed female warrior class, and she’s now drinking herself to death in the galaxy’s toilet. Thor spends much time persuading her to resume her fight against Hela and save Asgard.

Valkyrie fills Ragnarok‘s Han Solo role, with more attitude and more swagger. During the climactic battle, Valkyrie sets foot on the Bifrost to oppose a platoon of zombie soldiers. She saunters toward them like she’s about to drop into the sickest barrel on the North Shore. Fighting’s fun for her, literally why she exists, and a zombie army is the best army one can fight.

Thompson is a swell addition to the franchise, a skilled fighter equal to Thor and Loki, but not of their lineage. We don’t have to worry about familial squabbles when she’s on the scene, only who’s going to get their ass kicked first.

Loki: Same old Loki. Trickster god, betrayer of all around him, in it for himself. Not only does Loki not change, Thor chides him for being same ol’ Loki, so predictable.

Here’s Loki in a suit and Thor forgetting he was on camera that day.

Hulk: I didn’t know he could talk. I knew he could smash. Bruce Banner is a major nerd; he has seven Ph.Ds.!

Henchmen (6/8)

An absolute dictator, Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) was the first person cast onto Sakaar (so he tells it), and has staged fights to the death for centuries. (Time works strangely on Sakaar.) Grandmaster’s latest champion is Hulk, a beast undefeated in two years of fighting. That’s enough to have Hulk’s visage built on Grandmaster’s tower, where the faces of the greatest champions reside.

This guy definitely subscribes to chaos theory.

Grandmaster wears blue nail polish and a blue streak from his lower lip to his chin. He carries a wand that fries any who oppose him, including, in one scene, his cousin. “Carlo,” he says, “I spare you. I spare you from life.” Yet, he doesn’t like using “the s-word” to describe his fighters: slaves.

Goldblum plays Grandmaster likes he’s a self parody. I believe the director gave him free reign to act fully weird. Each take ended with “Weirder, Jeff.” I love Goldblum, though I found him a tad over the top. A strange, rich man who oversees a popular sporting event: ladies and gentlemen, I give you every NFL owner!

Stunts (1/6)

The big fight we anticipated for months slices the movie in half. Sakaar’s undefeated champion in the Grandmaster’s fighting arena is a scary mystery to everyone on screen and to no one who saw a single commercial. That’s a shame, but the movie needs to sell.

Thor is cast into the arena to fight for his life. He’s nervous about it, until he sees Hulk bust through the doors opposite him. “Yes!” he shouts, silencing the crowd. “He’s a friend from work,” he tells Grandmaster.

Hulk either doesn’t recognize or doesn’t care about Thor, because he charges, leaps, and smashes Thor into the arena wall. Now Thor’s mad. He captures Hulk’s bigass hammer and collides it with Hulk’s face. The crowd is surprised. The hammer sends Hulk into and around half of the arena wall. They are barely getting started and already half the arena is broken.

Thor tries the lullaby thing Black Widow used in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It appears to work, until it doesn’t. More fighting. Thor breaks Hulk’s ax in two and punches his friend’s gut. Hulk, two years as a mad guy, can’t break the cycle of rage easily. He attacks Thor, sending him into the ground and bashing his skull repeatedly. That Thor can survive one blow speaks volumes. Supine and under the fists of Hulk, the Lord of Thunder flashes to a vision of his father. Somehow the vision generates an electric charge in Thor, who sends Hulk sky high.

The fight would have continued, probably the best fight in the history of Sakaar, but Grandmaster doesn’t want his champion damaged, so he shocks Thor and ends the fight.

You’re right, this fight was a CGI job. Hard not to be when we’re dealing with toilet planets and women growing antlers on their heads. If only Banner had tried punching Thor.

Climax (3/6)

Once Thor leaves Sakaar, he announces his return to Asgard with authority. Literally, because he sits in Odin’s throne and bangs Odin’s spear on the ground. The thud echoes throughout the realm, though the only person who needs to hear it is Hela.

Big Sis doesn’t waste time returning to the now empty throne room. (Remember all the people gathered there in Thor for the crowning of Odin’s son? No one is present today to see Thor actually sit there.) Hela sees. The two chat about dearly departed dad. Odin’s ideas of problem solving were to “cover it up” or “cast it out,” they say. She tells Thor to get out of her chair.

Thor obeys, but only because they are about to fight. “You’re just the worst,” Thor says. As the two leap toward each other, the camera cuts to the situation developing on the Bifrost bridge. Heimdall has led most Asgardians there. He will use his sword to beam everyone through the gate to some safer world.

Woof!

Problem is, there’s a gigantic wolf blocking their way. Also, Skurge, Hela’s Number Two (Karl Urban) is on the other side leading the zombie army. The people are sandwiched. Valkyrie flies over the bridge and peppers Fenris the Asgardian Zombie Wolf with bullets. That’s enough to slow the beast, but a beast needs a beast to fight, and Dr. Banner knows just the one.

Banner leaps out of the jet and lands on the bridge, but not as Hulk, as a husk of white American male. Fenris continues to charge the people, until something stops him. It’s Hulk. He needed a minute to change. The two fight their way off the bridge, shattering part of it. Why is the Bifrost always being broken?

Hela and Thor do some fighting. Hela’s disappointed in Little Bro’s skill. She takes his right eye, because someone in the family must have an eye missing. The eye cauterizes instantly, because Ragnarok ain’t rated R. Hela drags Thor to a balcony to watch his people die on the Bifrost, holding him down and placing her knives around his wrist. “What are you the god of, again?” she repeats.

I crush your face, dear brother!

Thor sees a vision of his father again on the grass of Norway. Odin asks him a similar question, what is Thor the god of? Thor laments the loss of his hammer. “Even with two eyes,” Odin says, “you saw half the picture. Are you the god of hammers?” No. Thor is the God of Thunder.

Hear him cry havoc. Thor draws on his power and blasts Hela with the greatest lightning bolt ever seen this side of the universe. Thor lands on the Bifrost and Hela goes unseen. Loki, arriving from Sakaar, wears his horned helmet and announces, “Your savior is here.” Heimdall uses the distractions to help the people board the large ship rescued from Sakaar.

Let the lightning fly!

Crank up the Zeppelin. The best scene of the movie sees Thor ravaging Hela’s zombie army. He kicks off with a horizontal quadruple aerial twist, making his body into a spear. He follows that by punching several attackers from all directions, knocking back the soldier he hits and the soldier behind that one, using the lightning power. A wide shot captures Thor calling lightning bolts like columns onto enemies.

Hulk and Fenris grapple in the water. The wolf bites Hulk and draws green blood. Eventually the wolf falls over the waterfall at the edge of Asgard while Hulk grabs rocks to survive. As the zombie bodies pile up, Thor runs up the mound to battle more in a slow motion scene that evokes an ethereal landscape painting. Valkyrie lands on the Bifrost and saunters her way into the fray, wasting every zombie in her path. She, Thor, and Loki dispatch the zombies and join each other as the Asgardians are safely on the ship. One problem, they have not killed Hela.

Slay lady slay.

Hela walks toward the trio. Thor dispatches Loki to the Asgard vault, because he’s figured out his destiny. They were not trying to prevent Ragnarok, but to invoke it. As long as Hela stays in Asgard her power grows. They can’t kill her, but if they were to destroy Asgard, that might do the same thing. Luckily, Thor knows just the guy. Surtur, the horned fire demon from the film’s opening sequence, was made for one purpose, to destroy Asgard.

Revengers assemble!

Loki runs to the vault, finds Surtur’s horns, and places them in the eternal fire, which, we’ve seen, resurrects creatures. While Surtur gets going, Valkyrie and Thor battle Hela. More familial hand-to-hand ensues. Hela stabs Thor. Valkyrie delivers a balletic strike against her once-and-present opponent, leaping over her and landing at Thor’s side.

Surtur fulfilling his destiny to destroy Asgard.

Thor shatters a gap in the Bifrost, sending Hela into the water. Surtur explodes Odin’s organ pipe palace, using his sword to burn everything, shouting, “I am Asgard’s doom!” Hulk returns from the edge of the world to attack this new monster. Thor begs him off, calling him a moron. Hulk, Thor, and Valkyrie leap to the departing Sakaar transport ship.

Together the surviving Asgardians watch as Hela bursts from the water on self-generated spikes, attacking Surtur. It’s unclear if she knows what’s happening or simply enjoys a good fight. Surtur crashes his 100-foot fire sword into Hela. He also destroys the entire world, as prophesied.

With Hela’s claim to Asgard’s throne voided, Thor becomes next in line. His father is dead, not abdicating, so he has little choice but to accept kingship. Sitting in a round blue padded chair, Thor becomes the king of Asgard. As his father often said, Asgard is a people, not a place.

 

Jokes (4/4)

Waititi voices Korg, a rock-skinned fighter who warms up the crowds in Grandmaster’s fighting arena. Korg is soft spoken and a joke master. He meets Thor before Thor challenges Hulk, telling him that he’s tried starting a revolution, but he “didn’t print enough pamphlets.”

Korg introduces himself. “I’m made of rocks, as you can see. You don’t need to be afraid of me, unless you’re made of scissors. Just a little Rock Paper Scissors joke for you.” It’s all laughs from Korg. Later, he and Thor discuss the loss of Mjolnir. Korg cuts off Thor as he insinuates that his hammer helped him masturbate.

Comedy abounds in Thor: Ragnarok. Thor is a dork, Bruce Banner a scaredy-cat, and in Valkyrie’s first few onscreen seconds she falls off a ramp drunk. Loki asks for safe passage through “the anus.” We discover that Tony Stark set Thor’s voice activation code name to “Point Break.” Grandmaster makes the obvious joke movie fans have made for years: he calls Thor’s home “Ass Guard.”

Critics are calling Ragnarok Marvel’s first comedy. I found Spider-ManHomecoming funnier, though Ragnarok packed more jokes, but with fewer laughs to each.

Setting (3/4)

Thor spends the middle hour of Ragnarok on the garbage planet of Sakaar. A world that collects the trash of the universe through copious wormholes, the world of Lost and Unloved Things is ruled absolutely by a silly man named Grandmaster.

Grandmaster’s tower, with champions’ visages adorned, and the fighting arena.

 

Sakaar is a riot of colors, all its infrastructure seemingly comprised of the junk piling across the planet. The sets on Sakaar make Flash Gordon‘s blaring palate appear muted. Even Thor notices. Hulk’s suite is covered in red and white, like a candy cane. “Pick a color,” he says.

Sakaar’s enormous fighting arena appears to sit 250,000 or so. It’s hundreds of feet tall. Plenty of ticket revenue for Grandmaster. Like I said, every NFL owner.

Commentary (2/2)

Blanchett makes subtle digs at Donald Trump, #notherpresident. (She’s Aussie, so that’s literally true.) When she first addresses Asgard, she mentions that she got rid of her two brothers. “You’re welcome,” she remarks. Such a Donald statement. Later, in Asgards vault, she knocks over relics she dubs “fake.” Again, so Donald. Finally, Hela is a megalomaniac.

Offensiveness (-1/-2)

While receiving Glamour‘s Hollywood Hero award at the 2015 Women of the Year Awards, Reese Witherspoon identified her most hated phrase in movies. In many, many films, a woman will turn to a man and ask him, “What do we do now?”

I didn’t see this speech until late 2017, and Thor: Ragnarok was the first action movie I saw since then. On cue, Valkyrie, one of the most powerful fighters in the galaxy, turns to Thor as they challenge Hela on the Bifrost and asks him What Do We Do Now. Two months ago I wouldn’t have batted an eye. Thor is the Hero. Thor is the God of Thunder. Thor must decide what to do.

What Do We Do Now is not a question Valkyrie would ask anyone. She knows what to do, and that’s to fight. She shouldn’t be asking that, or at least she shouldn’t ask that unless Loki also asks that, which he doesn’t.

Thanks Reese, for making me woke to this line.

Others

  • Grandmaster’s stolen ship is a pleasure vessel, where he has “orgies and stuff.”
  • Hela demands Skurge execute an Asgardian to prove his loyalty. Hela selects the whitest, most virginal-looking girl in town. Don’t kill the pale chick or we’ll be extra sad!

Summary (39/68): 57%

Thor: Ragnarok was the first Thor movie I really liked. Sillier, less concerned with Earth, and with great characters not members of Thor’s family, Waititi’s film fits well inside the Marvel universe. It’s most devastating moments are subtly filmed. Asgard is destroyed. Odin dies. These are big deals, but you won’t find sweeping scores to make you swoon. I didn’t mind that.

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