Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Thor Ragnarok: Cosmic Comedy

The Thor franchise has always been regarded as a bit of a weak link in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Thor is fun as part of the ensemble cast in the Avengers movie, he tends to not dazzle critics in his standalone films (please note, I say critics, I have always been just fine watching Chris Hemsworth swashbuckle around the universe). However, this time around, Marvel handed the reigns for Thor: Ragnarok over to New Zealand director, Taika Waititi (if you haven't seen his remarkable Hunt for the Wilderpeople, you're really missing out). And in his weird and wonderful hands, we've gotten a light and comic masterpiece that is easily the best Marvel movie this year.

The premise is that Asgard (Thor's homeland) is under siege from his elder sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), whose existence was hitherto a secret. Thor must team up with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is not the most trustworthy person -- God of Mischief and all that -- as well as the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who has been going through some stuff for the past two years, and a Valkyrie, played by welcome addition to the MCU, Tessa Thompson. From start to finish, this movie is crammed with jokes. It opens with a standoff between Thor and a fire monster that is silly and satisfying, and somehow manages to make every fight seem both urgent and hysterical at the same time.

A lot of this movie was improvised (Waititi's previous directorial efforts include episodes of Flight of the Conchords) and that is evident in every scene where this extraordinary cast is allowed to play off each other and come up with inane quips. The tension between Thor and Loki has never been more amusing, the Hulk has never had more lines that he has in this film, and there are a bunch of oddball characters and delightful cameos to constantly tickle your funny bone (shoutout to Jeff Goldblum, being his Goldblum-iest). And there are a lot of random Kiwi and Aussie actors who pop up, so at times it feels like a Lord of the Rings reunion (the team of Galadriel and Eomer is quite the delight). It's a shame Cate Blanchett was the villain because I could easily watch five more movies starring her, but one can't have everything.

While the cast and storyline have much to recommend them, the most compelling feature of this movie is its artistry. Certain scenes look like a psychedelic Hieronymus Bosch painting (I mean, just look at that poster). It is absolutely gorgeous, whether we're talking about Hela's costumes or the chaotic set design of the alien planet Sakaar where Thor is stranded for most of the movie. For a man whose previous movies cost less than $10 million to make, Waititi really cracked the code on how to spend Thor's $180 million budget. And let's pay homage to that Mark Mothersbaugh soundtrack. It sets the tone for this entire film, a sort of disco, electronica wizardry that is only amplified by the incandescent use of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" at pivotal moments.

Thor: Ragnarok is what a superhero movie should be. Funny, action-packed (but not overwhelmingly so), visually arresting, and worth every penny to watch in a theater with surround sound. I wasn't bored for a second. So dive right in and start gearing up for the Infinity Wars.

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