A Monstrously Good Buddy Movie

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Thor: Ragnarok, the third outing of Marvel Comics’ God of Thunder, is the best in the series and perhaps the silliest, most preposterous, most fun movie of the year. It has all the things you might love in a movie that makes no sense: a gorgeous Norse god (Aussie Chris Hemsworth in all his hilarious self-mockery) sparring with his pal, scientist Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and his alter ego, the bead-laden, rage-a-holic behemoth the Hulk. There are evil siblings in cosmically fantastic outfits, Maori tribal dancers on a parallel universe, swirling battles with all kinds of warriors — all bloodless.

Freaky giants abound: a monster wolf, a fire monster, even a rebellious stone monster played by the film’s outrageously inventive director, Taika Waititi, a Maori from the Te Whanau-a-Apanui tribe in New Zealand. In this, his first big film, Waititi vowed to make it as much fun as his two previous, smaller films: What We Do in the Shadows (2014) is a hysterical vampire mockumentary and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) is a lovely tale about a Maori boy and his grouchy uncle exploring the Kiwi hinterlands. Both works show the root of Thor’s creativity.

To fantastic effect, the actors improvised most of their lines, giving the characters more spontaneity and humor than blockbusters ever show. There’s a sexy space smuggler with PTSD, a weird magician who looks like a deranged Sherlock Holmes, a dithering dictator in a gold lamé get-up — and Matt Damon, who shows up in an uncredited cameo playacting Odin.

If you channel your goofy 8th-grade self, you will love this film.

After Thor conquers the colossal Fire Monster and learns that the Ragnarok, the prophesied end of the world, is on an unstoppable trajectory, he is, of course, determined to thwart fate and keep the universe safe. “Ragnarok cannot be stopped,” the annoyed Fire Monster hisses. “What makes you think you can succeed?” Thor sticks out his chiseled jaw and shows off his bulging bicep. “Because that’s what heroes do!” he shouts, grinning as though he just convinced someone.

Benedict Cumberbatch appears (all too briefly) as Doctor Strange. He warns Thor that “destiny has dire plans for you.” Being a hero, Thor pays no mind to advice, and zooms off to Norway to talk with his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins in his most omniscient self). Odin tells Thor he’s dying and that his beloved Asgard and all its innocent citizens (including leader Idris Elba) are headed for total destruction.

As if adopting Loki, the annoying trickster god (Tom Hiddleston), hasn’t caused enough family squabbles, it seems Odin (no mothers are ever mentioned) had a child before Thor (who knew?!). This child is now grown up to be none other than Hela, the Death Goddess (a deliciously vampy Cate Blanchett with an awesome antler headdress). Hela has escaped the prison Odin locked her in and is out to fulfill her destiny of destruction. To Thor’s utter grief, she starts by smashing his beloved hammer with one fierce clutch of her manicured fist.

Then she throws Thor to the garbage planet Sakaar, where a space smuggler with awesome fighting skills captures him. This is actually a former Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), consumed with guilt for her past violence. Now, one would think that Thor, the hunkiest star on screen today, and a kick-ass Valkyrie would become a perfect big-screen couple. We wait for the thunder god to plant an all-too-human kiss on the Valkyrie’s lips — but for some reason, the filmmakers never capitalize on the expected fantasy. It’s a curious fail.

There’s no real plot, either — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sakaar is run by the Grandmaster, an addle-brained despot played with wicked glee by Jeff Goldblum. He loves to placate his rebellious populace by pitting monsters and gladiators against one another in a vast amphitheater. Enter Hulk, who’s been imprisoned for two years and is really cranky. Thor’s feelings are hurt when Hulk doesn’t recognize him and tries to kill him. But this is a buddy movie, so eventually the two guys work it out and go all bromance-y.

Thor, who despite Chris Hemsworth’s appeal, is the most boring Marvel hero, is determined to remind humans of their higher callings. “I choose to run towards my problems and not away from them,” he announces, and then repeats his mantra: “Because that’s what heroes do.”
The majority of this film is absolutely fascinating — the incredible high-art comic book sets and costumes, the wild action, and mostly the wonderful actors. There’s so much to see and hear that there’s no way to process it all in one sitting.

So forget trying to figure out what’s happening. It’s all just happening.

Thor: Ragnarok

Quick Take: Road buddies Thor and the Hulk wreak havoc to save the mythical Norse world from the Goddess of Death.

Players: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Director: Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, 2014); (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, 2016).

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.

Color,130 minutes.

Showing at The Tryon Theatre in December 2017

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