(Click for official trailer)

Thor: Ragnarok
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett
Produced by:  Kevin Feige

Review by Dean Zeller

This review contains spoilers of Thor: Ragnarok, by Marvel Entertainment, LLC.

My illustrious comic-book reviewing career started a month or so back.  I found that it took two hours to review a comic it took 15 minutes to read.  Now that I’ve graduated to reviewing movies, I’m finding it takes quite a while to review a 2-hour movie.  There is more to discuss, in both good and bad.  Just to make sure I caught the details correctly, I saw it twice in the theater.  I’ll have to bill my editor double for this review.

Before any review material, I like to discuss my expectations.  I’ve been a comic-book collector for over 40 years, with Marvel being my  favorite company for their down-to-earth characters and continuing plot-lines.  But in the last few years, I have found Marvel comics to be lacking in writing quality.  Why?  My theory is that all the great writers migrated to the much more lucrative Television and Film industry.  While my favorite Brian Bendis is still cranking out books every month (though soon for DC), my other favorites are nowhere to be seen.  Christos Gage, Jeph Loeb, and many other writers have moved on.  This is a good thing, as I waited 20 years for a good Spider-Man movie before Sam Raimi finally kicked one out in 2000.  Since then, I have had very specific wishes for comic-book movies.  Plot, characterization, and cinematography are all important in movies, but I truly watch comic-book movies for the fight scenes.  They should add to the plot, and not just be there to entertain.  The villains should be cool and original, not generic.  They should make sense, be exciting, and easy to follow.  With this, my favorite comic-book movie so far is Captain America: Civil War.  Why?  Because it was all heroes fighting heroes.  There was no villain (per se), and all fights were  written to specifically add to the plot development.  While I enjoyed Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, I didn’t like the fight scenes as much.  The enemies were generic.  In Avengers, there were a whole bunch of aliens that looked and acted pretty much the same.  In Ultron, they were all robots.  At times, I felt Joss Whedon went a little too crazy with the old copy-and-paste.  But in Civil War, all 12 heroes were individual, acted differently, and it was a blast.  I commend the Russo Brothers with their ability to juggle all of the different characters effectively.  With all that, it would have pleased me greatly if Thor would do something similar, making use of the guest stars and such.  It could be a contender for my favorite comic movie, if done right.

Before any review, I like to give a background on the creators.  Director Taika Waititi is a newcomer to the directing scene.  The IMDB only shows television shows and such, but nothing I recognized.  However, I never look at inexperience as a bad thing.  It shows Marvel is willing to hire fresh new talent and give them tons of money to make films.  Is this a trend?  Let’s take a look at five recent Marvel movies, and their budgets…

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy — budget of $170 million, directed by James Gunn
  2. Amazing Spider-Man — budget of $230 million, directed by Marc Webb
  3. Deadpool — budget of $60 million, directed by Tim Miller
  4. Captain America: Winter Soldier — budget of $170 million, directed by the Russo Brothers
  5. Ant-Man — budget of $130 million, directed by Peyton Reed

Does anybody recognize any of these guys before they made Marvel movies?  They all had some experience before, but Marvel is giving these young directors unprecedented amounts of money to make movies.  And overall, it’s working.  My theory is that these guys learned the more recent filming techniques (i.e. CGI) brand new, whereas the older directors had to learn after they already had experience.  Plus, they’ll work for less money.  Waititi is in the same category, having been given a $180 million budget for a comic-book movie.  We’ll see where it goes.

The movie script for Ragnarok was collectively written by three people:  Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost.  I don’t know Eric.  He hasn’t done much, beyond writing a few Marvel cartoons and comics.  But I am quite familiar with Craig and Christopher.  They’ve been partners since 2005 when whey created a risky character named X-23, who you may have heard of.  They have written X-Men, Wolverine, X-Force, and many others for Marvel.  I haven’t seen any comic-book work from them in a long time, so I will assume they graduated to writing movies on a full-time basis.

Brainchild of Kyle and Yost

Okay, on to the review!  This is the third Marvel movie of the year, after Dr. Strange and Spiderman: Homecoming, the first time this has ever happened.  It looks like Marvel’s momentum is growing, and I hope they are able to keep it going, without it imploding on itself.

Overall, I enjoyed the Hela out of it!  By no means was it a perfect movie.  But the director had a clear vision of the film, mixing 70’s disco with 80’s cheesiness, also mixing mythology with technology.  It had guest stars that were fun, and (major spoilers) Thor and Hulk fight in an arena!  Honestly, who cares about plot and character development when those two bruisers are beating eachother up.  Naturally, my review will go into the plot and charcter develpoment, but I enjoyed the fight scenes the most, which was my primary purpose.  It was great seeing Hulk vs. Fenris Wolf, a scene made famous by Peter David’s Hulk comic in Mythadventures (Hulk 421-423).  It doesn’t rank up with my beloved Civil War, but I would put it on par with both Avengers movies.

Would have made a good scene in Ragnarok

Let me start on what I liked.  Ragnarok had the advantage of using characters that have already been established in their own movies, so it can hit the ground running.  The marketing department made a most excellent trailer, which seemed to summed up the whole movie in two minutes.  However, they pull a fast one, and the story Thor seemed to tell in the trailer is not the story he is actually telling in the movie.  Within a few minutes, I was already hooked on the storytelling style, flow, and use of dialog.

Thor was most definitely a comedy.  From start to end, all of the characters were making various jokes and quips.  The comedy wasn’t just thrown in there — it was well-written into the plot, and made me laugh every time.  Not all movies can do this, but Raggy pulled it off well.  While the humor was certainly different from Deadpool‘s style, the jokes and references were, for the most part, quite funny.

Comic-book movies are funny?!

I thoroughly enjoyed the transition from the introduction scene into the credits.  It was a cool build-up that reminded me of Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams.  I also loved Cate Blanchett as Hela, Goddess of Death.  The ironic thing is that I have yet to see a Cate Blanchett role I have liked, because I always thought she “looked like death,” even when she was trying to look good.  I found her performances to be dark, ugly, and brooding.  Which made her the perfect for the role.  Okay, in actual Norse Mythology, Hela was Loki’s daughter, not Odin’s.  However, it wouldn’t have made sense for Loki as developed in the MCU, so she got a promotion of sorts.

I can’t believe it’s not Hela!

I loved the overall feel and theme of the movie.  It had elements of 70’s, 80’s, disco, new-age, alternating soundtracks, and colorful cinematography.  It was refreshing to see such a creative style go into something as technical as directing.  I was satisfied with the fight scenes, my aforementioned purpose.  They were new and original, and made sense.  I will admit, I was hpoing for more, but knew I couldn’t have everything.

It was great seeing Mark Ruffalo in a Hulk movie of his own.  Yes, this is a Thor movie, but any good comic-book reader knows the key to a good story is in the guest appearances.  While this movie didn’t have eleven guest appearances, having Hulk more than makes up for it.  This Hulk looked a bit different from the Avengers movies, but was still exciting as ever.  Ruffalo looked quite old, with white streaks around his temples.  He also didn’t  act the same, but it could be explained by him being trapped as Hulk for two years.  My only problem was there was not enough of Banner being Banner.  Banner got enough screentime, but it wasn’t the same Banner that had intellectual discussions with Stark and Rogers.  I also missed the romance development between Banner and Black Widow.  However, this is a Thor movie, and there is only so much one can put into plot and character you can put into 130 minutes.

The Dr. Strange cameo was quite fun, but a little rushed.  I was kinda-sorta hoping the Sorcerer Supreme would be joining in the fight against Hela, alongside  Thor and Hulk.  I would have been satisfied with a quick Loki vs Strange magic-fight, duking it out while Thor laughs and makes jokes at their expense.  Regrettably, all Strange really did was magically refill Thor’s beer and locate Odin in Norway.  However, any movie with my boy Benedict will at least have my gratitude.

Jeff Goldblum was great as the Grandmaster.  He leads over the world of Sakaar, a techy, dirty, and chaotic place (to contrast Asgard’s godlike beauty and organization). While the overall plot of Thor is the fight against Hela, the first half of the movie is based off of the famous comic mini-series, the 80’s series Contest of Champions.   In the comic series, Grandmaster kidnaps a bunch of superheros and makes them fight for some made up reason.  It is one of my favorite comic-book stories, simply because of its simplicity of plot, and the variety of heroes that get to fight eachother.  I was totally happy when they decided to use that as the basis for Thor’s plot.  (Consequently, the Contest of Champions II, released many years later, tried to put a more developed plot into the hero bouts, and it just didn’t work for me.)

Just LOOK at all the guest stars!

One of the most charming scenes was a play within the movie, where actors play Thor, Odin, Sif, and Loki to reenact the plot of Thor 2.  I won’t ruin the surprise, but pay special attention to the actors who played the actors playing Thor, Odin, and Loki.  I only wish they got somebody famous to play Sif as well — why didn’t they get Jennifer Connelly, Jodie Foster, or Jennifer Garner to play the actor that plays Sif?

The music by Mark Mothersbough was quite good.  He used a combination of traditional score with a more techy style when needed.  For those that don’t know, Mothersbough is the founding member of Devo, the 80’s band with hits like “Whip It” and…  okay, like “Whip It.”  I am actually a huge Devo fan, and recognized the style once I read the name in the credits.

Mothersbough — Musical Genius!

My favorite one-liners were “ASS-GUARD,” “Tony Stark and the Gypsy,” and “Unless you’re scissors.”  There were plenty more, all generally well-placed.

Okay, after all that praise, now comes the negative.  And yeah, I get a wee-bit picky about things, especially when it comes to plot points or badly-used characters.

Unfortunately, I did not appreciate Valkarie’s character, played by Tessa Thompson.  She was a bratty-teen-adult, full-of-angst, always drunk, and quite annoying.  She was never my favorite in the comics either.  She was not a terrible character, but just one I didn’t quite relate to.

I didn’t particularly like Korg.  Here’s a huge guy made of rocks, but speaks with a sophisticated English accent and shoots machine guns.  As a character, I just didn’t relate to him.  I just regarded him as a copy of an existing Marvel character in a different, slightly less successful, universe.  A point of trivia, Korg was voiced by Taiki Waititi, the movie’s director.

At least Korg was wearing pants.

Okay, plot points, plot points, plot points.  it is difficult for me to imagine Odin being able to “cover up” the complete existence of Hela from the entire population of Asgard.  These are Gods, for gosh-sake!  Even Valkarie knew of Hela.  It stretches the internal logic of the established system to think that all Asgardians were so easily fooled by Odin claiming his daughter didn’t exist.  It also never really explained why Odin died.  Was it a Kenobe-moment, where he did it to make Thor stronger?  (Point of detail — I have the exact same pink shirt Odin was wearing when he died.  I’ll call it my Odin-shirt.)

As far as overall plot, I was satisfied until the end.  Just like many comic-book movies, it is hard to finish them effectively.  Avengers ended with all of the aliens inexplicably shutting down when the main alien ship was destroyed.  Same with the robots in Avengers 2 when Ultra shut down.  Even my favorite Civil War had an ending that left me cold.  The arena plotline went perfectly well for me, and the fight against Hela worked as well… until Thor made a “discovery” about Ragnarok.  According to legend and prophecy, Ragnarok would result in the destruction of Asgard, and the deaths of all of the major characters, including Thor.

It seems that (real SPOILERS this time) while the whole movie they were trying to prevent Ragnarok, instead they switched it around and used Ragnarok to defeat Hela.  By sacrificing the Asgard real estate but saving the people, Asgard itself was saved and Hela was defeated.  I thought it was too quick of a solution.  A similar thing happened in Chappie, where a conflict is built up for the entire movie, only to have a simple solution that fixes everything.  Suicide Squad also did this.  And Batman v Superman.  So while I cannot look at this with too much heart, it is something that detracted from the movie.

When the Hulkster first makes his appearance, Loki seemes surprised.  This doesn’t quite jibe with the fact he’s been there eight months, and Hulk is the main attraction.  It is a funny reaction, but one the made me scratch my head.

I did not like how easily Thor was captured over and over, through electricity and technology.  He gets shocked by electricity, and it disables him, as if he were a human getting hit was a taser.  Not only is he a god, but he is the god of Thunder (and, I’m assuming, lightning).  Later in the movie, he turns into Tony Isabella’s Black Lightning, with electric eyes, lightning punches, and shooting electrical bolts everywhere.  Why is it a bunch of vagabond cannibals just happen to have a technology laying around that can easily take down Thor.  The Thor I know would have been zorched for a moment, but then shredded the net to pieces, hammer or no hammer.  It also seemed quite easy that Valkarie just happened to have a similar technology to take Thor down just by throwing it at his neck.  I do understand that Thor needed to be captured to move the plot along, but it just seemed really easy, for someone of his power and skills.  He took on Frost Giants!  He attacked Surter single-handedly, and won while cracking jokes.  A bunch of technical vagabonds should not have been able to take him down.

Thor without the hammer

I never really understood the Scourge/Executioner character, either in the comics or in the Thor movies.  I would have rather he been pure evil and on Hela’s side, than be wishy-washy from the get-go, being more concerned about going after female Asgardians.

There was a Revengers joke in there that I either wish they left out, or developed more.  It is an unoriginal team name that a middle-school kid playing the Marvel Super Heroes Roleplaying Game would come up with.  (Hi Joel!)

My least-favorite part of the movie was how they referred to “the common folk” and how utterly defenseless these people were.  Both in folklore and in Marvel comics, even common Asgardians were closer to deities than humans.  They were characterized as simply humans, that ultimately needed saving.  I also felt the term “common folk” was somewhat misused.

Thor also recovered quite quickly from the severe Hulk-beating he received.  I never liked how utterly involnerable Superman always was, and would rather see Thor bruise and bleed a bit, especially when being jump-slammed by the Strongest Avenger.

Ack, the villains!  When Hela raised a bunch of dead soldiers, I knew the ending was going to be swamped with generic enemies.  Sure, Thor and Co beat the stuffings out of them, but they all went down with one hit.  The Charcoal monsters in Suicide Squad suffered the same affliction.

I absolutely did not like the use of the bridge at the end.  It was overused for the tension.  Far too many times, a randomly thrown object or character would just happen to land on (and stay on) the bridge.

Even with all of the aforementioned negative comments, overall, I quite liked it.  Writing this review makes me glad I saw it again, so I could appreciate everything it had to offer, and forgive the things I didn’t like.  But, if nothing else, it was worth it, just to see Thor and Hulk battle it out again.  And Loki finally gets his revenge on his humiliation from Avengers.

RANK: B+ / 4 stars out of 5 / Thumbs Up

PS:  I think Disney/Marvel should promote a Hulk-festival, just like what was portrayed on Sakaar.  It would catch on, and those costumes looked so Mardi Gras.

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