Thursday, November 2, 2017

Thor returns to the screen with a wink

Thor Ragnarok has humor (nice), battles (who cares?), and some appealing supporting characters (welcome).

If you've been worrying about the fate of the beleaguered population of Asgardia, you've even more reason to fret now that the residents of that peaceable realm face a dire threat in Thor: Ragnarok, the latest big-screen entry from (who else?) Marvel Comics.

There's even more about which one can fret in this latest Marvel entry. It's possible, for example, to fear that Hela (sister of Thor and daughter of Odin) might seize control of Asgardia and begin her malicious rule.

Actually, you needn't worry about any of that because there's nothing much at stake in the amiable Thor Ragnarok aside from the future of the Thor franchise -- and that's pretty much assured anyway.

Hela, by the way, is brought to life by Cate Blanchett who has been outfitted with a piece of headwear that sprouts what look like antlers when Hela's fury rushes to the surface.

Blanchett's Hela, by the way, must not be trifled with. We know this because she's also known as "the goddess of death," a description that probably doesn't help her on intergalactic dating sites.

Should you find Hela too serious, perhaps you'll be amused to see Chris Hemsworth (as Thor) try to function without his trademark hammer as his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) alternates between the roles of ally and foe in the battle to save Asgardia. The banter between Thor and Loki constitutes one of the movie's high points, and the two actors navigate the screenplay's sillier waters with old-pro ease.

New Zealand director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilder People) attempts (often successfully) to leaven the proceedings with humor. Even detractors may be forced to acknowledge that Waititi imbues the proceedings with a level of self-mockery that, at the very least, demonstrates that he's aware that the fate of one more Marvel Comics franchise may not be essential to the continuation of our fragile species.

Waititi's also makes nice use of a supporting cast that includes Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, a valiant warrior woman who drinks too much, and Mark Ruffalo, who -- in this edition -- turns up as Bruce Banner after having spent several years in captivity as his CGI alter ego, The Hulk.

The triumph of Hulk over his Banner self has something to do with the evil Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum in a one-armed golden cloak). The Grandmaster presides over the planet Sakaar, where he runs an in-house battle between unwitting invaders and his captive champion, the Hulk.

Many Marvel movies depends heavily on the ability of the director to make us overlook their plots, a task you may wish to regard as dramatic accessorizing. In this regard, you'll meet Korg, a creature who looks as if he were made of rocks. Korg (voice by Waititi) is very strong but speaks softly in a signature scene in which he commiserates with Thor over the loss of his mighty hammer.

At one point, Thor also loses his hair -- or at least his long locks are trimmed, making him look like a very buffed businessman who has spent too much time at the company gym, a comic-book Sampson.

OK, so not all the joke are great. At one point, Valkyrie helps Thor escape through something the film inelegantly calls the Devil's Anus, a passageway linking two of the movie's worlds.

You'll also find spaceships, combat and a constellation of jokes, as well as a story in which Karl Urban portrays Skurge, a character who's recruited (more or less against his will) into Hela's evil orbit.

And, yes, Anthony Hopkins shows up (at least briefly) as Odin, although in this outing, Odin has more to do with establishing the plot than with participating in its development.

Parts of Ragnarok slog more than they soar, but Thor Ragnarok offers a bit of fun, and if we must have more Marvel movies (and we have little choice in the matter), we need more directors like Waititi, good-humored souls who refuses to be over-awed by the prospect of steering a movie into blockbuster terrain.

Better, I suppose, than the previous two Thor movies, Ragnarok nonetheless resembles a mirage; it allures, amuses and appeases before quickly receding into the dim recesses of memory.

At this point, you may be asking a pertinent question. What the hell is Ragnarok? I think it has something to do with a Norse prophecy about impending catastrophe.

The movie itself is no catastrophe thanks in part to Hemsworth who gives one of his more likable performances. Besides, it's difficult to hate any movie that allows Blanchett to chew the movie's abundant and not always impressive scenery -- archly, of course.

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