Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Thor Ragnarok

Still moving along on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  I watch a movie, then blog about it.  Simple as that.  Dipping my toe back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Thor Ragnarok.  This was originally in my notes on March 11, 2018.

Thor: Ragnarok poster

When they first announced Marvel's Phase III, we were told that Thor Ragnarok was going to shake things up the way Captain America: The Winter Soldier did.  That was always kind of in the back of my mind when I went to see the film.  Of course, a lot changed between when Marvel made that announcement and when the film finally came out. 

Key to that, no doubt, was Marvel hiring director Taika Waititi to helm the film.  Waititi had become best known in North America for the horror-comedy What We Do In the Shadows, so it seemed like an unusual choice.  Factor in that Chris Hemsworth was starting to become known for more and more comedic roles, and it started looking more and more like Thor Ragnarok was going to be far more lighthearted that its predecessors. 

I recently went through all of Phase I here on the blog, and I described the Thor films as being the comfort food of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  They really don't do anything groundbreaking, they're just fun and serve their purpose.  But the thing is, the comedic elements of Thor have always been there, particularly in the fish-out-of-water aspects of Thor hanging out on Earth.  Thor Ragnarok was the first one to go, "Let's lead with that." 

When last we saw Thor at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor went off on a quest to get to the bottom of the visions he saw of the Infinity Stones and Asgard in ruins.  .  But, on his quest, he soon got sidetracked by seeing the Nine Realms in chaos and whispers of a pretender on the throne.  Thor returns to Asgard to find not his trusted friend Heimdal manning the gates, but some new guy named Skurge.  Seeing the hedonistic lifestyle his father Odin now lives, and the lavish praise being heaped on fallen son Loki (presumed dead at the end of Thor: The Dark World), it doesn't take Thor long to figure out that Loki has dispatched Odin somehow and is masquerading as Odin on the throne.  Knowing that only Odin can set things right, Thor and Loki go to Earth to find where Loki dumped off Odin. 

With some help from Doctor Strange (in a cameo just as gratuitous as Falcon in Ant-Man), Thor and Loki find Odin on a fjord in Norway, just gazing out at the ocean.  It's funny.  In the first trailers, this scene was shown playing out in an urban alleyway.  The joke being Loki casting a spell on Odin to make him think he's just a regular old man, and with the spell wearing off and memories of his previous life starting to leak in, Odin was roaming the streets as a crazy homeless person.  But, in test screenings, they found it robbed the scene of gravitas, so they changed it in reshoots. 

Anyway, Odin reveals that his time is growing short, and his death with signal the beginning of Ragnarok...the fall of Asgard.  Without his power, his firstborn, Hela the Goddess of Death, will escape from her prison and reign death and destruction across the cosmos.  Having delivered these final words and said good-bye to his sons, Odin becomes one with the Force, and Hela appears.  Hela promptly asserts her dominance by crushing Thor's hammer.  An attempt to flee back to Asgard results in Thor and Loki getting lost in space and eventually getting stranded on the planet Sakaar. 

Here's where the wacky kicks into high gear.  Sakaar is ruled over by the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum just hamming it up at his Goldblumiest best.  Thor is quickly made to fight in the Grandmaster's gladiatorial games, where Thor's first opponent is the Hulk, not seen since the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron.  And here's where the in-jokes begin.  Thor attempting to use the same seductive song that Black Widow would use to get Hulk to turn back to Bruce Banner in Avengers: Age of Ultron...Hulk tossing Thor around like a ragdoll just like Hulk did to Loki in The Avengers, causing Loki to jump from his seat and go, "YEAH!  Let's see how YOU like it!"  It's so similar, i swear that the special effects artists must have just recycled the animation.  Marvel has reached the point in their franchise where it's OK to get self-referential. 

Anyway, reunited with Hulk, winning the favour of the Valkyrie (hiding out on Sakaar since the rest of the Valkyries were taken out by Hela when Odin first imprisoned her), and Loki starting to realize what damage he has wrought, Thor has assembled a team to escape Sakaar and save Asgard from Hela. 

That's the best thing about this film.  Everyone seems to be having fun.  Even Cate Blanchett as Hela is having fun, as her Hela wavers into the field of cartoonishly evil for some scenes.  But it's great. 

And we probably get the best Hulk so far in this film.  When we first meet the Hulk, he hasn't reverted to Banner in two years, so the Hulk both literally and figuratively has had time to grow as a character.  He speaks.  He carries on conversations.  He has his own hopes and desires separate from Banner's. 

Leading, of course, to one of my favourite bits.  Thor finally learns that the only way to stop Hela is, since she draws her power directly from Asgard, to bring about Ragnarok and destroy Asgard.  So they unleash the demon Surtur.  As Surtur lays waste to the realm, he briefly tussles with the Hulk.  As Hulk is about to leap back into the fray...

Thor:  HULK!  STOP!  For once in your life, don't smash!
Hulk:  But...but...big monster!  (Hulk pouts like a three year old and sulks away.) 

At the end, that's when I finally realized that they followed through on their promise of Thor Ragnarok shaking things up the way Captain America: The Winter Soldier did.  As The Winter Solider brought us the fall of SHIELD, Ragnarok brought us the fall of Asgard.  (Shouldn't be a surprise, as it's right there in the title)

And by the way, great use of Led Zeppelin's The Immigrant Song in the film.  Apparently, Marvel actively discourages its directors from using a lot of contemporary music in their temp tracks, because they don't want anything that'll quickly become dated leaking into the final film.  But when Waititi used The Immigrant Song, Marvel went, "Whelp, guess we gotta use it because it works so well."  To add insult to injury, Zeppelin is notoriously expensive to use in a film. 

In the end, Thor Ragnarok is truly the most fun of the Thor films.  Thor finally learned how to let his hair down.  

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