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Friday, 27 October 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok.

I do like the Thor films. They're a far cry from my favourite films in the MCU -- that goes to the Guardians of the Galaxy films -- but they're consistently good fun, even if they tend not to be especially brilliantly made fares. The original Thor remains one of my top MCU films, while the sequel is somewhere comfortably in the middle.

All of which goes some way towards explaining why I did something I almost never do, and went to see Thor: Ragnarok more or less on release day. That, and someone asked me if I wanted to. So there's that.

Following on from the last film, in which Loki secretly deposed Odin, Thor: Ragnarok sees Thor discovering Loki's ruse, and setting out to find Odin, who they discover living out his final days on Earth. When Odin dies, however, his firstborn daughter, Hela, is released, and proceeds to take over Asgard in short order, while Thor and Loki are cast away to the planet Sakaar, a planet for lost and unwanted things. Meeting Valkyrie, another Asgardian, and the Hulk, Thor sets out to build a team to take back Asgard.

Valkyrie, and some Thor decorations.

The film is broadly an action comedy, much more so than just about any other film in the MCU, and that's not a terrible direction for it -- Thor's a fairly funny character, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston have solid comedic timing, and there's a lot of comedy to be wrung out of Thor and Loki's sibling interactions, and Thor's friendship with both Banner and the Hulk. The comedy's not always brilliant, with only about two thirds of the jokes actually landing, but it's by far the strongest element of the film, and is probably a good eighty percent of the reason why it's been so well-received by fans and critics alike.

The film also boasts some unsurprisingly strong technical elements, with good acting (Hemsworth steals the show as he usually does in these films, but seeing Jeff Goldblum do a very Jeff Goldblum-ful performance as the Grandmaster was also nice), a stellar soundtrack, some beautiful (if predominantly CGI) settings, and some very well-choreographed fight scenes. Also, the film has a giant wolf in it. I liked that. It looked snuggly.

All that having been said, the film is decidedly not without its problems. It's a disaster of pacing and structure, just to start: The film flits from story beat to story beat in a manner best described as 'dizzyingly abrupt,' and often refuses to linger on any particular moment long enough for the audience to gain any emotional attachment to what's going on -- a heavy part of the finale involves helping the Asgardians escape Asgard, but as we've only had a few tiny scenes about those Asgardians, buried in amongst the other half-dozen things this film is trying to be, there's no sense of urgency or danger to it.

The Revengers.

None of which means it's fast-paced: In fact, the film feels like a good seventy percent of it is taken up by its first act, with a tiny second act and an even tinier third. It's not that the film is low on content, it's that almost all of it feels like the kind of thing we should be seeing in the first forty minutes of the film -- the story seems to be built along the traditional 'build a team, team hijinks, disaster, final battle' lines, except instead it cuts out the entirety of the 'team hijinks' part, and strings out the 'build a team' part to an absurd length.

Another bugbear is how uninterested the film seems to be in any character that isn't Thor or Loki. Hela is probably the best example of this: Given a rehashed version of Loki's motivation from the first film, except with literally zero nuance, she's barely a character in the film, with a miniscule amount of scenes, a cackling 'I'm so evil' countenance, and a send-off that feels almost like an afterthought. She's more of a plot device than a character, and given that she's not only the main villain but also one of the film's only two female characters, that's a problem.

Valkyrie doesn't get out of the film much better: Her character's interesting enough that she could have an entire film about her, but by the time the third act kicks in, she's completely forgotten her entire motivation, and has been reduced to being an extra body in fight scenes -- despite the fact that she really had the most personal connection to Hela. The film's just not interested in doing anything with her character if it doesn't directly impact Thor.

Nice comics reference, with the helmet and all.

(Incidentally, Valkyrie's actor, Tessa Thompson, noted that the character is bisexual and said she was playing her that way -- which is fine, but I wonder how we'd even know that if we hadn't been told, since Valkyrie never has even a passing conversation with another woman in which she might express interest, and never alludes to being bisexual at all.)

Sif, oddly, doesn't turn up at all, even when the Warriors Three are being killed off (rather without ceremony, which is odd when they're apparently meant to be major characters), nor is she even mentioned. That's largely because her actor is away filming Blindspot, but you'd think somebody would at least talk about her.

Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is a lot of fun, but it doesn't exactly hold up as a cinematic masterpiece. It's a fun, stupid action comedy, like the 1991 The Mummy film with more CGI, and is generally just something that you can switch your brain off to watch for a couple of hours.

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