The Sufficient Delights of “Thor: Ragnarok” (New Yorker)

The Sufficient Delights of “Thor: Ragnarok”

The problem with superhero movies is simple. What started as rollicking
work by a handful of inspired creators saving the world in bustling
midtown offices became the bureaucratic sludge of big business. The
hands-on flair is long gone, replaced by corporate decision-making
planned a decade in advance, transforming the viewing experience from
giddy-kiddie aestheticism to executive Kremlinology, the sussing out of
politics from onscreen clues. Yet “Thor: Ragnarok” is a little
different; it bears the mark of its director Taika Waititi’s
sensibility, a sensibility that, with comedy and cleverness, reflects
detectible delight in turning the giant toolbox of the expensive cinema
into a toy chest.

It’s a toy chest that’s yoked to a tale that should serve as a cosmic
warning against the mortal danger of exposition. But even the film’s
long setup gets a color-sprayed and whimsical overlay of animated
distractions that muffle the scripty thud. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is
first seen behind bars; he’s caged by the fire monster Surtur, and that
flaming creature is realized with a gigantic flair that’s one of
Waititi’s signature tricks—extreme contrast in scale that perches menace
on the border of the ridiculous. Surtur is threatening to use its crown
to unleash the apocalyptic ravage of the title, Ragnarok, on Thor’s
homeland of Asgard. Thor insolently threatens the monster (“I’ll knock
that tiara off your head”) and, fighting it off, makes his escape.

Thor has two missions: to save Asgard from the prophesied apocalypse of
the title, and then to save it again, from his own sister, Hela (Cate
Blanchett), the goddess of death, who is sprung from captivity after the
death of their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). But Thor can’t do it
alone; he searches for his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), arriving in a
spew of green slime at the lair of the bare-pated soldier Skurge (Karl
Urban), zapping to Asgard and finding him there.

The brothers zip to Brooklyn and flit to the Bleecker Street compound of
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). There, Dr. Strange clips a
strand of hair from Thor’s flowing mane and, making a lasso of it, turns
it into a ring of fire that becomes a vast passageway leading them to
Norway. In the cool Nordic light, on a bare plain, Odin dissolves into
gold dust floating over water, succeeded by a black cloud that delivers
Hela menacingly to them. She smooths her hair back, displaying an
awesome set of black antlers and an even more awesome sneer. Thor wields
his hammer against her; she catches it like toy. Thor complains, “That’s
not possible,” and she snarls, “Darling, you have no idea what’s

Hela may be the goddess of death, but she talks like the goddess of
C.G.I. “Thor: Ragnarok” avoids the commercial errors of the Marvel movie
that I’ve enjoyed the most, Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man,” which is largely
demythologized and demystified, taking place more in the realm of weird
science than of pseudo-religious legend, when in fact it’s the latter
trait that’s central to the popularity of the genre. Thor gets
catapulted from a bubbling, streaking space-color ramp into a cosmic
junk yard and captured by its junk mistress (Tessa Thompson), who drinks
hard and fights hard, claps her armguards together with a flash of blue
lightning, and shoots a remote-control Taser clamp into his neck. She
then delivers him to the planet of the macabre epicure Grandmaster (Jeff
Goldblum), who forces Thor to fight an indomitable monster in
gladiatorial combat in a raucous arena.

Waititi realizes these set pieces, the movie’s compulsory routines, with
bouncy humor that depends far less on Twitter-glib one-liners in the
language of screenwriterese than on gleeful tweaks of action,
jack-in-the-box surprises, and candy-colored blasts and swirls of light.
The monster turns out to be none other than Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), or,
rather, a similarly ridiculous magnification of Hulk to amazing colossal
size, and what results is a comedic and piecemeal reunion of some
reduced team of the Avengers. The junk mistress turns out to be none
other than a Valkyrie who survived an earlier round of destruction on
Asgard. Hulk becomes Bruce Banner again. And Waititi himself does some
droll riffs as the voice and motion-capture presence of Korg, the
soft-spoken and self-deprecating hero made of a pile of rocks. The
heroes get away thanks to a small comedic inspiration seemingly borrowed
from Looney Tunes (a hard ball that bounces off a thick glass window
until it doesn’t): they fly a small spacecraft through a mighty warp of
flame and engage in some death-defying wing-surfing and space-leaping
that brings them to Asgard, which is being threatened with total

There, the crew unites with the warrior Heimdall (Idris Elba), and
that’s where the mytho-politics kicks in. Hela, brandishing the threat to
unleash Ragnarok on the family’s homeland, doesn’t just want to destroy
the place—she wants to exterminate the people, and Heimdall is exerting
himself, at great personal risk, to save them from her wrath. The members
of the Avengers’ skeleton crew fight alongside him. Hulk wrangles with a
gigantic wolf that menaces the ribbon-like bridge that the Asgardian
people are trying to cross, and Heimdall bravely hustles the people onto
a vessel that will get them safely off the planet. But Thor has
misgivings: he’s supposed to be the defender of Asgard, yet he’s
abandoning the planet to Hela’s destructive furies.

Yet the curse of boardroom mandates looms over even as clever an
iteration as “Thor: Ragnarok”; it’s clear that the artistic freedom to
make a superhero movie that’s good without an asterisk hardly exists.
Actually, the artistry itself isn’t quite there, either: the genre
awaits an animator or former animator with a hands-on, unified graphic
sensibility, who’s also attuned to the quasi-religious appeal and risk
of the genre. (Jared Hess’s “Gentlemen

offers hints.) In the meantime, Waititi, without reconsidering the
genre’s codes (as Patty Jenkins does in “Wonder Woman”) joyfully
reimagines its details. The plot-capping fantasy that motivates Thor’s
decisive action uncorks a one-liner of oracular historical resonance.
It’s matched by Waititi’s mighty, gothic vision of astronomical
catastrophe that seems like a visual translation of heavy metal (Thor’s
hair band), and also a timely setup for a sequel, as the former
residents of Asgard head for safety on Earth, a planet where, as
refugees, they expect to be welcomed. What could go wrong?


via New Yorker

November 3, 2017 at 11:49AM

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