The Bock’s Office: ‘Ragnarok’ one of Marvel’s most rocking installments
The pounding beat and Viking shrieks of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” may have found no better use in cinema than “Thor: Ragnarok.” After all, what better way to complement Robert Plant singing of warriors who live like the end of the world could be right around the corner than with the god of thunder teamed with a mean, green punching machine?
Out of the frying pan, into the fire — no sooner has Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returned from long travels across the furthest reaches of existence than he finds the kingdom of Asgard a mess thanks to brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
A search for their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) finds the centuries-old deity living out his final days, prophesying that his eventual death will mean the destruction of Asgard, something even he cannot prevent.
Enter Hela (Cate Blanchett), Odin’s eldest child, who has spent ages imprisoned and now is free once again to take on her mantle as the goddess of death.
Thor is no match for his far more powerful sister and winds up unceremoniously transported to the planet Sakaar, an out-of-the-way world where he is quickly captured and forced to be a gladiator for the amusement of its ruler (Jeff Goldblum).
But, good fortune is never too far, and when Thor finds that one of his old teammates from Earth is in the same situation, all it takes is not dying in the arena to make sure he can save the day.
Still, easier said than done against a competitor that’s fueled by pure rage…
Hemsworth has been a good fit from the start as the god of thunder, but across the past four movies — two on his own, two in “The Avengers” ensemble — he has never hit the level of perfection he finds here, capturing the olde-time, dignified carriage of Thor as well as the adventurous, cavalier nature of a born fighter who’s finally starting to discover his sense of humor in yet another fish-out-of-water scenario, depowered without his hammer, the mystical, mighty Mjolnir.
Speaking of which, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting way to figuratively and literally emasculate a man — or god — than effortlessly crushing his favorite indestructible tool when he whips it at your face like a fastball, but that’s small potatoes for Hela.
Blanchett is the embodiment of every supercilious Goth chick you’ve met as the dark-haired bringer of doom — also apparently the goddess of smoky eye shadow and spiky headgear — whose intentions of killing everyone who stands in her way of universal domination may be one-dimensional yet no complaints when such wickedness is played this well.
Hiddleston’s scheming Loki is as untrustworthy as ever, since why would you ever want to be able to predict the alliances for the god of mischief?
His nature for sucking up to the most powerful being around is well met by Goldblum as the Grandmaster, a jovial tyrant who cares little for origin stories — “Ass Guard?” — with a personality that answers the question, “What if Ziggy Stardust had been a Roman emperor?”
But, there are some friendly faces on Sakaar, kind of, with Tessa Thompson as Scrapper 142, incognito when it comes to her background with a long-gone band of warrior woman, the Valkyries, now reduced to a scummy bounty hunter who puts away more booze than even the thirstiest Asgardian.
She’s got no loyalty to Thor, but she is a fan of his contemporary, the reigning champion of the ring and the only one who can bust them loose. Mark Ruffalo makes a welcome return as the conspicuously absent Hulk, whose savage side has nearly permanently eclipsed that of alter ego Bruce Banner after months of the big guy taking out his aggressions on unlucky alien slaves and finally finding the adoration he never had on Earth.
He’s expanded his vocabulary a bit, though “smash” is still his go-to word. And, who gave him an axe?
The “Planet Hulk” storyline of Marvel Comics is spliced with the Thor mythos to great effect in what may be the weirdest buddy comedy of all time, but there are so many ways to describe such a spectacle, which could also be seen as a cosmic “Spartacus” or the “Man with No Name” trilogy if Clint Eastwood had a battle royale with a fire demon and a dragon in the first 10 minutes.
Director Taiki Waititi is right in the thick of things providing motion-capture as Thor and Hulk’s fellow prisoner Korg — the poor man’s version of The Thing with a New Zealand accent — taking some cues from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the rest of the Marvel canon but also making some bold choices in a flick with more than 20 times the budget he’s ever had.
One would think he would’ve used that money to make sure Hulk was always wearing pants…
Admittedly, we’re seeing too many characters in Asgard and Sakaar, though there’s no such thing as a bad Benedict Cumberbatch cameo, and Stan Lee as Thor’s sadistic barber is brilliant. Heimdall (Idris Elba) is about the only Asgardian we really need to see anymore, and no offense, Karl Urban, but we made it this far without seeing Skurge, also known as Executioner, also known as the dullest henchman inflicted on comic book readers.
The weakness of Thor’s earlier solo features was both a lack of world-building worthy of the fantasy genre and a hero who always managed to be the least relatable of everyone around him, but that all changes here. Maybe that’s an improvement due to forming a team he hastily calls The Revengers — lame — or maybe Thor just takes six years to truly grow on you, but he’s finally done it in this weird, wacky, whiz-bang installment.
“Thor: Ragnarok” takes its subtitle and most of its story from the Norse apocalypse, a cataclysm that will see the world cease to be and then begin anew.
Um, whoever’s in charge of that, can we hold off until after Marvel releases “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” and then we’ll see what happens?
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