Marvel is at an interesting point in it's movie making history. We're, what, 20 movies in? Now that they're past origin stories, they seem to have embraced two things:
- tone can vary
- letting creators with a vision go a bit nuts means you aren't necessarily repeating yourself (as much)
Guardians of the Galaxy demonstrated that audiences wanted a bit of balance to grim-dark superheroes, and the abysmal approach to DC's slate of films up to Wonder Woman showed what *not* to do - so it's a bit rewarding to see Thor bounce back from what was arguably one of the weakest Marvel movies with Thor: The Dark World* and come back with the pop-corniest Marvel movie since... well, this summer's Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 were both pretty solid entries as well. Let's just agree it's been a good year to be a Marvel movie fan.
Marvel's movies have reflected or echoed an arc not dissimilar to what has happened with the printed comics. Hitting the stage with a surge of quick hits that were better than what we'd seen of late in the same genre, an expansion of the universe with a diversity of types of comics/ movies that reflect the milieu of each character, pulling them back together with Avengers comics/ movies as mega-events that never quite work, exactly, but do ground everyone in a single reality, then push everyone back out into their own books/ films.
Time marches on, and while we need to keep making these comics/ movies, and that means we need some fresh voices to reinvigorate the properties. Now that we've got the foundations set (thanks, Jack, Stan, et al. and in this case, Kenneth Branagh), we can experiment and try different things. You get a Guardians movie that everyone swore would fail and, instead, made a billion dollars. You bring in the Russo brothers who make Captain America strikingly relevant and show that upright squareness can make you the coolest kid on the block.
And, now, you get Thor: Ragnarok, a movie far better than any Thor movie has a right to be after the series' flawed first two entries. If the likes of Walt Simonson reinvigorated Thor comics during a certain era - building on, adapting and growing the concept, then director Taika Waititi can be said to have done the same. It may not be the Frank Miller-ization of comics movies, but we have that alive and well in Marvel's Netflix TV line-up.
Mixing elements of both Hulk and (I presume) Thor comics of the past few decades, we dump the soggy romance of Jane Foster and Thor and cut the Earth-bound shenanigans for cross-dimensional/ interplanetary sci-fi fantasy adventure of a flavor I really don't think we've seen at the cinema since the 1980's, all with a sort of self-aware wink but never a sell-out to say we're people in silly costumes making a movie we're all embarrassed to be in.
Look, the plot sounds like absolute nonsense when you try to spell it out, and it is nonsense, and I won't try. Some events should have greater weight than what they carry, but to dwell on tragedy in a movie that - dang it - just wants to have fun, is probably the right decision. We're pivoting far, far away from grim'n'gritty world of Dark Elves of the last installment to Jeff Goldblum running a city- world centering it's locus of power around intergalactic gladiatorial games and colored like a Skittles bag. And, of course, Cate Blanchett is just weirdly (even more) gorgeous as Hela in full Kirby head-dress (yay! we finally got some Kirby in there!), trying to claim the throne of Asgard.
If you heard comparisons to 1980's Flash Gordon, the plot bears no relation. But if you want to think "highly stylized sci-fi visuals" and "a sense of both awe and joy even as the world is ending", then, yeah. I definitely get the comparison. This is Thor flying blind on a rocket cycle.
Brightly lit, a palette that destroys most conventional thinking for the hues of the comics page, a visual feast of fantasy and sci-fi, an 80's synth-heavy score by no less than Mark Mothersbaugh, and a cast that seems to be riffing on one another as effectively as in a Jud Apatow film... People, we get a lot of good in one film. And, really, terrific, weirdly human character moments between the chaos and hilarity that - in a way - feel more true than half of the tear-jerker stuff you get in movies swinging for an Oscar (and I know that's a whole can of worms I'm going to just reseal and put away now).
Is it a *better* movie, more meaningful than Wonder Woman (for example)? Not really...** It's equally as entertaining, just in a different way that feels like everything I would have wanted in a movie at age 11. It sets out to do, it does to glorious, often hilarious, success.
As mentioned, Blanchett is in the film, perfectly cast and seemingly enjoying the hell out of herself. Goldblum is used to absolute maximum effect. Idris Elba doesn't get enough screentime, nor Karl Urban, but both know how to do this well. New-to-me Tessa Thompson is winning as a former Asgardian out to prove the might of the Asgardian warrior class. And Hemsworth and Hiddleston, totally comfortable in their skin in this movie, feel like two guys you're jazzed to spend time with again - and that is saying something when so often fantasy movies lose what it was that drew you to the characters in the first place as plot piles on.
All in all, don't go in expecting Shakespeare, set your expectations to goofy, fantasy fun and I think you've got a pretty decent flick on your hands.
Honestly, it took my audience a while to catch on to what was happening, which was weird. I am unsure if they were expecting high drama and took a bit to catch on, but I recall the same with the first time I saw Guardians of the Galaxy - Jamie and I cackling our way through the first act and the rest of the audience just sort of silent. And we know how that turned out, so I think people will adjust and go with it.
* such a forgettable movie and title, I had to look it up
** I straight up cried during Wonder Woman, y'all. Twice. And then again when I watched it on BluRay