Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok


Odin's (Anthony Hopkins) departure for Valhalla marks the return of Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death who also happens to be his firstborn. Banished from the realm with all traces of her existence eradicated, she is back with a vengeance to seize her birthright. Overwhelmed by a much more powerful sister they never knew, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) find themselves in a precarious position that seemingly has no solution. Trapped in Sakaar as one of the Grandmaster's (Jeff Goldblum) gladiators, the God of Thunder must battle the reigning champion without the help of his hammer. That fighter is none other than the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who has been missing in action since the aftermath of Ultron. Convincing a fallen Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) turned bounty hunter to fight for his cause, Odin's son assembles a formidable team to rescue Asgard not just from the clutches of his evil sister, but also from the prophesized apocalypse referred to as Ragnarok. 

The release of the teasers early this year was a clear indication that Taika Waititi is bringing the franchise to a totally different direction, at least in terms of creative style. Those who have learned to love the overall feel and tone of the first two films might find this departure from the familiar a bit offsetting, but invigorating and fresh nonetheless. Early reviews are mainly positive, but the real acid test will be the ticket sales. Thor has always been the underperformer in the group as far as the North American Box Office is concerned. If it manages to end its run on par with the USD400M final domestic haul of Civil War and Iron Man 3, perhaps only then can one say that it is a legit success. 

Even so, perhaps it's just about time for the franchise to embrace such change. After all, there is nothing more left to establish in Thor's universe that hasn't already been explained before. The audience already knows Asgard and its inhabitants quite well. For now, it's time to elaborate on subplots, of which Thor's universe has plenty. 

Cate Blanchett in lycra, where do we even begin? Not everyone was delighted with her involvement when the news broke out. There is no doubt about her acting prowess, but she also faltered a bit in the past, with her role in Indiana Jones often cited as a notable example. However, she was also Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings and was awesome in it. As ruthless and vengeful Hela, she is perfection. As seductive as she is sinister, she lends the character the right kind of flair that you just miss whenever she is not onscreen. Her headdress and her hair in the throne room scenes both deserve their own billing. It looks like another sibling is taking over the "Thoreal" endorsement from now on.

The plot is a simple case of sibling rivalry. The backbone of Thor's storyline has always been his dysfunctional relationship with his brother Loki. When you have two boys both in contention for a throne, things are bound to get messy. Add a sadistic goth of a sister to that equation and there will surely be blood before someone gets to sit on that damn chair. Of course, having a sister who can and will not hesitate to kick your ass to get what she wants makes everything even more interesting. This is, without a doubt, family dynamics at its best, which has always been the core theme of the franchise anyway.

Being a Natalie Portman fanboy, I'm also saddened that Jane has been written out of the MCU. Even so, we acknowledge how this is the easier way out since her involvement is no longer pivotal in moving the plot forward, as far as the bigger picture is concerned. While Earth plays a big role in the foreseeable future of the series, it simply did not factor in that much as a setting in the film's more than two-hour run. If anything, Jane's role as the bridge to the human world is no longer necessary, and taking her back to Asgard is out of the question as well. Bringing her onboard would translate to Thor getting stranded on Earth, but that's just not where all the action in this particular subplot takes place.

Waititi might have gone a bit overboard in terms of humor, though. Almost every line is laced with a joke that it seems as though Thor is also aiming to be the God of Punchlines now. The arrogant and uptight son of Odin is finally lightening up and is suddenly taking the role of the class clown. He is no longer the alien, he is now your bro. His banter with Banner is hilarious, which is not at all surprising because the chemistry between the two has always been palpable since the Avengers came out a couple of years ago. If anyone was going to bro down it was obviously going to be the two of them. This bromance is a welcome sigh of relief on the heels of Iron Man and Captain America parting ways, and brings hope for a more united front in the next Avengers outing.

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