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Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 12:04 am

Humor over heroics dooms bloated Ragnarok


Where the Marvel Comics movie universe is concerned, the Thor films have always been treated like the redheaded stepchild. Fans seem to tolerate them as a necessary evil needed to move the overall MCU storyline along, as no one I am aware of has ever pointed to Thor (2011) or Thor: The Dark World (2013) as their favorite in the overall Marvel scheme of things. Thor: Ragnarok certainly isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about this franchise, though, I imagine, due to its offbeat approach, that there will be more than a few who will like it more than they thought they would. However, from this seat in the dark, the whole affair feels like an experiment gone awry, the result being a parody of the superhero genre rather than a legitimate entry in it.

Ragnarok wastes little time as we see the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) imprisoned in a Hell-like set of caverns, engaging in witty banter with a huge CGI demon who promises to start a series of events that will cause the destruction of Thor’s home, Asgard. This prophesized occurrence – Ragnarok – is one our hero sets out to prevent with the aid of his half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). However, on their way to do so, they are thrown off track by Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who’s headed to Asgard to take the throne. While she’s wreaking havoc, Thor and Loki find themselves on the planet Sakar, an intergalactic junkyard overseen by the Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum), who likes to wage gladiator fights to the death to distract the masses. When bounty hunter Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) lays Thor at his feet, he knows immediately who will be next to fight his grand champion, who just happens to be Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

The Thor films have always been the most lighthearted of the Marvel films, yet humor was used to punctuate the action or give some relief to the dramatic moments. Here, it is given free reign as the movie, which begins as clever, eventually becomes a bloated exercise in one-ups-man-ship between cast mates. The actors improvised eighty percent of the dialogue, as director Taika Watiti wanted to create a loose, collaborative feel on the set. While that might make for a smooth running production, this approach spins out of control and the film becomes formless and bloated. The result is a second act that runs far too long, as it takes forever for Thor, Loki, Hulk and Valkyrie to leave Sakar, and a third act that feels like an afterthought, as the return to Asgard and the climactic battle proves anticlimactic.

To be sure, the production values and special effects are top-notch as Marvel never skimps on bringing their fantastic worlds to life, an approach that holds them in good stead. That being said, other elements are in need of tweaking, as the scripts for all of the company’s movies have followed a predictable pattern where their construction is concerned. It’s time to trim things back so that a needlessly prolonged climax doesn’t leave me feeling battered but amazed. Less is more is an approach they need to seriously consider.
As for Ragnarok, the cast invests fully in these shenanigans and can’t be faulted for approaching this full bore, what with Watiti’s directive. While I don’t mind a bit of humor in my superhero movies, having Thor come off as a buffoon proves less than appealing, while the film as a whole feels like an outlier where the rest of MCU is concerned. While a change of pace is good at times, Watiti’s approach here backfires.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org

For a review of Suburbicon, go to the Cinemascoping blog at http://illinoistimes.com.

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