I Just Finished – Thor Ragnarok

I saw this opening weekend, and didn’t really think of commenting on my blog. But then it occurred to me that, the last time a Thor movie came out, I pretty much savaged it in this forum. So maybe a follow-up visit, albeit perhaps less expansive than my review of Thor: The Dark World, is deserved.

This was easily my favorite of the three Thor films to date. Although, sadly, it does not serve the supporting cast well—Jane Foster, Sif and Erik Selvig are all missing, and the Warriors Three appear, but only in cameos that their fans probably weren’t glad to see—it’s rooted firmly in the Thor comics mythology and showcases Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston amazingly well, to say nothing of newcomers Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban and Tessa Thompson, and welcome guest Mark Ruffalo. Idris Elba has a reduced, but important, role. I point out with irony that this is probably also the best Hulk film ever made—with irony because, obviously, it’s not a Hulk film, and the character did not fare well in his own title films. But here, he’s the best he’s been in a movie.

As Hela, Blanchett looks amazing, and seems to really enjoy being the Goddess of Death, come to take over Asgard. Hemsworth seems the most comfortable he ever has been in the role of Thor, not afraid to let his guard down and make a fool of himself. Hiddleston turns out his absolute best performance as Loki, walking that fine line between villain and hero with aplomb. Tessa Thompson is a surprising Valkyrie, looking nothing like a Teutonic warrior maiden; but, like Elba, she brings such power to the role that you don’t care. And gods—Norse, Greek or otherwise—all seem to be shape-shifters, so they can damn well look however they want. In a flashback to this Valkyrie’s origins, the classic comics Valkyrie is briefly shown, which is a welcome nod to the character. With Mantis appearing in Guardians, Valkyrie here and Patsy Walker over on Jessica Jones, it’s been a good couple of years for the lesser-known heroines of the Marvel Universe. Jeff Goldblum as the Collector is just delightful. I understand he ad-libbed a good deal of his dialogue.

But the standout, for me, is Karl Urban as Skurge, the Executioner. A Marvel villain from way back, he was, to me, always just the Enchantress’s unhappy muscle. My initial reaction to Urban (and I didn’t know it was Urban!) was merely, “Wow, he really looks the part!” But when Skurge is faced with his climactic choice between his people and the goddess who could make him nearly all-powerful, I suddenly fell in love with the character. I felt a bond with him that felt like he’d been my favorite for decades, even though he hadn’t. It wasn’t just a history-making moment for me, it was a history-writing moment, because it gave me a profound, life-long admiration for a character where there had not been one before.

SPOILERS BEYOND

 

I was also very pleased with the handling of the death of Odin. Alone with his sons, he does not die heroically. He simply fades away from them after speaking to them of their family and the part they must play in its future. It’s such a quiet, genuine moment. It’s how most children lose their parents—not spectacularly, but slowly slipping away. It’s how I lost my father just this year, and perhaps that’s why it resonated so with me. When Thor speaks later with his father’s spirit, tears came to my eyes. “I’m not as strong as you,” Thor says to his father. “No, you’re not,” Odin agrees. Then he adds, “You’re stronger.”

It’s a conversation I feel I’ve had with my own father, in similarly unreal circumstances. As he aged, he became less capable of facing challenges, stubborn as ever, but in need of someone to help him along. Often I had to be that someone. I had to be stronger. Now, with him gone, I’m realizing I have to be strong enough to face challenges that he might never have encountered. I watched the scene hours after a particularly emotional family upheaval, when I felt I couldn’t keep dealing with what I’m dealing with. Odin and Thor’s exchange reminded me I have to keep dealing. Someone’s counting on me. Maybe lots of someones.

Not every film can reach out and touch every audience member right where it’s needed, right where it hurts. It’s amazing when one does.

 

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