Big Hollywood movies are best experienced in a communal setting. A rapt audience packed into a theater plus a wall-to-wall screen taller than many homes equals copious fun.
Remove a significant portion of movie-goers from that equation and the results are often dramatically different. With not as many people in the room, the theater feels bigger and, paradoxically, the screen seems smaller. Certainly the fun is deflated with the dwindled energy and enthusiasm.
This is an important point for those reading and no doubt judging my negative assessment of Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel's much anticipated superhero entry for the holiday season.
It was screened for mainly critics and a handful of movie-goers. And the room of maybe a quarter-filled seats was noticeably silent for most of the movie — not a positive sign for a superhero film that is more comedy than action.
VIDEO: Trailer for Thor: Ragnarok
Directed by Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) — an inspired choice who delivers uninspired results — Thor: Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder, a role in which he has grown quite comfortable, particularly when compared to his awkward performance in Thor's 2011 film debut. The same is true of Tom Hiddleston as the hero’s villainous stepbrother Loki, who, like Thor, has become a major source of humor for these films.
In Ragnarok the brothers are trying to patch things up, sort of, as they find their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who Loki banished from Asgard and then impersonated.
But then the sister they never knew existed, Hela (Cate Blanchett), arrives and their problems are no longer just fraternal. Hela is the God of Death, a powerful and power-hungry Asgardian who once rode with father Odin as co-conquerer of much of the universe, until he had a change of heart and had her banished.
Directed by Taika Waititi. Screenplay by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost. A Walt Disney Studios release playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, Levis Commons, Bowling Green, and Mall of Monroe. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material. Running time: 130 minutes.
Critic's rating: 2 stars
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, and Jeff Goldblum.
Hela is deceptively strong — she shatters Thor's hammer with a single hand crush — and Thor and Loki fail to stop her. In an escape gone wrong, they land on a long-forgotten junk world ruled by the Grandmaster (a showboating Jeff Goldblum), where Thor is captured by a fierce warrior with a past (Tessa Thompson), and made to battle The Incredible Hulk in a gladiatorial battle to the death.
The titanic battle of Thor vs. Hulk is a dork's delight, then the film returns to its breezy comic style, which doesn't play well with Hulk's brainiac alter-ego Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo, a terrific actor ill at ease with this new comedic bent for the good doctor with a temper problem. Hulk is also a bigger part of the film, including speaking in noun-verb sentences: “Hulk smash!” “Hulk sad!” “Hulk hungry!”
Thor: Ragnarok is a culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe bucking the neotraditional dark superhero model, with powerful crusaders for justice routinely cracking wise, as if irony is a superpower. The balance of humor and action has become so one-sided that Thor: Ragnarok could use a laugh track.
Even longtime Marvel fans are likely to tacitly endorse the spotty and even potty humor, and the awkward performances such as Ruffalo's that result. For example, Thor: Ragnarok refers to a galactic portal for our heroes to escape the junk planet as "the Devil's Anus" on several occasions, each time with similar pauses for audience reflection by the actor saying the line, including Ruffalo.
If one appreciates that kind of joke multiple times, then you’re likely in tune with Thor: Ragnarok’s comedic sensibility.
The title of Thor: Ragnarok, incidentally, is a reference to an ancient prophesy of the Asgardian apocalypse, which Thor and his team of “Revengers” are desperate to prevent, even as Hela has taken over the realm and grows in power.
Their battle is an impressive showdown.
Unlike many recent Marvel films where the big boss battle is anticlimactic, in Thor: Ragnarok the heroes’ desperate war against evil is the film's highlight.
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.
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