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The problem with superhero movies is simple. What began as rollicking work by a handful of inspired creators saving the world in crowded midtown offices became the bureaucratic sludge of huge business. The hands-on flair is long gone, replaced by corporate decision-making planned a decade in advance, transforming the viewing experience from giddy-kiddie aestheticism to executive Kremlinology, the sussing out of politics from onscreen clues. Still, Thor Ragnarok full movie looks a bit distinguished; it bears the mark of its director Taika Waititi’s sensibility, a sensibility that, with comedy and wittiness, shows detectible delight in turning the giant toolbox of the expensive cinema into a toy chest.
It’s a toy chest that’s yoked to a story that should serve as a cosmic warning against the mortal threat of exposition. But even the film’s long setup gets a color-sprayed and whimsical overlay of animated distractions that muffle the scripty thud. The God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) is first found behind bars; he’s imprisoned by the fire monster Surtur, and that flaming creature is created with a gigantic flair that’s one of Waititi’s signature tricks—absolute contrast in scale that perches threat on the border of the ridiculous. Surtur is threatening to use its power to unleash the destructive ravage of the title, Ragnarok, on Thor’s homeland of Asgard. Thor insolently threatens the monster (“I’ll knock that tiara off your head”) and, fighting it off, makes his escape.
Thor has two tasks on his back: to save his homeland, Asgard from the prophesied apocalypse of the title, and then to save it again, from his own older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, who is freed from captivity after the death of their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). But he can’t do it on his own; he looks for his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), coming in a spew of green slime at the lair of the bare-pated soldier Skurge (Karl Urban), zapping to Asgard and finding him there.
The brothers zip to Brooklyn and flit to the Bleecker Street compound of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). There, Dr. Strange borrows a strand of hair from the God of Thunder’s flowing mane and, making a lasso of it, turns it into a ring of fire that becomes a huge passageway leading them to Norway. In the cool Nordic light, on a bare plain, Odin dissolves into gold dust floating over water, succeeded by a black cloud that delivers Hela menacingly to them. She smooths her hair back, showing off an awesome set of black antlers and an even more awesome sneer. Thor wields his hammer against her; she catches it like toy. Thor complains, “That’s not possible,” and she snarls, “Darling, you have no idea what’s possible.”
Hela may be the goddess of death, but she talks like the goddess of C.G.I. Thor Ragnarok movie keeps away from the commercial issues of the Marvel film that I’ve enjoyed the most, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man, which is loosely demythologized and demystified, setting more in the realm of insane science than of pseudo-religious legend, when in fact it’s the latter trait that’s central to the popularity of the genre.
Thor gets flung from a bubbling, streaking space-color ramp into a cosmic junk yard planet Sakaar and captured by its junk mistress (Tessa Thompson), who fights as hard as she drinks, claps her armguards together with a flash of blue lightning, and shoots a remote-control Taser clamp into Thor’s neck. She then sends him to the planet of the macabre epicure Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who forces the God of Thunder to battle an indomitable monster in gladiatorial combat in a raucous arena.
Waititi directs these set pieces, the film’s compulsory routines, with bouncy humor that depends far less on Twitter-glib one-liners in the tone of screenwriterese than on delightful tweaks of action, jack-in-the-box surprises, and candy-colored blasts and swirls of light. The monster turns out to be none other than the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), or, rather, a similarly weird magnification of Hulk to incredibly colossal size, and what comes after is a comedic and piecemeal reunion of some reduced gang of the Avengers. The junk mistress turns out to be none other than a Valkyrie who survived an earlier round of destruction on Asgard. Hulk becomes Bruce Banner again.
And Waititi himself does some droll riffs by being the voice and motion-capture presence of Korg, the soft-spoken and self-deprecating hero made of a pile of rocks. The heroes get away courtesy of a small comedic inspiration perhaps borrowed from Looney Tunes (a hard ball that bounces off a thick glass window until it doesn’t): they lead a small spacecraft through a mighty warp of flame and get involve in some death-defying wing-surfing and space-leaping that leads them to Asgard, which is being threatened with absolute destruction.
There, the crew unites with the warrior Heimdall (Idris Elba), and that’s where the mytho-politics kicks in. Hela, brandishing the threat to unleash Ragnarok on the family’s homeland, doesn’t just want to destroy the place—she wants to exterminate the people, and Heimdall is exerting himself, at great personal risk, to save them from her wrath. The members of the Avengers’ skeleton crew fight alongside him. Hulk wrangles with a gigantic wolf that menaces the ribbon-like bridge that the Asgardian people are trying to cross, and Heimdall bravely hustles the people onto a vessel that will get them safely off the planet. But Thor has worries: he’s supposed to be the defender of Asgard, but he’s abandoning his hometown to Hela’s destructive furies.
Yet the curse of boardroom mandates looms over even as clever an iteration as Thor Ragnarok; it’s clear that the artistic freedom to make a superhero movie that’s good without an asterisk hardly exists. Actually, the artistry itself isn’t quite there, either: the genre awaits an animator or former animator with a hands-on, unified graphic sensibility, who’s also attuned to the quasi-religious appeal and risk of the genre. (Jared Hess’s “Gentlemen Broncos” offers hints.) In the meantime, Waititi, without reconsidering the genre’s codes (as Patty Jenkins does in Wonder Woman) joyfully reimagines its details.
The plot-capping fantasy that leads to Thor’s decisive action uncorks a one-liner of oracular historical resonance. It’s matched by Waititi’s impressive, gothic vision of astronomical disaster that seems like a visual translation of heavy metal (Thor’s hair band), and also a timely setup for a sequel, as the former residents of Asgard look for safety on Earth, a planet where, as refugees, they expect to be welcomed. What could go wrong with Thor Ragnarok full movie?