Friday, 3 November 2017

THOR : RAGNAROK - Tuesday 31st October 2017.

'THOR : RAGNAROK' which I saw earlier this week, is the third film in the 'Thor' franchise and the seventeenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and has been much hyped, keenly awaited and highly anticipated since the first trailers were released and New Zealander Taika Waititi was announced for Directing duties. With a production budget of US$180M and filmed largely at Australia's Gold Coast film studios, the film has already received largely positive press, hailing it the best of the three so far, ahead of its US release in early November, and its Australian release last week. The first two films in the series, 2011's 'Thor' and 2013's 'Thor : The Dark World' were made for a combined US$303M and grossed between them close to US$1.1B, so expectations are running high for this instalment. The film has so far taken US$109M.

By way of a lesson into Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a series of future events, including a great battle, foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures (including the gods Odin, Thor and Loki), the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Following such a cataclysmic event, the world will resurface afresh, renewed and fertile, the surviving and returning gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors. This film then, is set four years after the events of 'Thor: The Dark World', and two years following on from 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'. As the film opens we find Thor wrapped in chains imprisoned on some far away planet by the fire demon Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown and acted in MoCap by Taika Waititi) having unsuccessfully scoured the four corners of the universe for the Infinity Stones. In a comical opening scene we see Thor dangling by a chain deep within a cavernous cave taunting Surtur who tells him that his father Odin, has abandoned Asgard and that the realm will soon be destroyed in a foretold Ragnarok as soon as he is able to unite himself with The Eternal Flame that burns beneath the city of Asgard. Using his mighty hammer, Mjolnir, Thor is able to defeat Surtur and remove his crown, so preventing the apocalyptic Ragnarok . . . or so he thinks. Thor returns to Asgard.

On Asgard, Thor arrives to find Loki (Tom Hiddleston) posing as Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and therefore ruling over all of Asgard. Thor can see over Loki's ruse, and reveals his true identity to the people of Asgard. He also convinces Loki to help find his father. They travel to Earth and with the help of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) they locate Odin hanging out in Norway. Odin explains to his sons that he is dying and has little time left. He further explains that with his passing, this will allow his first born daughter Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) to be freed from prison where she was exiled to long long ago. Hela has at one time back in the dim and distant past been the leader of Asgard's almighty armies and with Odin they conquered the Nine Realms, and built Asgard to be the mighty civilisation it now is. But Hela got too big for her boots and became over ambitious, hence her imprisonment and being written out of the family history, to the extent that she was not even known of by Thor or Loki.

Odin dies and almost immediately Hela arrives. Hela commands that Thor and Loki kneel before her, but they refuse. Thor goes into battle mode determined to wipe his older sister from the face of the Earth, but she'll have none of it, for Hela is all powerful and in a show of strength stops Mjolnir at arms length and crushes it as though it were glass. Thor's hammer falls to the floor shattered into several chunks with Thor looking on in disbelief. At this Thor and Loki decide its time to get outta Dodge and summons the Bifrost Bridge to return them to Asgard. Hela pursues them and chases them through the wormhole overpowering them and causing the two brothers into space to supposedly perish and die, while she continues onto Asgard. She quickly asserts her power and single handedly wipes out the Asgardian army, resurrects the ancient dead with whom she once fought and who are buried deep within a secret vault below the castle, and appoints the new sentry of the Bifrost Bridge, Skurge (Karl Urban) as her new executioner. While Hela and Skurge are otherwise pre-occupied stamping their mark on Asgard, Heimdall (Idris Elba) who is in self imposed exile during Loki's reign, scales the mountainside and steals the sword that controls the Bridge, to prevent Hela from using the Bridge for her own empire building gain.

Meanwhile, Thor lands on the garbage planet Sakaar, and is immediately picked up by locals who are then overpowered by a lone mercenary and bounty hunter called Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson). She in turn overpowers Thor and drags him off to meet the planets immortal ruler, Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who runs a gladiator arena for the sport of the local population.

Grandmaster determines that Thor should fight in his Contest of Champions against his so far unbeaten champion prize fighter. After a brief introduction, a lesson in all things Sakaar, getting his golden locks shorn off by a Stan Lee cameo appearance and befriending a stone being named Korg (a laugh out loud Taika Waititi performance rendered in MoCap) as his only ally on the garbage planet, Thor is thrust into the arena to await his fate up against an all conquering foe that he does not yet know. Meanwhile, Loki has emerged too and has ingratiated himself to the Grandmaster and is living the free and easy life, unlike his now captive brother who tries to reason with him so that he can be set free too. But, Loki will have none of it!

As Thor readies himself under the spotlights of the arena, so he comes face to face with old buddy 'from work', Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). The pair clash in a brutal battle with Thor gaining the upper hand and almost defeating his old friend, before Grandmaster fixes the fight to guarantee Hulk's victory and to save face. Still held in captivity at the mercy of Grandmaster, Thor and Hulk, begin to reconcile their differences. Thor needs a plan and a Team to get back to Asgard, before Hela unleashes more death and destruction on Asgard and the Realms.

Thor tries to convince Hulk and Scrapper 142 to join forces and help him save Asgard and defeat Hela. They are not interested, even though he recognises Scrapper 142 as being one of the Valkyrie, a legendary force of female fighters who were all but wiped out trying to defend Asgard from Hela in days long since gone by. So Thor decides to go it alone using the Quinjet that bought Hulk to Sakaar two years previously. He breaks out of the Grandmaster's palace and gets to the Quinjet. Hulk follows behind where a recorded message on a monitor from Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is the catalyst for Hulk turning back into Bruce Banner for the first time since the incidents at Sokovia two years previously.

Grandmaster orders that Scrapper 142 and Loki join forces to hunt down Thor and Banner, but the pair are hardly a match made in Heaven, and ultimately Scrapper 142 has a change of heart, takes Loki prisoner and agrees to join forces with the other two. Loki is however, reluctant to be left behind on the garbage planet now that he is a wanted man, and so he provides the group with the means to commandeer one of Grandmasters ships. They then set free the other gladiators led by Korg who stage a revolution.

Loki, being one not to be trusted, attempts to betray his brother but Thor can see through this, and immobilises him and leaves him behind. However, he is soon picked up by an unsuspecting Korg and the revolutionaries. Thor, Banner and Scrapper 142 escape through a giant wormhole known affectionately as the Devil's Anus, and arrive back on Asgard.

Upon arrival the three are confronted by Heimdall and the citizens of Asgard who are under siege by Hela, Skurge, their undead forces and a giant man eating hound that Hela has at her command. Banner transforms into Hulk again and with Scrapper 142 they fight Skurge and his forces, while Thor is off to see to unfinished business with Hela. Loki, Korg and the gladiators arrive aboard a giant ship having come through the Devil's Anus too. They join in the fight while the fleeing citizens of Asgard board the giant ship that will take them to someplace else, safe!

In his fight with Hela, Thor is overpowered and suffers stabbings, slashing and the loss of an eye. But theses mere scrapes do not deter him from the end game. In a moment of clarity, Thor has a vision of Odin, his father, that makes him see that only Ragnarok can defeat Hela. While Thor, Hulk and Scrapper 142 keep Hela distracted in battle, Loki sets off to retrieve the crown of Surtur and thrust it into the Eternal Flame, so resurrecting the fire demon bringing on Ragnarok to engulf all of Asgard and destroy Hela.

Thor and his crew board the giant ship with the now safe citizens of Asgard. Thor is crowned King, and when asked by Korg where to, he replies Earth, where perhaps he intends to rebuild Asgard. Watch out for the mid-credits scene and if you can wait it out until the final credits have rolled, there is a closing sequence featuring Grandmaster. The film also stars cameo performances from Matt Damon, Sam Neill and Liam Hemsworth (brother of Chris).

It is hardly surprising that Critics have heaped praise upon 'Thor : Ragnarok'. Whilst the film takes the 'Thor' movie franchise off in a new direction, and the MCU for that matter, the film retains many of the Thor touchstones including the action, the spectacle and the characterisation but freshens them up with a deadpan sense of humour, sarcasm, a wild ride and fun that is not out of place. For a hitherto little known New Zealand Director, Writer and Actor, Taika Waititi (whose previous credits include 'Boy', 'What We Do In The Shadows' and 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'), what he has achieved here in his first big budget epic scale Hollywood picture is reinvigorate the Thor character and those around him, but reenergise the series and reestablish our faith in the MCU. Solid performances (if a little tongue in cheek at times), a good story, epic battles that are always preposterous but entertaining nonetheless, bold Direction and endless fun from start to finish - catch it on the big screen, and you won't be disappointed.

-Steve, at Odeon Online- 

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