I have dire plans for destiny

I have dire plans for destiny

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but two gods walk on to a night club planet. They order some drinks and sit down for a haircut before they notice a friend from work across the room…

I know, the joke sounds weird, but stay with me…

THOR: RAGNAROK opens with a quick catch-up. Since Thor (Chris Hemsworth) split off from The Avengers, Thor has been running around the universe in a search for answers and Infinity Stones. He hasn’t found either. That brings us to the present.

When Thor’s quest finally brings him back to Asgard, he gets a quick catch-up of his own. For two years, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been impersonating Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and running Asgard as the allfather. Thor forces Loki’s hand and has him reveal where their father has been stowed. When the brothers reunite with their father, a few surprises await. The first is that Odin is near death, and seems completely at-peace with his imminent demise. The other though, is that they have an older sister named Hela (Cate Blanchett). Hela is the goddess of death, and the rightful heir of Asgard’s throne. It was she who helped Odin conquer the nine realms, and she is not at all amused by her banishment.

As a display of her might, she easily destroys Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. As the three summon the Bifröst Bridge to return to Asgard, Thor and Loki are cast aside and sent pinwheeling out into the cosmos. Hela alone makes it back to Asgard, and quickly takes steps to rule it as she sees fit.

When Thor finally crash-lands, he finds himself on Sakaar. The planet is part nightclub, part landfill. He is claimed by a scavenger named Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). She sells him to the planet’s grand poobah for a pretty penny – an eccentric known as The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The Grandmaster is delighted by the offering, and wastes no time dropping him into the gladiator pit to face his favorite champion: The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

When Thor and Hulk finally get away from the insanity of The Grandmaster, Thor implores him to let his rage subside. Hulk has been the beast within for two whole years, but it’s Banner Thor will need to escape. Two of the mightiest Avengers must find a way to work together if they ever want to leave Sakaar. Only then can Thor keep Hela from destroying his home…assuming she would even stop at that.

 

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Heavy as most of that description sounds, THOR: RAGNAROK helps its own cause by keeping the proceedings surprisingly light. This is a film that understands how absurd the concept of a viking god with a magical hammer is, and decides to lean into the joke. By doing so, it shows that it doesn’t want to take itself too seriously…and better yet, asks us to consider some core themes seriously.

There’s no getting around The Hulk’s role in this film. It seems strange that a movie would make a second act reveal such a big part of its marketing, but here we are.

Hulk has put himself into a position where he can hide, and where the worst parts of him are accepted – even celebrated. It’s clear that this is a bad state, and it gives us a second to consider the bad states we allow ourselves to linger in. Who wouldn’t hide from their biggest problems? Given the choice, isn’t it easier to give in to our weaknesses and lay low in an environment that allows that to continue?

Thor tries to coax The Hulk out of it, and while it comes from a place of personal necessity, one senses that it comes from genuine concern too. In this moment, the film seems to be talking to both us personally, and blockbuster filmmaking on the whole. It’s admitting that it’s tempting to hang back and do only what is easiest…but nothing truly good will come of it, and the world needs as much good as it can get right now.

What might be most refreshing about THOR: RAGNAROK is the way it seems to want to press the pause button on the larger narratives. There’s no talk of Infinity Stones during the film (except for Thor saying he couldn’t find any). There’s few backwards glances at all except to say that two whole years have gone by since The Hulk ran away. This film isn’t a box car on a train, nor is it a link in a chain. Sure there are nods and winks to other things that have happened over the last nine years, but all-told, the focus stays on the here and now.

This allows for the better story. It keeps the focus on the relationships we see before us, instead of wondering how this will all fit in with social circles elsewhere.

This is key, since clearly the books chronicling the lives of Odinsons have vast amounts of pages torn out. Like any other royal family, there a However, let us forget for a moment that they are royals…let us only consider them as a family. What we take a moment to appreciate in RAGNAROK is the price that we pay with the decisions we make, and the rifts that can grow when we stop communicating with our families. We cannot bury our secrets; we cannot hide old family portraits in the closet. To deny who we are and what we have done opens the door to true darkness – and darkness doesn’t always wear a ten point headdress.

These are the themes that the best comic books work into their narratives. They bits of human nature that even superhumans have to deal with, and their inclusions in these wild tales help the rest of us recognize it in ourselves. We might want to hide from a world that might not like us, or we may want to paper over our poor judgement. Neither will likely help. It didn’t help Hulk or Thor, why in the world would it help us? That’s worth considering, and worth hanging an action story on.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on THOR: RAGNAROK.