Blu-ray Review: Thor: Ragnorok

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As an unabashed lover of all things Marvel Cinematic Universe, my hearty recommendation of Thor: Ragnorok—newly available on Blu-ray—comes with a strong urging: see the first two Thor films first if you haven't already. With the MCU now a decade old (the series kicked off in 2008 with the first Iron Man), I'd been blissfully unaware until recently just how many people cherry pick which of the 18 films they'll watch.

And for some bizarre reason, it seems like the Thor movies have been—prior to Ragnorok, at least—deemed the most imminently skippable by the highest number of viewers.

Ragnorok is a lot of fun, so much so that it has been crowned "the best" of the Thor movies by critics and audience alike. Some have proclaimed that Ragnorok betters its predecessors, but the first two carry more dramatic weight. Director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) treats this outing as an out-and-out comedy. The mandate from producer (and MCU mastermind) Kevin Feige seems to have been: "Make it like Guardians of the Galaxy." So Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are joined this time by the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and newcomer Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and the emphasis is on team participation and by a Guardians-esque dysfunctional "family." The tone is perhaps exceedingly light as our heroes find themselves trapped in Sakaar, a world built of scraps and the landing point for anyone who manages to slip out of the Bifrost while travelling between realms.
helabridge_03_jsze.jpg The titular "Ragnorok" concept may seem odd to anyone unfamiliar with Norse mythology (or Marvel Comics' Thor series), but it basically amounts to a multi-realm Armageddon. The heavy here is Hela (Cate Blanchett), an Asgardian goddess who used to run with Odin (Anthony Hopkins, another series returnee)—and whose further ties to the character constitute a spoiler for the uninitiated. Unfortunately for the film, Blanchett turns out to be the obvious weak link in Ragnorok. Meant to signal the coming of doom for the nine realms, Hela cackles and preens not terribly unlike what Uma Thurman did as Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin. Yes, I'm honestly making that comparison.

It is often said, almost reflexively in some fan circles, that the MCU's most consistent problem is weak villains. That's too easy. I think the reason is, once you hold up Heath Ledger's inimitable Joker from The Dark Knight as the standard-bearer for all onscreen, live-action comic book villains, you've set an impossible bar. Ledger's creation was a one-in-a-million stroke of genius. Other DC films (not to mention Fox's X-Men series—Oscar Isaac's Apocalypse, anyone?) have been larded with weak-ass super-baddies. Some of MCU's are more memorable than others—Michael Keaton's Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming being an easy high point. Blanchett's Hela is actually worse, to be quite honest, in her generic huffing-and-puffing about bringing about End Times than the comparatively restrained Christopher Eccleston as Malektih in Thor: The Dark World—THE most criminally underrated of all MCU movies. 
 
hela_fullmask_approved01.jpg Of course Loki is, so far, the grand champion of all MCU heavies. But he presents no real threat in Ragnorok. Which is also something of a disappointment after his brilliant machinations in Dark World (which ended on a note of great ambiguity). Ragnorok ups the "fun" ante to the point where nothing even flirting with gravitas is allowed to exist. Again, it is funny as all get out—the jokes land just about every time. At this point, fans who have been with the series since the beginning are likely to consider Thor, Loki, Odin, and Banner old friends (can I go on record as saying that the elimination of Natalie Portman as Jane Foster and Kat Dennings as her intern Darcy—make that especially the loss of scene-stealing Dennings—hurts Ragnorok? I don't care if I'm alone in that particular boat!).

So a candy-colored lark with old friends (also including Idris Elba as Asgard's gatekeeper Heimdall), some neat new additions (including Jeff Goldblum as Sakaar's leader), and a ton of surprises (Loki's theatrical reenactment of he and Thor's Dark World battle is possibly Ragnorok's best scene) easily make up for a ho-hum, 'end of the world' narrative led by one of MCU's cheesiest villains. Obviously the direction taken by Feige paid off in spades as third time's the charm for Thor in terms of pure audience (i.e. box office) response—it's $850 million-plus worldwide gross nearly doubles that of the first Thor.

Special features on Disney's Thor: Ragnorok Blu-ray include a series of five under-ten-minute featurettes (each touching superficially on one aspect of the film's production). Meatier is director Taika Waititi's audio commentary—I typically jump around a bit, sampling a commentary to get a feel for how much the director (or whoever) really has to say, but Waititi kept me listening. The sense of quirky humor he brings to the film, he also brings to the commentary.   

 
There's also a short verview of the MCU so far (really just hype for this year's coming Avengers: Infinity War) in "Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years - The Evolution of Heroes" (five minutes ain't enough to get into all that). Also of note: outtakes, deleted scenes, and the exclusive short "Team Darryl."

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Chaz Lipp is a Las Vegas-based musician and freelance writer. His new jazz album 'Good Merlin' is now available.

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