Thor: Ragnarok – A Movie Review

I love the first Thor, but the sequel—The Dark World—left me unimpressed.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for the loveable cast of The Dark World, I’d like it even less.  There’s a lot to be said for having Natalie Portman, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, and Stellan Skarsgard all in the same movie.

However, when I think about the super hero genre staling, The Dark World strikes me as a classic example.  Of all the super hero movies (and let’s face it—there’s a lot), Thor needed perhaps the biggest push into new territory (X-Men is also on alert).

When I first saw the trailer for Ragnarok, well, let’s just say I got very excited.  The music, the visuals, the humorous dialogue, the absolute weirdness of it all—it felt refreshing.  Unfortunately, I’ve been fooled by trailers before (I’m talking to you, Suicide Squad).  Therefore, I retained a certain amount of restraint going into Thor: Ragnarok.  I’ll never let a trailer break my heart again.  (That’s probably not true.)

Here’s the good news—Thor: Ragnarok broke convention in many fresh, fun ways.  In fact, that’s how I would describe this movie—fun.  There is no more Shakespearean tragedy, no more deadly serious monologues or pensive stares off into the distance.  Ragnarok moves at breakneck speed with one hilarious zinger after another.  It barely takes place on Earth, and this led to a lot of spectacular alien locales.  In other words, it absolutely lived up to its trailer.

You saw Hulk and Valkyrie in the trailers, and they exceeded my expectations.  They are fantastic.   Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster is worth the price of admission alone.  There’s a breakout character named Korg who pretty much stole the movie (and was voiced by the director—that’s no accident).  Hiddleston as Loki is always wonderful, and Hemsworth gave us a hilarious, likable Thor.

According to Norse mythology, Thor was a bit of a buffoon.  Strong?  Definitely?  Smart?  … Not so much.  While I don’t expect them to go the full dimwit route with Hemsworth, it was nice to see a Thor who wasn’t quite so deadly serious.  I read that the director wanted Thor to be the coolest character in the movie, and I think they mostly succeeded at that.  I’m totally okay with funny Thor, though I am curious to see if they maintain that level of humor with him in the subsequent Avengers movies.

Was Ragnarok perfect?  No, but so few movies are.  The story was perhaps a little too fast and furious to the point it didn’t always seem cohesive … or even logical.  Hela’s backstory left me scratching my head a bit.  Don’t even get me started on the total absence of Thor’s earthly supporting cast and the complete disrespect shown to his Asgardian companions.  And while no one is doubting Cate Blanchett’s acting abilities, those talents were largely unnecessary for the role of Hela.  She was pretty standard stuff as far as villains go.

The absolute success of Ragnarok is that it showed us something new.  I’ve never seen anything quite like what we saw on the Grandmaster’s planet, and that was a ton of fun.  At this point, as far as the superhero genre is concerned, I just want to see something original.

Happily, they took it even a step further.  Fans of the comic book won’t be shocked by a few of the developments occurring at the end of the film, but I think the casual fan will.  I personally couldn’t believe they did what they did—it was pretty bold.  Again, I’ll be interested to see if some of those developments continue into the other Marvel movies.  If you wanted the Thor franchise shaken to its core, you will be very pleased.

Oh, and there’s a certain cameo at the beginning of the film that completely won me over.  We love Hulk and Thor, but I also loved Thor with this character as well and can’t wait to see more.

So, while Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t a masterpiece in terms of story, I think it definitely broke new ground in terms of visuals and storytelling daring.  It ignored several of the genre’s tropes and even made fun of some of its own past sins.  I think if the super hero genre is to survive, especially the traditional ones like Thor, they are going to have to really defy convention and challenge expectations.  Ragnarok is proof it can be done well.

 

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Mighty Thor: Thunder In Her Veins by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman – A Book Review

This new approach to Thor is both refreshing and inspired.  As you can see from the cover, Thor is no longer the Thor with whom you’ve grown familiar.  Thor is now, well, a woman.  A masked woman, in fact.  By the time this volume rolls around, it’s already established that the new Thor is actually Jane Foster, a long time supporting character in the Marvel Universe and one-time love interest to the previous Thunder God.

There are several reasons the Jane Foster Thor has completely won me over.  The first reason is that the entire Marvel version of Norse mythology is being reintroduced to the reader as she gets to know it on a very personal level.  As Thor, she’s more exposed to the gods than ever before, and it’s fun to see each Norse deity broken down to his or her most basic, and potent, element.  Consequently, I recently read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, and Jason Aaron, author of Mighty Thor, is actually staying true to quite a bit of the source material.  Marvel has never claimed to exactly represent the Norse gods as they appeared in legend, if they did Thor would have been a lot different indeed, but Jason Aaron does accurately reference some rather significant moments from the myths of old.

Another reason I’m captivated by Jane Foster as Thor is that she is always the underdog.  She’s always having to prove herself, whether it be in debate, strategy, or battle.  I imagine this could be considered representative of women in virtually all aspects of life, but in the case of this comic book, it’s a captivating recurring plot device.  We are accustomed to the old Thor handling everything that comes his way.  We know basically how he’s going to prove victorious and how he’s going to sound doing it.  With Jane, though, everything old is literally new again.

Finally, Aaron has upped the stakes significantly by killing Jane Foster every time she transforms into Thor.  Jane is fighting cancer, but the cosmic power of Thor counteracts her chemotherapy which results in Jane getting worse and worse every time she wields Mjolnir.  Foster is the epitome of valor as she chooses to help others while killing herself in doing so.  This contradiction is fascinating, especially because Jane Foster is a charismatic character.  I want her to be Thor, yet I also want her to survive.  This dichotomy is incredibly captivating.

Obviously, I love Jason Aaron’s writing.  Not only does he seamlessly blend authentic Norse mythology into his Thor stories, but he also understands what makes dynamic characters, pacing, and plot.  Best of all, he writes fluid, believable dialogue.  In the comic book industry, it’s rare for a writer to do all of these things well.

Also, Russell Dauterman, the artist, is fantastic.  Like Aaron, he utilizes an amazing ability to make the Norse gods look like the gods of myth, yet he’s also made them modern and even, in most cases, futuristic.  It’s a beautiful combination of myth, fantasy, and science fiction.  Most importantly, though, he creates dynamic panels that push both the reader and the action forward.  His drawings are detailed, well proportioned, well arranged, and his Thor is somehow the perfect combination of power and femininity.  On that same note, he also manages to make Jane Foster physically frail while still retaining a power and fire within her eyes and body language.

Honestly, I typically try to find something to critique in my reviews in order to offer some sort of objectivity, but with Mighty Thor I have no complaints.  For me, this is a perfect volume, through and through.  I can’t wait to read the next installment.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

My Knee-Jerk Reaction To the New Thor

Today we learned there will be a new Thor, and this Thor is female.  My first reaction to this news is, “Thank goodness they are not calling her ‘Lady Thor’ or ‘Thorette.'”  I also thought, “Hey, she’s fully dressed – good!”

I had these initial reactions because these are two issues that bother me to no end.  I have two very young daughters, and we love super heroes.  But it irritates me that most of our super hero toys are male – Superman, Batman, Iron Man, etc.  In fact, my oldest daughter asked me when she was four if there were female super heroes besides Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl.  Of course there are, we all know there are, but I started coming up with names like Spider-Woman, Batwoman, She-Hulk, and something dawned on me.  By and large, most of our female super heroes are derivatives of a male counterpart.  Those who are original, such as Wonder Woman or Black Canary, tend to wear little clothing or fish-net stockings.  I think this is a bad message to my daughters.

I want my daughters to know that they can and should rely on themselves.  I want them to be original, innovative, and free-thinkers.  I don’t want them assuming that they should only take an existing idea and alter it.  They need to always strive to break the mold, to do things their own way, and to avoid letting gender come into the issue at all.

Marvel Comics is a corporate entity.  I’m thrilled that they’ve allowed Black Widow to shine in their cinematic universe, but in the comic book universe, there is much room for improvement.  But, because they are a corporate entity, oftentimes their books are determined by the bottom line – profit.  Why not give this new “Thor” her own identity and let her float?  Because there is a good chance she would sink.  Don’t get me wrong, I would constantly take chances on new, original characters – both male and female.  Unfortunately, I’m not in charge of Marvel, and if I was, I’d probably drive them out of business pretty quickly (or take them to soaring new heights).

You take a female character, put a very well-known brand title on her (Thor), and she will make money.  From Marvel’s perspective, they are doing something initially perceived as risky and progressive, but there’s really no risk at all.  Comic books are largely a male dominated field on both the production side of things as well as in regards to the readership.  Plus, we all know the male Thor will be back before Avengers 2 comes out.

I’m the first to admit this is all speculation.  We don’t know much of anything about the new Thor.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction and I addressed that fact in the title of this article.

But I wish I didn’t have to settle.  I wish I didn’t only feel good about the fact that they aren’t calling her “Lady Thor” and that she’s fully clothed.  I wish my daughters had heroes that matched their imagination and independence.

 

Picture taken from Women You Should Know‘s Facebook Page

The Ultimates 2, Vol. 1: Gods and Monsters – A Graphic Novel Review

Basically an updated version of Marvel Comic’s classic Avengers lineup, The Ultimates is the closest comic book out there to a big budget action movie. The art is hands down astronomical. Bryan Hitch can draw anything and make it look both dynamic and realistic at the same moment. And Mark Millar (whom is often hit or miss for me) writes snappy dialogue that really sets the characters apart from one another. While his overall plots are nothing terribly original, his new takes on classic characters like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk have been tremendously entertaining. We now have heroes in very much the twenty-first century, with all the neurosis, greed, naiveté, and self-doubt that comes with being a denizen of the modern day.

As I said, the overall plots are predictable, but it’s the subplots where the genius rests. Each character has their own story, and it’s those personal stories and interactions that prove captivating. However, when it’s time for the big action of the overall plot’s climax, strap yourself in. That’s where Bryan Hitch saves the day with his art and Mark Millar makes it fun with his dialogue.

If you want to experience super hero comics at their <ahem!> ultimate in terms of action and art, the Ultimates is what you’re looking for.