MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ balances epic action with jokey antics

Marvel Studios

I envy all the 10- to 12-year-old kids whose little minds are going to be blown by the wonderfulness that is “Thor: Ragnarok,” the latest super-hero film from Marvel Studios.

As you can probably tell from my first sentence this is not an unbiased review.

I’m nearly a lifelong comic-book and movie fan so it’s difficult for me to be objective concerning a film that pits Marvel’s god of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth) against the Asgardian goddess of the underworld Hela (Cate Blanchett) in a space-shattering epic that’s also a cosmic road film featuring the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and Thor’s mischief-making half brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

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Oh, yeah, Marvel characters Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Skurge the Executioner (Carl Urban), the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), and Thor and Loki’s daddy Odin (Anthony Hopkins) also show up along the way for good measure.

The film, directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows” and Hunt for the Wilderpeople”), is busy, talkative, action-packed, humorous and fun. It’s everything you could want in a big-budget, super-hero spectacle that features Led Zeppelin’s oh so appropriate “Immigrant Song” as a key fixture in the score because, of course, it had to.

While the movie is light-hearted, the stakes are high for Thor and his buddies as Hela, her undead forces, and her gigantic wolf Fenris overtake Asgard, while the fire demon Surtur rages, intent on burning the nine realms to the ground.

Banished out of Asgard into the far reaches of space, Thor finds himself stranded on the garbage planet Sakaar, which is dominated by Goldblum’s kooky, cool Grandmaster. The Grandmaster keeps his empire in check by staging grand gladiatorial games. Thor must escape captivity to have any hope of saving his beloved people and their homeland of Asgard.

The film is a grand tribute to the imagination that skyrocketed Marvel Comics from being just another comic-book publisher to being the dominant force in the medium for the last 50 years.

Popular thought is that Stan Lee is the all-father of the Marvel Universe; however, the engine that fueled Marvel to the top of the comics business was actually a triumvirate of talents that included Lee as editor/scripter as well as plotter/artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. While others added on to the mythos that is Marvel, Kirby, Ditko, and Lee are the giants of early Marvel.

Working with Lee, Kirby created the likes of Thor, Hulk, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four just to name a few. Ditko and Lee were the driving forces behind Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.

Some have likened the collaboration between Lee and Kirby and Ditko to that of John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the Beatles, but really Lee was more like Beatles producer Phil Spector to Kirby and Ditko’s McCartney and Lennon.

Kirby and Ditko were the fount of creativity, but Lee polished, published, and hyped the product masterfully to Marvel’s dedicated fanbase, which he mesmerized and captivated through his branding and marketing genius.

All of that to say that Kirby’s fingerprints are everywhere on this movie from the characters of Thor, Hulk, Loki, and Odin to the crazy designs of the machinery, aliens, and sets to the day-glow color palate of the film. Waititi truly crafted what amounts to a love letter to Kirby with this movie, and nothing could be more appropriate after the comic-book industry celebrated the 100th anniversary of Kirby’s birth in August.

As you can tell, I enjoyed the movie immensely; however, not all of the jokes hit their intended mark and some might find some minor pacing issues.

Hemsworth is strong as the title character, handling the humorous aspects of the film with aplomb. Ruffalo now owns both the character of the Hulk and his alter ego Bruce Banner. Hiddleston is so sleazily charming as Loki that its easy to imagine him fronting his own film as the character. Blanchett casts such a formidable presence as the deliciously wicked Hela that she leaves you wishing the villain had more screen time.

For parents, the movie does contain cartoonish violence, and a bit more profanity that one might expect from a super-hero movie.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 10 min.
Grade: B+

Classic Corner

Shopworn Angel

Each month Turner Classic Movies features a Star of the Month, and for November the spotlight shines on James Stewart each Wednesday.

Days like this Wednesday are ones in which I wish I had sprung for a DVR with much more memory.

Though I’ve seen a lot of Stewart’s movies, some of his early films are ones I’ve missed over the years. One of those I’m a bit embarrassed to admit is “Shopworn Angel” from 1938. It plays at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday It co-stars Margaret Sullavan as a showgirl who gives up her fast lifestyle to be with a young soldier played by Stewart, who is scheduled to depart for Europe to fight in World War I.

Sullivan and Stewart were great friends. She made it to Hollywood before him, and mentored him a bit in his early days. The co-starred in four films together with Sullavan getting top billing in each of them.

The Shop Around the Corner

“The Shop Around the Corner,” from 1940 is the final film in which Stewart and Sullavan co-starred, and it plays at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The movie is excellent, one o the best romantic comedy’s ever put on film, in my estimation.

Stewart and Sullavan play pen pals who fall in love with each other through correspondence, but unbeknownst to both, they actually work together in the same department store and can’t stand each other.

If the plot seems familiar, then you might be a fan of 1998’s “You Got Mail,” which starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The film was inspired by the earlier movie as was “The Good Old Summertime,” a musical starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson. Hollywood can’t get enough of a good idea. Both of the remakes are solid, but the original is the best.

The Philadelphia Story

Stewart has a supporting role in 1940’s “The Philadelphia Story,” backing up leads Cary Grant and Catherine Hepburn. Talk about star power.

Grant and Hepburn are divorced, but they still have affection for each other even though neither will admit it. The fly in the ointment is that Hepburn is engaged. Grant intends to submarine the marriage, and he’s not above using newspaper man Stewart to help him make it happen.

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards and one two. Stewart’s sarcastic yet lovelorn performance garnered him his first Oscar, although he said he voted his good friend Henry Fonda for his performance as Tom Joad in “Grapes of Wrath.”

The Philadelphia Story airs at 11 p.m. Wednesday.