Better than a Ragnarok

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

The hotly anticipated Thor: Ragnarok has opened in theatres around the world, and in Matti Cinema in Addis Abeba. Marvel's fans are celebrating - understandable since this is by far the best film to solely star the fictional god of thunder. Christian Tesfaye, likewise, was excited to see the movie but felt cheated by a trailer adorned by Led Zepplin's Immigrant Song and the film's funniest moments aggregated into two to three minutes of intensity. He awards 6 out of 10 stars, with the "awesome" Cate Blanchett carrying most of the weight.

If only movies were as simple as trailers!

All one has to do is rhythmically slap around funny moments with action-packed sequences to a memorable rock-song, and the audience is hooked. No underlining theme, no multi-dimensional characters or even an original plot or manner of narration. Just sketches, designed to excite quickly, like a stimulant, and wear off the second one breathes the fresh air outside the theatre hall.

Alas, movies are a little different. They, at the very least, need reasoning. I am not saying that, for instance, Thor: Ragnarok, the third sole outing of the god of thunder, has not been thought through. It has, albeit by the visual effects designers, while the director and writers were rather laid back about it.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy Ragnarok. It had certain funny moments, good action scenes, some exciting acting and lots and lots of punching and kicking. It is also a superhero movie, much like last year’s Deadpool, that laudably seeks not to take itself seriously.

But the movie is a far cry than the trailers would have us believe. The first teaser trailer promised a film of epic proportions, one that strips down everything we thought we knew about Thor. More trailers came, and we, the gullible audience, forever on the lookout for excellent cinema, expected an adventure where Thor grows, loses, wins, laughs, cries, contemplates and finally gets ever more befuddled (lest a piece of art pretend life could be comprehended).

Instead, what we have in Ragnarok, at the end of the day, even with Led Zepplin’s addictive Immigrant Song, is a popcorn movie. It has been packaged not to offend conservative tastes or seriously harm any of Marvel’s billions of dollars of merchandised products.

Remarkably, or perhaps not, the film is pleasing enough relative to the genre it belongs to. It is also not the first time a superhero movie with an unbelievably suave trailer fooled us into expecting a good movie. There was the atrocious Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – such a sorry film that makes Ragnarok look like Citizen Kane.

The film begins with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in chains, where he, shortly after, kills the fire demon Surtur, that would have otherwise caused Ragnarok, the end of the thunder god’s homeland, Asgard. Back home, Thor learns that his father is being impersonated by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), his adoptive brother, the chief villain in the 2012 Avengers, and a character that just would not die. Loki had hidden away their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of Asgard, on Earth.

The duo, unfortunately, finds Odin older and more decrepit. He is dying, but it does not mean Thor will take the throne since, surprise, surprise, Odin has a skeleton in the closet. That of a deity’s is apparently worse, which is Hela (the awesome Cate Blanchett), Odin’s firstborn, and thus the true heir to the throne (Asgardians have come a long way from gender discrimination, which is more than that can be said of Saudi Arabians). There is just one snag; she is also the goddess of death, with ambitions to kill and scourge her way through the universe.

Easily defeated by Hela, and stranded on the planet Sakaar, whose inhabitants are obsessed with gladiator matches, one would think Thor has found his niche. But not really, instead he finds a friend, another Avenger, the Hulk, now able to converse in green-form, also having crash-landed on the planet (never mind the epic coincidence of running into one another in an infinite universe).

Ragnarok bears similarity to last year’s Captain America: Civil War. Both movies serve to keep tabs on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) superheroes. The latter brought together all of the Universe’s major heroes, except Thor and the Hulk, and even introduced some more (a new Spiderman and Black Panther). Ragnarok seems to be saying, here is where the two freakishly strong beings have been, on an adventure that is just as exciting.

But Ragnarok is better than Civil War. It is less in love with itself, more self-deprecatory and unconcerned with extending the Universe. Apparently, it could have been better. It could have been a movie where significant decisions are taken, perhaps a superhero or two killed. But it stops just when it could have gotten exciting. It is too much in the shadow of the upcoming Avenger: Infinity War to give us anything hard-hitting, or even appear as something more than a connecting bridge.

At least the acting was not too bad, especially Blanchett’s, who appears utterly unrecognisable here. She has joined the rank of female stars that are choosing to play powerful evil beings, who, despite being a tad old, still have their beauty. There was Angelina Jolie in 2014’s Maleficent, playing the character of the same name (though with some revision), the nemesis of Sleeping Beauty. Others were Charlize Theron and Julia Roberts, both of whom played the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror, respectively.

Despite the casting being formulaic, great actors like Blanchett give movies, even if adapted from a comic book, a sense of style. They assert a kind of significance, to become memorable perhaps, and not just another pawn in the Universe’s grand design for Thor to defeat and discard. If Ragnarok is a good movie, especially compared to its predecessors, or even the films within Marvel’s ever-expanding universe, then that awe is only borrowed.

Still, I will take Marvel’s mediocrity over DC Comics’ nonsense, which makes me unlucky as the Justice League will soon hit cinemas. Yet another superhero assembly, without even an exciting trailer, it will likely be one more Zack Snyder experiment where he tries to make a movie with as much computer-generated imagery (CGI) as possible. The advice being, enjoy Ragnarok while it lasts.

Published on Nov 12,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 916]



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