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Siraj Syed


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Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics.
Festival Correspondent, Film-critic, Feature-writer.


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Thor-Ragnarok: Of hammers and horns, Avengers and Revengers

Thor-Ragnarok: Of hammers and horns, Avengers and Revengers

Add humour. Suspended in mid space inside a trap-net by the fire demon Surtur, Thor asks a fellow prisoner how long has he been there. Pans out the fellow has already turned into a skeleton by this time, and, on hearing Thor’s query, his jaw (bone) drops off, literally. That’s the first scene, and the first laugh. After a marathon bout as gladiators in a cosmic arena, Thor and Hulk are freshening up, and Hulk comes out of the tub without a thread on. Thor grimaces. The audience guffaws. But let’s get to the crux of the story, which is Lightning Lore Hammersmith Thor v/s and s/v with Bulk, Sulk, Hulk. Both on the same page and the same planet, and no, it is not earth! And you will have to wait for the ‘horn’y bits. What on earth is going on in Asgard and Sakaar?

The fire demon Surtur informs Thor that his brother Loki has been impersonating their father Odin. Surtur taunts Thor with knowledge of the coming Ragnarok, the foretold end of Asgard that Surtur will bring about, when he unites his crown of horns with the Eternal Flame that burns beneath the city. Thor defeats Surtur and grabs the crown. Back in Asgard, he exposes Loki's deception, before travelling with him, to bring back Odin from Earth, where Loki has abandoned him. With the help of wizard Stephen Strange, they locate their father in Norway, only to discover him on the verge of death.

With Odin's passing, his first-born daughter, Hela, former leader of Asgard's conquering armies and Thor's elder sister, is able to escape the prison Odin sealed her in, when her ambitions became too great. She appears with a crown of horns, destroys Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, and when Thor and Loki attempt to flee through the Bifrost, she pursues, setting them adrift in time and space. Hela goes on to conquer Asgard, slaying its entire army, resurrecting its ancient dead from their graves to serve as her minions, and appointing the down-trodden but ambitious Asgardian Skurge (punny?) as her executioner.

Thor and Loki crash-land on the planet of Sakaar. Loki gets into the good books of the planet's ruler, the Grandmaster. Thor is captured by one of the Grandmaster's Bounty Hunters, one of Asgard's former Valkyries, and forced to compete in his gladiatorial Contest of Champions. Next on the menu is a fight between Thor and...the Hulk! Thor is delighted to meet a fellow Avenger. Hulk sulks and frowns.

‘Thor’ by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby gets its latest filmy shape courtesy Christopher Yost (Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow, Thor: The Dark World, Max Steel)  and Craig Kyle (first feature release co-credit) and Eric Pearson (feature writing debut). We could say it this way: Odin, a one-eyed ruler of realms, stops his conquests after he has had enough. When his daughter/executioner/God of Death, Hela, disagrees, he banishes her to a place from where she will be released only upon his death. Later, he has a son, Thor, who is the God of Thunder and is gifted with a mighty hammer. Another son, Loki, adopted, is gifted with the ability to create illusions. He is half good half evil. Now that Odin is dead, who will stop Hela from sitting on the Askard throne? Unwittingly, Hulk joins the team. Then there is the Grandmaster to take care of. Don’t worry. For that we have the A team: Valkyrie, Korg (the stone-man) and Skurge.

Taika David Watiti/Taika Cohen (New Zealander; Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows/co-directed; first Hollywood film) wanted a generous dose of humour, and he’s got it. The cross cosmos cross civilisations span gives rise to natural chuckles. It’s a good debut and the many characters get due screen-space Hela’s banishment lasting only till Odin’s death is a flimsy premise. Dead Odin’s on cue appearances and advisories in Thor’s thoughts at crucial moments are contrived. You cannot help recalling Eli Wallach is a Sergio Leone Western, when he pulls out a gun from the water in his bath-tub while the man holding a gun to him is talking. Similarly, an all but beaten Bounty Hunter asks her opponents to wait, as she staggers around, drunk. When they do wait, she gathers herself and sets of her space-ship’s remote controlled guns. Almost all the fights consist of opponents hurtling towards each other, grappling, getting thrown apart, and there they go again. When they are unable to kill or wound the mythical Ferris beast with all the fire-power from their space-craft, why don’t the gunners mow down Hela’s human army instead?

Hammers take various shapes in Ragnarok, both single and complex. And they are also wielded by entities other than Thor. In fact, at one stage, Mjolnir is broken to bits. Horns, however, are the symbol of evil. Two main characters wear them as crowns: Surkur and Hela, and Hela turns them on with a flourish, when she wipes her head, a sure sign of impending catastrophe. Three main female characters are featured in the narrative: an embodiment of evil, a drunk Bounty Hunter who comes to her senses and hints at a soft corner for Thor, and a member of the Grandmaster’s retinue, who wields a ‘human melter’ rod that she has no hesitation using on those who earn his ire. There are no children or teenagers in the tale, if you ignore the baby in the tableau, am interesting, tongue-in-cheek distraction. Another commendable idea was to shoot on the Doctor Strange set, with Benedict Cumberbatch, just before it was dismantled, thereby incorporating a nice little cameo.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor, based on the Norse mythological deity of the same name, has muscles to die for, and God knows he needs them to wield that hammer. His short-grinny humour is well utilised. And don’t miss the missing locks that barber Stan Lee gets rid off as a pre-requisite for the duel. Tom Hiddleston as Loki, based on the deity of the same name, reprises the role with the same slick, suave, slippery edge, adding strong elements of narcissistic self-glorification.

Cate Blanchett as Hela is based on the deity Hel, and Blanchett need not even get into the stunts to pull it off: her eyes and gait are enough. Yet, she did train hard for the physical stuff. Of course, she did not do a lot of the visuals herself, thanks to ever faithful motion capture technology. Idris Elba as Heimdall, the sword-keeper with piercing brown eyes, has a relatively minor role, and little to do, besides looking intense. Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster, brother of The Collector, who rules the planet Sakaar, is a transplant from the comics. Here, he acts his part out as a childish sadist, with a touch of homosexuality, and seems to be having fun. Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, based on the mythological being Brynhildr, is neither boring nor pretty, as desired by the makers, and yet holds her own. Her brief back-story gives credence to her present traits.

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, the genius scientist/Hulk, has at least three endearing moments in the film, in one of which he refuses to interfere in what he feels is a “the family quarrel” between Hela and Thor. Of course, Thor: Ragnarok is almost as much a Hulk film as it is a Thor showcase. Anthony Hopkins as one-eyed Odin is ordinary, which is a shame.

When you are watching a film in IMAX 3D, powered by DLP Cinema, the question is not whether it is a Comic Superhero movie or not; the question is whether it is Marvel or DC. While they struggle to offer something unique, these science-fiction/fantasy blockbusters leave less and lesser space for any other genre of cinema to reach our screens.

A cast of thousands and a post-production/special effects team of tens of thousands has made cinema a real big business. 130 minutes of Thor: Ragnarok cost US$180 million, which works out to USD1.38 million/minute. Bangs for the buck are delicately balanced with a story that is easier to grasp than most other flicks in the category, and Thor: Ragnarok does not need you to have the Marvel stable mapped to the GPS last inch to grasp the goings on in this sequel.

In passing, what is the possé of Marvel-lous super-heroes called?

Avengers? Naw. Revengers! Go figure.

Rating: ***1/2

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue80QwXMRHg

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


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