Thor: Ragnarok, A Fun Romp

(Spoiler Alert!)

The new Marvel Studios movie, Thor: Ragnarok, puts the fun back into comic book movies. The recent spate, particularly the DC Universe ones, were somewhat ponderous even if they have comic moments. This includes Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Each was a good movie but Thor rocked in terms of simply being a fun movie.

To be honest, I didn’t like the first two Thor movies. They seemed kind of dull with the only interesting moments being in when he was in Asgard. I liked the beauty that went into making the scenes for this heavenly plane. Marvel Studios is good at scenery. ThorAlthough Chris Hemsworth is a good actor and played Thor well, the plots just didn’t have the same enthusiasm that Robert Downy Jr. brought to the Iron Man movies. Thor himself came off as a pompous “god” with limited intelligence. As with many bad guys in these movies, the Loki character was the best role and Tom Hiddleston played him with great enthusiasm

In Thor: Ragnarok, Hemsworth owned Thor in a way that no one else could. Throughout the film, Thor throws out great lines that keep to his nice-guy, frat-boy kind of personality even in some of the worst situations. His facial expressions, particularly when dealing with Dr. Strange, proved that Hemsworth nailed the character perfectly. In addition, Thor evolves with the movie as he ascends to his rightful place after Odin’s death. The burden of ruling finally hits him and the frat-boy personality is shed for an older, wiser Thor in the end.

Part of Thor’s evolution in this movie is in how he handles Loki’s constant treachery. The chemistry between Hemsworth and Hiddleston evolves into a true brotherhood. The love and family dysfunctionality shone crystal clear as Thor finally accepts Loki’s nature with a “you are what you are” kind of statement.

The match with Hulk provided some of the best fighting scenes and also the greatest lines from Loki. This movie gave viewers one of the few times in the Avengers series to really get to know the Hulk (and not Banner) in terms of how much he wants to be liked and keep control of the body. His buddy moments with Thor provide some excellent insights into a more complex character than just some green guy smashing things.

Other great names to look for include Sam Neill and Matt Damon, although you will have a hard time recognizing them through all the makeup. Hint: look closely at the actors in the play. For those who want more information about this, check out this Hollywood Reporter video, but warning, spoiler alerts.

Although the trailers show the Hulk as the antagonist, the real enemy is Hela, the hidden eldest child of Odin. The Goddess of Death, played by Cate Blanchett, seeks to rule Asgard as a jumping off point to conquer the galaxy, even if she must kill every Asgardian to do so. Her battle costume reminded me of Angela Jolie’s Maleficent, black, sleek, and spouting horns, but Jolie’s character pulled off more menace than Blanchett’s Hela.

Unsung heroes in the movie include Idris Elba’s honorable warrior Heimdall, Tessa Thompson’s burned out Valkyrie, and Karl Urban’s enemy-turned-good guy Skurge. Urban is becoming a great fixture in sci-fi/fantasy filmography, having great roles in Judge Dredd, the newest Star Trek movies, Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Riddick saga. In this movie, his character Skurge is pressed into service by Hela but the emotions on his brooding face clearly indicates his hesitation to rebel against her, which means instant death, or to follow along, which means slaughtering his own people.

Although I loved the humor, the message in the plot helps make Thor: Ragnarok a great movie. Thor eventually realizes he can’t win against the Goddess of Death and this means the destruction of his homeland. Yet Odin reveals to him that a homeland is not in the coordinates of a map but in the hearts of its people. Save the people, and you save Asgard. It also opens up the idea of future movies with the questions of where will the new Asgard be and how will Earth handle the “invasion” of friendly, beer-quaffing, godlike beings.

I don’t think Marvel will stop making comic book movies any time soon but it’s nice to see that the characters are evolving. Sometimes comic book heroes are very two dimensional, which was true for the early Thor and Captain America movies. Now Captain America is less white bread as he turns into an outlaw do-gooder and Thor: Ragnarok shows that even gods must mature sometime. Thus, Marvel movies are improving and becoming more worth the price of a theater ticket. I look forward to more of the evolved Thor stories.

Exploring Another Culture with Norse Mythology

Vikings are very popular right now with a number of exhibits, fiction books, and TV shows out about this popular but not well known culture. The people seemed to have simple lives and yet are larger-than life. Plus, most folks love powerful warriors… as long as they aren’t facing them in battle.

For instance, I enjoy Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, which includes at least one book of his character’s antics in the Viking mythos world, and the History Channel show, Vikings. I love cultures with strong female characters like Lagratha from this show. Their use of shield maidens provides more proof that a woman can be a valuable ally in battle, or a vicious enemy.

So when I saw Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, I snapped it up, wanting to know more about this distant and unusual culture. In the introduction, Gaiman explains that he wants the text to read like a person storytelling across the fire during long winter nights. In that regard, he succeeds admirably in that the work has a clear narrator feeling.

The book reads like the Bible, starting with a type of Genesis and proceeding through time to the end of days. This is not bad though. The book is a history of the gods’ creation and lives. One can find some lessons in these tales but mostly they are just grand stories. Unlike the Bible, the book lacks a lot of boring “begats” passages or high-handed morality tales. In short, many of the tales seem more like frat boys playing pranks or having masculinity measuring contests.

From these stories, the reader gets the feeling that the Norse gods generally like common folks. They like getting gifts, gathering crops, feasting, fornicating, fighting and making general mischief. The tone of the book is simple and direct, without a lot of descriptive scenes or glorifying of characters, instead staying focused in the storyteller style.

In reading it, I understand the events in the Vikings show a bit better. The stories seem to glorify craftiness and guile. Loki, who I’ve always heard was a trickster, is less mischievous and much more of a selfish, rude, self-centered ass, increasingly so towards the end. Anyone who is a fan of the History Channel show will see similarities between the character Floki, and Ragnar’s punishment on him, and Loki’s actions and final punishment. As bad as it is, the reader is left with the feeling in part that Loki brought it upon himself.

Odin seems single minded in searching for wisdom but few of the stories go into him actually using it. Gaiman mentions that many of the stories were lost, which may be why Odin is not as well represented. Many of the stories don’t include Odin at all. Thor is featured often but come comes across as a rather dumb blowhard rather than any great warrior. The tales also doesn’t really show the gods interacting with or even caring much about human affairs, unlike Greek and Roman stories. Humans are simply occupiers of the Earth and little more. The gods were much more concerned with each other and the various giants, dwarves, and elves.

For the most part, it was a fun and easy read, that left me desiring more stories. Unfortunately, Neil Gaiman won’t be writing any sequels. So much information on this proud race is now lost. However, I feel like I now have a deeper respect for the richness of the Norse culture and can understand some of the references more clearly. That alone made the book well worth its purchase price.