Life Through the Lens: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is practically perfect

“‘Slaves’ is such a harsh word; I prefer ‘prisoners with benefits.'”

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What defines me? Good question. Hard question.

I have found definition in many places. I used to be “the kid who wore shorts to a semi-formal in the eighth-grade.” Luckily, that definition faded away (as did my young social life). I used to be “the kid in the tight-fitting clothes from Goodwill.” My wallet still thanks me for that phase. I used to be the “let’s just be friends” poster-child. Each potential relationship would sail away and leave me abandoned. I found definition in my isolation. My penchant for grudges. My fear of inadequacy. My definition could sometimes be found in my hobbies, my profession, my tasks.

All these things may play a part in defining me … but they, by no means, should define me. I am much more than an amalgam of quirks. I am much more than a “random series of embarrassing failures” (although that is the tag-line for the movie of my life). I am much more than my job. My house. My accounts. My plans. What defines me, then? Good question. Hard question.

The movie opens with Thor captured (gasp) and in peril (shock). How did our hero find himself in such a precarious position? It is quickly obvious that he is purposefully penned – it is part of a plan. Why did we ever doubt our hero?

Upon his monumental victory, he returns to Asgard to spread the word of the doom now deferred … only to find Loki on the throne and his father missing! Asgard has become a place of complacency and idleness, not the seat of power it once was. When Odin is finally located, a harsh reality takes over: Odin’s time is limited and a great evil will take his place. Unbeknownst (can you just “beknownst” something?) to Thor and Loki, they have a sister, and she is the ruthless goddess of Death named Hela. She once ruled beside her father as they terrorized the realms, but Odin, knowing the depths of her greed, imprisoned her to end her rampage. There she has sat, waiting until the old man kicked the bucket. Waiting for her rightful spot on the throne.

Although warned of her immense power, Thor and Loki confront the unleashed Hela. They quickly find her legend is not exaggerated – she makes quick work of the two gods, casually discarding them somewhere in the galaxy, and enters Asgard with single-minded focus: dominion over all things will be hers!

We find our hero buried in a galactic trash-pile on a planet named Sakaar: where all unwanted things eventually find themselves. There he is found, captured, imprisoned, and sold as an exhibition-fighter. The only attraction of Sakaar is its Grandmaster and his gladiator battles – people pay good money to see his prisoners fight and die … and this new guy looks pretty strong! He may make a worthy opponent for the reigning champion: the Incredible Hulk! Surprise!

Will Thor battle his friend the Hulk? Is the Hulk above fighting dirty? How will Thor exit a planet where everything comes but nothing leaves? Did that old barber look like Stan Lee? How can the goddess of Death be defeated? Can you teach a giant old dog new tricks? Is destruction sometimes the best option? These and more questions will be answered. Promise.

As the film progresses, a running theme becomes apparent: how things have been defined is not always their proper definition. You can see this in the characters, the settings, the relationships – understood definition and true definition are rarely synonymous. Loki has resigned himself to mischief and mayhem, ruining relationships … but could he be more? Asgard is in jeopardy … but could destruction bring restoration and resurrection? Thor is defeated and humiliated, beaten with ease … but could he be capable of much more than he knows? Is there worth untapped and unmatched waiting to be unleashed?

Almost every piece of this movie gets asked that tough question: truly … what defines you? Not what others say about you. Not what is expected of you. Not what has historically been the case. Not from a place of comfort or fear. Not a stock-answer or a cliche. What defines you is too important for these typical responses. As is the case in the movie, the answer comes from a place of value and significance.

Let me go ahead and offer some possible definitions for you. You are loved. You are prayed over. You are worried about. You are invested in. You are the object of someone’s affection. You are the destination for someone’s heart. You are a place of genuine importance. You are capable of so much more than you realize. You are worthy of positive attention and praise.

You can be defined by many things – many things undeserving of that power. Do not let mistakes, shortcomings, or flaws define you. Do not let borders, limits, or barriers define you. Do not let hate, malice, or envy define you. Instead, find your definition in love. In peace. In joy. A little hokey? You betcha! I am not ashamed of my inner-hokey-ness.

Overall, this may be my favorite Marvel movie (too close-to-call with “Logan”). I have always said that “dark” and “foreboding” were my style … but this was hilarious. It was down-right riotous. There were moments of body-bending, seat-exiting laughter. Some jokes created an almost-sense of brief-euphoria: perfectly timed and impeccably delivered.

For all my “superhero-movies-are-killing-me” speeches, I was excited about this film. Marvel has given a voice to a truly remarkable comedian in director Taika Waititi. No joke, I am a longtime fan of the New Zealand comedy scene. His vision is fresh and spirited. Not only that, his voice acting for Korg was utterly hysterical. I love my comedy like I like my socks: dry.

Speaking of dry, Jeff Goldblum (as Grandmaster) brought a smile to my face just thinking about his character. Every pause, every “ahh” – it is hard to tell if he is a comedic genius or making it up as he goes.

I believe the real star to be Cate Blanchett, though. She is what superhero movies desperately need … a two-time Oscar winner who makes you want to crawl into a hole and hide! She is malevolence-personified. Her every line is delivered flawlessly. Is it wrong to applaud for the bad guy? She is head-and-shoulders (and whatever that is on her head) above all other villains. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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Report Card

Despite minor flaws, will have you laughing until it hurts

Grade: A

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