Bruce Steele: So, Thor: Ragnarok seemed like it was a lot of fun. I say "seemed" because I went to a late show Thursday night and dozed off a few times - not the movie's fault. Still, you may have to fill me in on what I missed.
Edwin Arnaudin: I’ll do what I can to help, as my eyes remained wide open thanks to the visually rich comedic entertainment courtesy of director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows; Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and a game cast. Do you recall roughly where you drifted off?
Bruce: I was in and out in the middle but fully alert for the start and finish. So I got all the back story about Thor’s previously unknown evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), one of these “oh, we forgot to mention” Marvel villains who pops up for one, isolated story line with no motive except complete destruction and no personality apart from unflappable sadism. As much as I love Blanchett, and as much fun as she seems to be having playing the part, I thought Hela was a bit of a snooze.
Edwin: Fair enough. In the words of honorary Movie Guy Kenny, my viewing companion for an earlier showtime, Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster is a better villain — and it’s tough to argue with that assessment. As the mercurial, party-loving ruler of the chaotic, Hotel California-esque scrap planet on which Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself prisoner, the character actor steals pretty much every one of his scenes, no easy feat in this talented ensemble.
Bruce: I hate when we’re an echo chamber here — except I don’t really. I love that you and Kenny loved Grandmaster as much as I did. I’ll see the movie again (and stay awake for it) just for Goldblum. Did you also like his ally, the tough mercenary Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson)?
Edwin: I did indeed! From her amusing entrance to her complicated relationships with Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), she’s an engaging figure who strikes many a badass image while in the thick of combat. She’s my pick for superheroine of the year over Wonder Woman. Are we tracing each other’s thoughts here, too?
Bruce: A bit, but while I thought Valkyrie was a great addition to the Marvel movie family, I’ll still take Wonder Woman for superhero of the year, male or female. Glad you brought up the battles, which are legion in this movie, and always thrilling, if a bit too CG-errific. Another new character, Skurge (Karl Urban), has some great fight bits towards the end.
dwin: Having shown flashes of action competence in his previous two films, Waititi excels at staging clean, easy-to-follow set pieces here. I was also consistently impressed with the wealth of eye candy, both static and in motion, so kudos to the production design team as well. Do you think he succeeds at balancing these components with humor, something that’s been a strength of this standalone series (my favorite of the Avengers, a stance that puts me in the vast minority)?
Bruce: Humor is the film’s (and Thor’s) most important superpower (although I’d pick Captain America’s movies as the better Marvel trilogy). I agree the action sequences are stellar, but as I said earlier, the over-arching plot – Hela wants to kill everyone – is rote and tiresome. That means the ending is less satisfying than in other Marvel movies, and the film seems to shrink rather than expand the Marvel Universe. But it’s so funny so consistently that I can almost forgive the Hela hole at its center. And the funniest character director Waititi gave himself to voice: Korg, an 8-foot-tall soft-spoken gladiator made out of purple rocks.
Edwin: I’d hoped Waititi would make an appearance but hadn’t checked the film’s credits prior to Thursday night, so I lit up when I heard his voice. Korg is wonderful, as is Wilderpeople’s Rachel House as Valkyrie’s moody nemesis Topaz and Tom Hiddleston in his fourth turn as Loki. There’s also a delightfully cheeky cameo by a certain famous actor who briefly plays Loki in a theatrical performance and has played a character by that name in another film. That’s all the clues I’m giving!
Bruce: Three famous actors in that scene, actually, and one of them is a famous sibling. But yes, best to let viewers discover that themselves. Overall, I was happy enough watching Thor: Ragnarok, and occasionally dozing through it, but since its pleasures are more in gags, effects and ancillary virtues than in its actual story line, I’m going to max out its grade at a B.
dwin: If anything hampers the film for me, it’s that it’s occasionally too silly. Whereas Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 tickles funny bones with a variety of tricks, including show-stopping one-liners in unexpected moments, the comedy here is somewhat one-note and in need of more breathing room. Like What We Do in the Shadows, I suspect these blemishes will subside with subsequent viewings, but even with them it gets an A-minus from me.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photos: Walt Disney Studios)