Thor: Ragnarok (2017): The Beginning of the End for Comic Book Adaptations?

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Directed by personal favorite Taika Waititi (who directed the brilliant 2016 film Hunt for the Wilderpeople) Thor:Ragnarok can be seen as the beginning of the end for Thor in a number of ways. By the film’s end, Thor resembles Odin and has truly become his father’s son.

The film is a direct lead in to the next “big” thing in the Marvel-verse and, somewhat disturbingly, seems to signal an unwanted change in the comic book adaptations that we have all grown to love.

Thor: Ragnarok is more action comedy than all out action with a touch of humor (a’la Joss Whedon’s first two offerings in the Marvel arena of Avengers and all those who sail her…). Chris Hemsworth proves that underneath all those muscles and good looks there beats the heart of a comedian. 

He is almost hysterically funny and while this speaks volumes of his talent as an actor, it serves to “humanize” the God of Thunder too much. Granted the character is somewhat unnerved when his hammer Mjölnir is smashed to bits by Hella and he has been shaken by the death of Odin.

However…

Thor screaming in terror just before meeting the Grand Master (a star turn by the delightfully eccentric Jeff Goldblum) and then begging for his long tresses to be uncut takes the “God”and makes him puny and human. (But funny.)

There are a number of comic moments in the film. They are well presented- the build up to meeting Goldblum’s character with the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” music playing in the background is simply delicious – but they detract from the verse as presented by Marvel and Disney thus far.

The films have always taken a moment to poke fun at the very premise of superheroes that suffer from an inflated sense of hubris and taking themselves far too seriously. “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” These moments come almost invariably from Tony Stark and although Thor does have a sense of comic timing “He’s adopted,” he is not overtly funny.

Thor: Ragnarok feels a little like Universal’s move in the late 1940’s to add comedy to their horror films. (Abbott and Costello Meet: Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman – “I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but… in a half-an-hour the moon will rise and I’ll turn into a wolf.”  “You and 20 million other guys!”) This move (to comedy) resulted in the death of the golden goose that make Universal a mint from horror and ultimately killed the genre.

The moment comedy becomes the main focus of a genre, even a “sub-genre” like comic book adaptations, the original intent is lost and the target audience drifts away. Studios have  learned, to their chagrin, that comedy in the superhero verse is a fragile thing.

Look at Suicide Squad where a clear conscious decision was made to “Marvel-ize” DC characters. The end result was a mess and lacked the darkness that sets the DC verse apart from Marvel. (There are exceptions of course, but overall, the heroes in DC-land are quite dark and tortured.)

Thor: Ragnarok is a great film though despite all the comedic moments. It looks great, there are cameos galore and Karl Urban is brilliant as the “baddie” that we know will redeem himself. (Kudos also go to the beautiful and oh so talented Tessa Thompson, she has, in one role, managed to fill the spot of new female action hero that Michelle Rodriguez first introduced “way back when.”)

Cate Blanchett kills it as the God of Death “Hela” and the only downside to this entire film is the death of almost all of Thor’s Asgardian cronies. Although Lady Sif is spared a grizzly death as she is oddly absent in this latest adventure in the Asgardian verse…

The interactions between Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor are brilliantly funny and the director’s playing of the gladiator “rock” creature is nearly sublime. All these moments add up to a film that is fun to watch and one that the audience clearly enjoyed. 

There was, however, too much comedy and it does feel as though this particular brand of franchise may be losing steam. Thor: Ragnarok is, despite the overused comedic element, a full 5 star film. There is enough action to satisfy and the FX are, as usual, spot on.

This is a film that deserves to be seen in the cinema and it is highly recommended that Marvel (and Thor) fans rush to catch it before the DVD and streaming stage. We enjoyed the film immensely although there was that sense of unease at the amount of comic circumstance that seems too much like Universal’s death blow to 1930’s and ’40’s horror. (“You and 20 million other guys!”)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016): ‘Up’ Meets ‘The Fugitive’ (Review)

Adapted from Barry Crump’s 1997 book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Taika Waititi (Boy, Green Lantern), who not only wrote the screenplay but directed the feature as well, The Hunt of the Wilderpeople is a funny and touching “buddy film” between two generations and races. The film is, in essence, Disney’s  Up meets The Fugitive, meets Thelma and Louise and is quite easily the best film of 2016.

Ricki (Julian Dennison) is a 12 year old Maori boy who has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. Finally, he is sent to live with Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband Hec (Sam Neill). His new home is right near the Bush and it seems, at long last, that Ricki has found his place in life.

Unfortunately fate has other plans as Bella dies right after Ricki’s 13th birthday. Ricki wants to stay with the curmudgeonly, and illiterate, Hec but Child Services agent Paula (Rachel House) is determined to find the young juvenile delinquent a new home.

Hec and Ricki go on the run. The unlikely duo lead the police on a merry chase through the New Zealand bush and the film follows their adventures and their bonding process.

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is, quite simply, the best film to come out of 2016. Sadly, as it is a “foreign film” it cannot compete for the category of Best Movie when the Oscars roll around. Regardless of this fact, the film should pull in best film in the World Cinema category.

At first glance, Waititi, who has a cameo role as the minister, has given us a splendid buddy film where two similar but different characters learn from one another as they flee the authorities. Delving deeper, however, reveals a coming of age film as well.

In the film, Ricki is not the only person who grows,  his “uncle” Hec also changes from a monosyllabic grumpy loner to a caring parent to a boy who has, until now, identified more with the “gangster” life than that of a “normal” child.

Not having read the book that the film is based upon, it is not clear whether the elements from the Disney film are there or not.  There are direct correlations between the two movies though.

Hec, taking the part of Carl Fredericksen, is lumbered with Ricki, who is the Russell in this scenario. Hec loses his wife, like Carl, and he too is reluctant, initially, to travel with Ricki (Russell.)

There is a rare bird in both films, although in Waititi’s film the creature is not a form of comic relief, and the two males bond through their experiences out in the bush (jungle).

While there are many parallels between the two films, Waititi, or Crump, have also interwoven the Child Services Agency official Paula;  a comic Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), into this tale. 

Despite her cry of “No child left behind,” Paula really seems to have it in for Ricki, who she describes as a delinquent. Every time the official talks about the Maori boy she references his crimes and not his many foster home moves.

The chase scenes in the film almost seem to be a nod to the climatic end of Thelma and Louise but the last minute dodge by Ricki, who drives the get away vehicle could be lifted from Kim Jee-Woon’s 2009  The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

Waititi makes the most of his material and gives us, as well as the nods and winks to other films, a nigh on perfect film.  It is comedy with a touch of pathos and at least two scenes where tissues are required to stem the unexpected flow of tears. Ricki’s constant quest for toilet paper is very funny.

The director also manages to produce more laughs per square inch of film than any other movie on offer in 2016.

Neill and Dennison have a brilliant onscreen chemistry and together they are beyond brilliant. House is spot on as the OTT officer who chases the two men across the country. Te Wiata is excellent as the loving and slightly eccentric Bella and the whole cast bring something to the table in this New Zealand offering.

The scenery is breathtaking, as it would be, this is, after all, where The Lord of the Rings was filmed. (One comic moment has Ricki alluding to the film.) Cinematographer Lachlan Milne makes every frame count.

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople has a message that equates to love being the answer to helping kids on the wrong path to get straight. Whether this is true or not, it should be, and by the end of the film, we believe it.

This is a full 5 star film.  It may sound somewhat trite and be a bit of a cliche, but  Hunt for the Wilderpeople hits every single mark. It will make you laugh, think and cry.

Taika Waititi has given us an example of New Zealand cinema at its finest, do not miss this one.