Stay on target Sony Pictures CEO Says ‘Door Is Closed’ for Now on Spider-Man SplitMarvel Censors Criticism of America From Marvel Comics #1000 Is Thor: Ragnarok good?It’s GREAT!Really?Really.I mean… haven’t we had enough Marvel movies at this point? To the point where the fact that they tend to be on the good-to-great side is itself becoming kind of predictable?I feel like the shocking “just barely good enough”-ness of Spider-Man: Homecoming has reminded me not to take these things for granted.Fair enough. So what’s this one about?“Ragnarok” (aka “The Twilight of The Gods”) – for those of you either not from Norway or who had friends growing up – is essentially The Apocalypse in the Norse mythology that Thor and the other Asgardian characters are loosely based on; but in terms of the plot that’s sort of a misdirection: In the details, the film is mainly about Thor discovering that Loki’s covert takeover of Asgard (which happened way back at the end of Thor: The Dark World in case you forgot) and his own failure to detect this deception has left the kingdom vulnerable to invasion by Cate Blachett as Hela, a “Goddess of Death” from Odin’s earlier less-benevolent administration who swoops back in and, takes over Asgard and sets about the usual “Conquer The Universe” business after stranding Thor and Loki on Sakaar; a planet of alien gladiators run by Jeff Goldblum’s cosmic weirdo “The Grandmaster. There, they meet up with The Hulk (MIA since shooting himself into space at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron) and an AWOL Asgardian soldier called Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and must find a way to return home and stop her.That’s a lot of characters. Any standouts?Everyone is playing top game, honestly. The MVP is probably Ruffalo as Hulk, because Marvel finally takes the risk of having him actually play “The Monster” as a character rather than giving Banner all the development and dramatic beats and just using Hulk for action sequences. This wasn’t guaranteed to work, but it does and it’s like a whole new character – very reminiscent of what Peter David did with Hulk in the comics. Tessa Thompson is also a revelation as Valkyrie – but I won’t say anything about why because the character and what she does with her is so surprising and unexpected it’s best left to discover yourself. Goldblum, of course, is about as much fun as you’re expecting.How about Blanchett? This is kind of a big deal i.e. Marvel’s first female supervillain, right?She’s delightful, though you should manage expectations re: character presence. As has become an off/on trademark of the Marvel cycle when it comes to “destroy/conquer the universe” villains, her primary role is the set the plot in motion and serve as a “final boss” whose defeat will end it – NOT to drive the plot itself between those points. She’s not the most important thing in the story, basically. BUT! The film is smart enough to know that, “important” or not, Cate Blanchett all dolled up as a kind of black metal fetish idol is quite a thing to behold; so obligatory “scheming scenes” that are mainly about marking time until Thor can finish with the interesting part of the movie before he Final Battle are transformed into wild, campy one-woman-show setpieces for her to vamp around in – and it works.Huh. So it’s named after “The Actual End of The World” but it’s basically another Thor-fights-his-way-back-home adventure?Well… yes and no. It’s hard to parse out without spoilers, but it’s also kind of the point – and “meta-point” – of the whole production.Try.Well… here’s the thing. You know how there’s kind of a backlash happening now against the Marvel “formula” i.e. the movies are too funny, don’t take the material “serious enough” and thus don’t have real dramatic stakes?Assume I do.Okay. Well, part of the rea-Wait – do you agree with that as a criticism of Marvel?No, I find it kind of intellectually lazy, to be honest. It feels like deliberate misunderstanding of how narrative drama works, i.e. it’s not the heaviness of the hand, it’s how you use it: That’s how Guardians of The Galaxy Volume 2 got to be the most emotionally-resonant Marvel movie probably ever, despite being one of the “funny” ones, while the second Thor movie was so grimly serious and yet nobody really cared what happened in it. This one feels like a feature-length attempt to course-correct from that, taking the main problems with the franchise (short version: Thor himself isn’t very interesting outside of an ensemble and nobody cares about what happens in or to Asgard) and figuring out how to turn fixing those issues into a storyline.But that storyline ISN’T Ragnarok?See, the thing is, Thor has a third issue but it’s kind of an issue with the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe and really the whole of blockbuster filmmaking over the last decade or so: Global/universal survival has been “on the line” as the stakes in so many films at this point that it’s become kind of hard to care about it. The End of The World just doesn’t feel like the end of the world anymore; and Marvel’s preferred workaround for this (treat absurdly-overpowered world-ender-scale villainy like Dormammu, Ego, Hela, or [spoiler]’s master-plans as obligatory background spectacle, joke about how tiresome this routine is and put the “smaller” personal/character stakes in the foreground instead) is what get’s misunderstood as unserious or glib. Here, the fresh angle is to also make this the overarching theme of the film as well.In what sense?That would be spoiling. Suffice it to say, the film reminds us within the opening five minutes that OF COURSE “Ragnarok” (here meaning the destruction of Asgard – which is sort of the opposite of what Hela is after) is something Thor can thwart pretty easily because he’s Thor. So instead, the theme and character arc becomes about what “saving Asgard” actually means and what Thor’s role as that savior could conceivably entail. It’s another gambit, framing the inevitability of Ragnarok itself being just another pretty-but-perfunctory apocalyptic spectacle as an existential growth opportunity for Thor, but I think it pays off.So you recommend it?Absolutely. Another big winner for Marvel and a colorful, refreshingly different-feeling take on the genre. By the time it’s over, Thor, Loki, Hulk and several others feel like wholly new characters with an entirely new set of possibilities in front of them – how’s that for stakes?Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.