‘Thor: Ragnarok’ – a triumph for comic books

Having just seen Thor: Ragnarok, I came away with a number of differing thoughts.

One was that it was like a series of graphic novels, and took just about as long to watch as it would have to read. Secondly, was how much these fantasy films owe to George Lucas. A third, building on Lucas, is that what had been imagined or sketched out on paper, can now be created on screen. Is this a good thing for sparking the imagination?

Thor: Ragnarok is a long movie with fits and starts of humor, and lots of carnage. I am not sure if anyone who hasn’t watched the other films in Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would quite get the side jokes but the main plot is pretty straightforward. If you have a knowledge of the Norse myths – Odin All-Father, Thor, god of Thunder, Loki, god of Mischief, Hela, the goddess of Death – then you can follow along.

Like storytellers for hundreds of years, Marvel has reworked the Norse gods, first, for their comics books, and then the movies, this movie tells yet another version of the legends. Thor is noble and humorous (thank you, Chris Hemsworth), Loki is untrustworthy but always pulls through (thank you, Tom Hiddleston), and introducing Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) who pulls off an outfit sleeker than that of Cat Woman (Oops. Wrong comic universe.) Ragnarok is the foretold destruction of Asgard.

There are times in this film that you end up wishing the end of the world would come faster.

I realized roughly halfway through the film that Thor: Ragnarok had the rhythm of comic books. You could break this film up into five or six segments, all ending on cliff-hangers, and have an entire series of printed comics or television programs. I had noticed this happening in an earlier film, but now it’s far clearer.

In the early days of adapting DC and MCU comics for the screen, filmmakers didn’t have the digital means to truly recreate comic book mayhem and magic so they worked around the problem with plot and characterization.

Now they can recreate the fantasy of the comic books and they do with lots of special effects. Some times these effects seem gratuitously long to me.

Special effects bring me back to George Lucas. Known for his filmmaking, Lucas  established Industrial Light and Magic to create the digital special effects of Star Wars in 1975. ILM’s never looked back. These days, there are other special effects groups around the world (and most worked on this film from the credits), but in many ways, Lucas was the one who started it all. When you see digital cities, you’re likely reminded of Coruscant in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999). When fire is held in someone’s hand, you can go back to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince‘s sea of flame which was done by ILM. So, thank you, George Lucas, for bringing us on the silver screen what could only be created in our imagination when we read.

Is having a passive visual experience a good thing for the human imagination? I’m sure that debate will rage forever. In the past, new works sprang from reader’s imagination. Shakespeare built on an Italian story to create Romeo and Juliet. The legends of King Arthur were embellished by the monk Geoffrey of Monmouth. Hell was pretty much defined in the Middle Ages by Dante  Alighieri in his Divine Comedy, volume one, The Inferno.

Now writers’ and artists’ imaginations will be sparked by what has been created visually by others, not by what might come from within. Good or bad? Time will tell.

In the less-philosophical world, enjoy Thor: Ragnarok. Stick around for the end of the credits. It’s worth it.

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