My MCU Rewatch: Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther – On we sweep with threshing oar

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I DID IT! I watched 17 movies in a little more than a month! As someone who normally gets so bored watching TV that I fall asleep, this was a huge personal undertaking, and to be honest, kind of took over my life in the last week. But it was very worthwhile for various reasons. If you want to catrch up on the whole series, here it is. 

First off, love it or hate it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most influential and successful movie series of our times, and has inspired everything that happens in Hollywood to a huge degree. And while I often joke that Kevin Feige is a genius, he is. Maybe not in the Charlie Chaplin/Orson Welles/Miyazaki/Coen Brothers way, but no one will ever be able to do what he has done again: take a series of multimillion dollar movies and turn them into episodic television.

A lot of people are trying but they barely get the throne room door open, let alone ascend to the throne. For better or worse, this series has changed how we expect our entertainment to be.

And so to the finale before I watch AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR tonight.

THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

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DID I FALL ASLEEP? No fucking way.

DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? Mark Mothersbaugh. Cheesy arcade music mixed in with stirring Wagnerian riffs. The only person who could have done this better is Gustav Mahler.

WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: For some reason, I didn’t go see Thor: Ragnarok when it first opened. I guess I was just sick of Marvel movies. I saw it a few weeks in and then I cried because I knew it had been crowded it off the IMAX screens and I would never see it as big and loud as I wanted to see it because it is the perfect movie. The perfect movie for ME anyway. In veering between gaudy mockery and mythological end times – and selling them both – it was like a wire had been put directly into my brain to project my dreams onto the screen.

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Thor: Ragnarok is a delirious journey into magic. The magic of a filmmaker who understands that the most wonderful thing we can experience in a movie theater is to care about someone else. And when that emotion is accompanied by spectacular visuals, in-jokes and payoffs that justify my last month of movie watching, the BEST superhero on superhero battle yet, technological innovation, and Jeff Goldblum – well, you have the perfect movie.

It even has Karl Urban.

The most amazing thing about Thor: Ragnarok is that director Taika Waititi balances jokes about aliens pooping with an Asgard that is finally full of wonder and mystery. It’s a JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY. The film’s opening sequence with Surtur is as majestic as anything in the best fantasy films, with added Led Zeppelin. And then we get hardcore MCU continuity with Thor and Loki’s adventures in New York and Doctor Strange. AND THEN we get sadness as Odin dies and the final Hopkins sleep. And then, we meet Hela, the FIRST female supervillain in a Marvel Film and Cate Blanchett in a headdress straight from Jack Kirby. AND THEN we get a comedy that’s part Planet Hulk and part District 9 and part “Valkyrie is the coolest new Marvel character yet.” AND Stan Lee in a cameo that’s an important part of the story. And Jeff Goldblum doing what he does, which is the greatest thing ever. And KORG, from the cover of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY 83. AND Idris Elba’s Heimdall as Aragorn with dreadlocks leading his people to safety in Helm’s Deep. And the BEST line yet in a Marvel movie stolen from a child who visited the set. (I’m not sure I believe that.) And a Thor vs Hulk battle for the ages and the Hulk wearing pukka shells, and and …

…okay all of that and then just after you’ve laughed at Mark Ruffalo in a Nagle t-shirt complaining that Tony’s pant are cut too tight, we go BACK to the fantasy world and Thor is maimed and has to destroy his world to save it.

AND THEN HULK FIGHTS FENRIS.

I love this movie.

The only thing I can compare it to is Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer by Stephen Chow. Both of these and Thor: Ragnarok have story arcs for each and every character, no matter how minor, and similarly mix broad farce with heroic wonder without ever making you think how it’s being done.

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For instance, let’s take Skurge, played by Karl Urban. A minor character. We’ve seen “The villain’s sidekick” in EVERY MOVIE IN THIS REWATCH. But did any of them have the following dialog?

Hela: Tell me about yourself, Skurge.
Skurge: Well, my dad was a stone mason and…
Hela: Yeah. Right. Ok. I’ll just… I’ll stop you there. What I meant was what’s your ambition?
Skurge: I just want a chance to prove myself.
Hela: Recognition. 

In a few lines we have a laugh that shows how dumb Skruge is, followed by a brief exchange that makes us understand Skurge…and also shows that Hela understands humans and their dreams as well as anyone. As Hela’s dastardly deed unfold, we’re SHOWN Skurge having second thoughts about his job as executioner – he’s just a big dumb stone mason’s son who wants to get girls and fame and glory. Sure, we know he’s going to turn on Hela. But when he does, it’s in something that was set up two hours before in a scene TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM WALT SIMONSON. That is so cool.

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Although the VFX in this movie were by ILM, as usual, with their fleet of helper studios, I have a feeling that Kiwi Waititi picked up something from hanging out near WETA for half his life. Or maybe it’s just what they do in New Zealand. Thor: Ragnarok does things I haven’t seen since Peter Jackson was on form in Lord of the Rings, like the “EPIC FLASHBACK.” LOTR was full of little flashbacks to things that were only talked about in the books but seeing them (Isildur!) was pulse pounding. In Ragnarok we flash back to Valkyrie’s last stand, and it’s hypnotic and dreamlike, a window into a whole other narrative and saga that fires our imaginations. (It was also shot in a completely crazy new technology that made it look so bad ass.)

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Waititi also isn’t interested in cute. Korg and Miek could bt the Rocket and Groot or Timon and Pumbaa of Ragnarok, but Korg (voiced by Waititi) talks in an annoying whisper moan. And Miek is a slug. Apparently they are coming back, but it isn’t because they are cute.

I haven’t even mentioned how this is the FUNNIEST Thor and the BEST Loki. And the most LOVABLE Hulk. I never even GOT Tom Hiddleston until this movie. AND it manages to fit in a ton of MCU trivia and Easter eggs and call backs. (I’ll admit I didn’t remember that Thor’s “The sun’s going down” thing was a call back to Black Widow until this rewatch.)

In case I need to be more clear: Thor: Ragnarok is my favorite MCU movie. It was made JUST FOR ME, and I’m going to stick to that story.

WOULD I REWATCH: To be completely candid, I did this whole rewatch thing just to justify the fact that I bought the DVD.

BLACK PANTHER (2018)

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I’m cheating a little here since I never got a review DVD of this but I did see it twice in the theater and that was only a few weeks ago!

DID I FALL ASLEEP? When I saw this in the theater, as excited as I was, I was extremely jet-lagged after a hellish 9 hour flight, and I was in one of those recliner chairs…but I did not let myself fall asleep.

DID I LIKE THE MUSIC? Between Kendrick Lamar’s searing beats and Ludwig Goransson’s regal and propulsive horn blasts, this was pretty much ideal.

WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE: I guess I don’t have to say much more about Black Panther, since I’ve been writing about it for all of 2018. If you had told me when Marvel Studios began  12 years ago that “In 2018 a Black Panther movie will become a rallying point for how African-Americans see themselves” there is no way I could have believed it.

This is a good place to leave this series of essays/reviews. In the long journey from Tony Stark’s weapons demonstration in Iraq to the bullet trains of Wakanda, Marvel Studios has grown up. They’ve proven they don’t have to be just about making money, or being entertaining…they aren’t afraid to acknowledge that superheroes matter because they help us see the best part of ourselves, and they aren’t afraid to make a movie that matters.

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To do that, they only had to make one decision: letting Ryan Coogler make the movie he knew he had to make, to create a Wakanda as an ideal that matters to real people.

Coogler gave us a whole new galaxy of heroes and heroines to root for. And a T’Challa who is still learning how to rule and be the man he needs to be – and made us want to accompany him on that journey. And all of Marvel’s vaguely motivated villains shrivel beneath the fury of Killmonger, an adversary who finally believes in what he’s fighting for. (Bonus: They did not make Michael B. Jordan ugly.)

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And because it’s the MCU, after all, a post credits scene that lets us know that Wakanda will play a central role in Avengers: Infinity War.

I’m ready for it. Are you?

WOULD I REWATCH: I hope I get a review DVD.

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FINAL THOUGHT: After watching these 18 movies, I’m filled with admiration for the men and women who created the Marvel COMICS that inspired so many of the best moments. (And Stan Lee’s comedic timing really is great, as all his cameos proved.) But above all, the imagination of Jack Kirby shines on, in Thor and the Hulk and Groot and Black Panther and the Celestials. This one genius beyond compare. As you watch Avengers: Infinity War, think a little about Jack Kirby. Without him, you wouldn’t even be in the theater.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Ragnarok is tremendous and I’m super glad to see you found it held up the second time (I did too). It’s the live-action realization of Matt Fraction’s concept of a “Led Zeppelin III take on Thor”.

    Also, I love how Miek is constantly practicing his fighting moves in the background. More Miek!

  2. And why are these two of the very best Marvel movies? Because, like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Winter Soldier”, they are the product of singular (or, in the case of “WS”, plural, since it was two) director’s visions. They aren’t cookie-cutter formula films that fit like puzzle pieces, focus-grouped to death. That’s what makes a good movie.

  3. I actually found both of these slightly disappointing. Not bad at all, but not the great many (very intelligent) people said they were. The humor felt unbalanced in Ragnarok (as it did in GOTG2) and the wonderful political imagery of BP masked a fairly bland story. Killmonger was a villain who was more an idea than a character. (Superbly acted nonetheless.) And it was a mistake to kill Klaue even if it did advance the plot. BP did the best world building of any Marvel movie and Ragnarok is the first Thor that brought his world alive, so I really appreciate that. I’m less interested in the singular vision of directors stuff because I think all our creations are social and cooperative, not individualistic. The real question is whether they are good or not. Having rewatched many of the Marvel movies over the past year or so, I think as a whole they’ve gotten better on a lot of levels, and with Spidey, Ragnarok and BP especially in making their worlds vivid. Before that, only Guardians overcame the visual blah that has been Marvel’s norm. (Although I have appreciated the, well, not quite a critique of capitalism, but a suspicion toward it as well as its connections to military activities.) Although my expectations are still low for tonight, I think the MCU is healthier and more interesting than it was five or six years ago, and I really liked it five or six years ago. I’m interested to see where they take these characters and the worlds they are building. I just hope Infinity War ends the event comic mindset and lets the individual films focus more on stories and characters, and less upon universe building. It was exciting to see how they did that–just as it is to read ’60s Marvel–but that stuff can become a dead end, as almost every Marvel event comic since World War Hulk has shown. Great series Heidi. I hope you, and everyone (but especially me!) enjoys the movie tonight.

  4. Totally agree about Ragnarok, and am pretty happy about what it has done already in flavouring the MCU (that, and Guardians). Totally do more in the future.

    BP was the first of the non-major/really big event Marvel movies I went to the cinema for, in big part because of the reviews. Despite good visuals, action and terrific actors/characters, Shuri and women’s roles, the movie possessed qualities that I felt were uninspired and others that I really objected to. But, yes, the music was such a part of the movie that I could forget all of that when the action began, and I actually bopped along in my seat to it in this immersion in the cinema. Was bored by this movie though, and quietly sang to myself ‘Going through the motions…’ song from musical episode of Buffy; ‘ ‘cos I just want to fee-el al-ive’.

    I absolutely Priest’s and Hudlin’s respective works. Despite looking like Priest’s, the movie only achieved his level of acerbic satire with the body language/manhandling scene between between Ross and T’Challa. You actually loose so much when you know T’Challa has been sleeping/conducting a relationship with his bodyguard. That’s not the case with Priest’s establishing work, and it’s the difference between externality and nuanced and great satire, with interiority and the conventionality of what we were presented onscreen. It’s hard work to do and, like I said, this great aspect of Priest’s was rarely achieved.

    Might be problems of an origin movie, and they forced me to look at aspects of the Panther I really didn’t want to look at. The ending with BP in Manhattan/America holds an exciting amount of promise, so, good times ahead. Having seen Infinity War, the Wakandans’ role was good, so there is that.

    There was never any doubt in my mind that a lot if African-American movie professionals could make a serviceable action/comic movie that excelled. For me, this was more a conventional Marvel work.

    PS. As a bridging character, Klaw lasted almost half a movie before he was killed/ended, so that’s an improvement in the Marvel formula (in terms of, but still formula).

    PPS. Was I the only one that thought, ‘OMG, you just ripped off the Phantom Menace’ when T’Challa and Killmonger are patiently/impatiently pacing inbetween train circuit (Obi-Wan and Darth Maul).

  5. Well, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see a comic book site actually acknowledge, much less praise, Jack Kirby for his creation of the actual core of all these films (the previous post managed to talk about a Doctor Strange and a Spider-Man movie without naming Steve Ditko). Let’s see if renowned super-genius Kevin Feige is ever able to create something of even passing interest without some giant shoulders to stand on.

  6. Quoth Matthew Halteman: “And why are these two of the very best Marvel movies? Because … they are the product of singular director’s visions. … That’s what makes a good movie.”

    Generally I’d agree, but as a counterexample consider the same could be said of “Last Jedi”, which for many/most fans was a painful abomination that destroyed the Star Wars franchise in service to its director’s idiosyncratic visions and obsessions. Kevin Feige gets grief for what happened to “Ant Man”, but not every “singular vision” is a good thing!

  7. “Generally I’d agree, but as a counterexample consider the same could be said of “Last Jedi”, which for many/most fans was a painful abomination that destroyed the Star Wars franchise in service to its director’s idiosyncratic visions and obsessions.”

    Well, given that I vehemently disagree with the assertion that “TLJ” is the abomination that some (sorry, not “many/most”) believe it to be, I’m pretty confident in sticking to my guns on this. I also love “Batman v. Superman”, largely because it’s such a singular work of Zack Snyder’s vision, and not a cookie-cutter formula film.

  8. The fanboys who hated “Last Jedi” hate cinema and have an emotional age of 12. And the ones who sent death threats to Rian Johnson belong in prison.

  9. I’d say George Lucas “destroyed the Star Wars franchise” with those crappy prequels. J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy rebuilt it.

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