THOR: RAGNAROK. I've tried to find at least something to like about each addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; this has proven easier in some cases than others. By and large, the movies are entertaining, expensive looking and well acted, but they also tend toward over-length, weak plots and debilitating Chronic Seriousness. That last one has never made any sense to me but I've been moaning about it for years now, so I'll try to keep it brief. The glowering grandiosity and forced solemnity of the MCU as a whole, even shot through as it can be with off-handed sarcasm, undermines some of the inherently goofy joy of the source material — and of the very medium — from which these stories are drawn. And of all the Marvel movies, I have found Thor's to be the worst offenders. Thor (2011) and Thor: The Dark World (2013) both heave along on under-written scripts, freighted with misplaced importance and overwrought design; they make the air in a theater feel heavy. So it comes as no small, nor unpleasant, surprise that Thor: Ragnarok should be so nimble, funny and bright. (It's still too long, but that is easily forgiven).
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), having spent a couple of years wandering the universe, finds himself a prisoner of Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown), a giant, fiery demonic sort who intends to set in motion a series of cataclysmic events (Ragnarok) that will destroy Asgard. Thor puts the brakes on that plan and then heads home to check in on the family. Not surprisingly, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has made a devious power play in Odin's (Anthony Hopkins) absence. Thor takes little brother to task and the pair head to Earth to look for Dad. After a brief interaction with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), they are re-united with Odin, who informs them that there are dark, tumultuous days ahead for Asgard, embodied by Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death. She proves more than a match for Thor and Loki, and manages to shunt them to a colorful, chaotic planet called Sakaar as she ascends to Asgard to wreak havoc.
On Sakaar, a sort of galactic garbage dump presided over by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), gladiatorial combat has become the primary source of entertainment. Thor is conscripted to fight in the arena, where he must face Grandmaster's champion, the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). And then he needs to convince Hulk to help him get off-planet, recruit some willing fellow gladiators, outwit Loki in his continual double-crossing and compel Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the alcoholic Asgardian who captured him in the first place, to join him in the defense of Asgard. (It's a lot, but the plot moves along more briskly than a summary might suggest).
Thor: Ragnarok succeeds most in its avoidance of the tropes of the prior two entries. Where they were defined by darkness, it finds its identity in light and humor. This, of course, must be primarily attributed to the presence of director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, 2016; What We Do in the Shadows, 2014), a veteran of indie-comedy whom one might not have expected to be anointed and placed at the helm of one of the biggest releases of the year. But his sense of timing, his relaxed, improvisational direction of actors and his obvious glee at having access to a gigantic toy box transform a formerly burdensome property into something compelling and joyful. They are still moments in Ragnarok — primarily the Asgard-set sections — that bow to the high drama and staid design of the previous movies. They are so well-balanced by the more whimsical, imaginative elements of the story, though, that they feel wholly appropriate and of a piece. Blanchett and Goldblum excel as very different, unique sorts of villains. Ragnarok, like James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy, gives some hope that there is room for levity and fun amongst the more sullen, lumbering aspects of the MCU. PG13. 130m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS. As I recall, I like Bad Moms (2016). Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn, in particular, are compelling and often hilarious. And given the fact that I'm a sucker for Christmas movies, this seemed like an easy win. Apparently, a year between the original and the sequel wasn't enough time to actually generate a story, though, and A Bad Moms Christmas can't skate by on the charisma of its leads. Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Bell) and Carla (Hahn) are all visited by their respective moms, who have very different ideas about what a perfect Christmas should be. Each mother-daughter pair must sort out their differences, etc.
There is so little story here that a barely developed relationship between Carla and a stripper (Justin Hartley) becomes a central plot point. The movie drifts between stretched-out montages, relying on the primary cast's improv chops for its rare funny moments. Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon co-star as the moms' moms, and should all have been given an opportunity to do better, but the material just wasn't there. R. 104m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (1989). More time travel with Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, who's sent to 2015, where I would also like to be sent because holy hell, 2017. PG. 108m. BROADWAY.
DADDY'S HOME 2. Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell return as polar opposite fathers sharing holiday duties and a visit from their respective dads (John Lithgow and bearded slur machine Mel Gibson). PG13. 98m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
FULL METAL JACKET (1987). Stanley Kubrick's brutal Vietnam War drama starring Matthew Modine and Vincent D'Onofrio. R. 116m. MINOR.
GENESIS: PARADISE LOST. Documentary-style take-down of evolution and the Big Bang with 3D special effects, talking heads and a crumbling bust of Charles Darwin. PG. 130m. FORTUNA.
HUMAN FLOW. Artist Ai Weiwei's documentary tracking the travels and stories of refugees all around the world. PG13. 140m. MINOR.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Kenneth Branagh takes on the role of detective Hercule Poirot and a massive mustache for Agatha Christie's mystery on rails. With Judi Dench and a bunch of people just happy to be on a train with her. PG13. 114m. FORTUNA, MINOR.
POKÉMON THE MOVIE: I CHOOSE YOU! Trainer Ash (Sarah Natochenny) traverses Japan with his buddy Pikachu to rumble with little monsters. Ask your kids to explain it to you. NR. 112m. MINOR.
BLADE RUNNER 2049. Director Denis Villeneuve cleaves to the DNA of the original — talky and broody, but gorgeous in its decrepitude, which will surely please hardcore fans more than general audiences. With Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. R. 163m. MILL CREEK.
DELORES. Documentary about Dolores Huerta, activist and union organizer alongside Cesar Chavez, and her struggles with police violence, and raising 11 kids. Damn. NR. 95m. MINIPLEX.
JIGSAW. Still more strangers thrown together and turning on one another in a gratuitous game of random torture. Except in a horror movie instead of our national political hellscape. R. 91m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
LUCKY. The legendary Harry Dean Stanton (RIP) stars as a 91-year-old man having an existential crisis in a small, dusty town with a missing tortoise. NR. 88m. MINIPLEX.
ONLY THE BRAVE. Director Joseph Kosinski and a stellar cast (Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly) exceed disaster movie expectations in a tragic, emotionally truthful film about complicated people and relationships in a hotshot fire crew. PG13. 133m. BROADWAY.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. Miles Teller plays an Iraq War veteran struggling with guilt alongside his brain-injured squad-mate (Beulah Koale). Written and directed by Jason Hall, the movie never quite rises to the significance of its subject. R. 108m. BROADWAY.
TYLER PERRY'S BOO 2: A MADEA HALLOWEEN. Perry pulls the wig back on as the mouthy matriarch in a slasher send-up set at a haunted campground. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY.
VICTORIA AND ABDUL. An aging Queen Victoria (Judy Dench) bonds with Indian clerk Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who becomes her adviser, tutor and confidante. PG13. 111m. BROADWAY.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill