My 10 Favorite Things about Thor: Ragnarok

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When Thor: Ragnarok came out a couple of weeks ago, I treated myself to seeing it on opening night. I enjoyed it so much! It was a weird feeling, because I really wasn’t looking forward to it or expecting much and then it surprised and delighted me. I love it when that happens! It’s a welcome contrast to earlier this year when I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a movie that I had been desperately anticipating, and ended up being underwhelmed.

 

Thor: Ragnarok definitely isn’t perfect, but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to nitpick and complain about movies, because well, I’ve never made a movie. It looks like it’s pretty hard, and whenever people make an effort to write, direct, act, edit, score, photograph, etc, I like to respect that effort. A movie has to be pretty bad for me to declare it unwatchable (like, Soul Plane bad). Thor: Ragnarok is definitely way more than watchable, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a movie apologist. The story is actually pretty simple, but the writing of the characters is so strong that it makes the plot points seem much richer. It’s a superhero movie that seems committed to exploring personal relationships and personal growth, and I’m down for that.

 

I’ve made a list of all the reasons I liked the movie so much. Beware, there be spoilers ahead! (Come on though, dude, it’s been two weeks. Why haven’t you seen it yet?)

 

  1. Taika Waititi: I keep hearing this name and wondering, “Who is this guy?” Now I know who this guy is, and he seems pretty awesome. Coincidentally, I just saw “What We Do in the Shadows” for the very first time several weeks ago. Watching that movie, I couldn’t believe how insanely funny and creative and perfect it was. I also couldn’t believe how much I fell in love with Taika Waititi’s character, Viago the vampire dandy. Waititi co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in that movie, so it had his personality all over it, the same personality that comes through in Ragnarok. He’s hilarious and heartfelt, scattered and clever, masterful and silly. Also, it’s refreshing to see another brown person get to make their voice heard in Hollywood, especially on such a huge project for one of the major studios. You go dude!

 

  1. Fuck You Sky Beam! We all love watching our favorite heroes from comic books and cartoons come to life on the big screen, but we are all sick to death of the same formulaic plot that ends in the same predictable boss battle that features the same blue energy beam shooting up into the sky. Enough already with the sky beams! Choosing to step away from the act three sky beam big bad showdown is a risky choice, but a necessary one. You need cool fight scenes, but you also need originality and genuine stakes. Ragnarok successfully subverts the sky beam while still satisfying my appetite for kick-ass punching, flipping and sword-clanging. The climax and resolution in act three feel fitting for the story and like a new and brave choice for a superhero movie.

 

  1. Cool Villainess: Ever since Tom Hiddleston first joined the MCU, people have been talking about how Loki is clearly the best comic book movie villain in a landscape peppered with baddies with vague motivations and paper-thin personalities. As usual, Loki shines and delights in this movie, but he’s not the main antagonist. That job goes to Cate Blanchett’s Hela, and she is magnificent. I knew she was a good bad guy, because I was definitely rooting for her to win for a few minutes there (just a few minutes, it’s hard to root for the slaughter of innocent civilians). She had what good villains need, what they’re often lacking: a relatable backstory, rational motivations, and an actual personality. What drew me to her was the sense that she just really enjoyed being bad. She seemed to savor causing death and destruction and that made her mesmerizing.

 

  1. Bromance (or maybe more like Brenemies): Remember that God-awful movie that came out last August, I think it was called something like Suicide Squad? One of the most cringe-inducing moments of that cinematic disaster was when the fire dude (I don’t even remember his name) declared that he’d already lost one family and he wasn’t going to lose another. Dude, you’ve known each other for all of a few days, and all of you are cold-blooded criminals. You want me to believe that you bonded that hard that quickly!? You barely even had any conversations! What!? Contrast that to the relationship between Thor and Loki in Ragnarok. Watching the dynamic between them resonates so hard with anyone who has a sibling, cousin, play-cousin, or really close friend who becomes like family. You learn their quirks, their failings, their strengths and their weaknesses. Sometimes you support them, sometimes you fail them and sometimes you rescue them. Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth really portray the relationship of brothers who are locked in a vicious sibling rivalry but also can’t help but care for one another, because in the end, no one knows you like your sibling.

 

  1. Refugees: So a little over a month ago, Trump capped refugee resettlement in the US at 45,000 for 2018. Just for context as to how terrible that is, in the almost 40 years that a US refugee admissions program has existed, the quota has never been lower than 67,000. Trump has done this at a moment of crisis when the number of refugees is astronomical. There are 65 million people displaced worldwide, a number that the UN calls “unprecedented”. The big kicker is that no one admitted into the US as a refugee since the program started in 1980 has ever committed a fatal act of terrorism in the US. No One. Nada. Zip. Zero. Refugees are not committing acts of terror in the US! What they are doing is struggling to survive in camps, makeshift housing, wartorn areas and ravaged lands. They need stable homes, jobs, medical attention, nutritious food, clean water, which are all things we have in abundance here in the US. Which is why it really doesn’t make sense that we’ve decided to turn our backs on people we could help who mean us no harm.

 

“Um, Wednesday, I thought this was a listicle about a comic book movie. Why do you have to make this all political?”

 

Shut up! People (mostly black and brown people) are suffering and being oppressed and all of us are complicit! The least you can do is read about it in this stupid comic book movie listicle. Then go donate some money to Sea-Watch, because people actually are drowning refugees on purpose. Like, nightmare, hellscape shit is happening to refugees at the very second that you’re reading this.

 

Okay, now I’ll bring it back around. Spoilers Begin! Thor: Ragnarok ends with Asgard being destroyed in a fiery battle between Hela and some smoldering lava demon dude. It’s cool, though, because Thor and co. manage to get all the Asgardian civilians onto a big ‘ole spaceship and out of danger before everything goes boom. It’s not cool, though, because now the Asgardians have no home. At the end of the movie they’re all huddling on the ship, trying to decide what to do next, and Thor is like, “Let’s go to Earth!” Do you know what that makes the Asgardians? It makes them refugees! Through no fault of their own, their home was destroyed by violence. They had two choices: stay and die a terrible death or flee in the hopes of building a new life elsewhere.

 

It really struck me that this movie was a positive portrayal of a refugee situation at a time when a lot of rich, powerful white guys are doing their darndest to demonize refugees. Something else interesting is that the Asgardian citizens are portrayed by mostly white actors and actresses. Being a Marvel movie, Ragnarok will be seen by a large swath of the American population, including bigots, er, I mean Trump supporters. My hope is that the image of a bunch of white people seeking shelter as refugees will penetrate the skulls of some people and drive home the message that, “Oh, a refugee could look like me. Refugees could be anyone. I could be a refugee one day. Refugees are just like everyone else! We should help them!” Even if those refugees are a race of god-like aliens stranded aboard a spaceship, it still feels timely and topical. Spoilers End!

 

  1. You Win Some, You Lose Some: Things are, like, really aggressive you guys. Mass shootings keep happening. Nuclear tensions are rising between the US and North Korea. A war-fueled famine is killing people in Yemen. I keep having to break up fights between 8-year-olds at work. It’s a tough world out there, and the rule seems to be that might makes right. As someone who is not powerful in any sense of the word (physically, economically, mentally, politically), I really just wish that everyone would try to get along, because I’m not trying to become collateral damage. It seems like the cause of a lot of bloodshed is the fact that people just won’t back down. We have to prove how tough we are. We have to be dominant. We have to emerge victorious. Superhero movies are some of the main culprits when it comes to perpetuating this narrative. The good guys always have the biggest bombs and the fastest spaceships. Even if they take a hit, they always recover and vanquish the bad guys. To do good, to be a hero, you have to be the strongest, you always have to keep fighting. Well, it’s not so in Ragnarok, and it’s refreshing. Throughout the movie, when faced with a challenge Thor rises to it and when other characters question why he insists on persevering he simply says, “Because that’s what heroes do.” Spoilers Begin! During the movie’s final showdown, Thor admits that there is no way he can overpower Hela. Physically, she is completely capable of decimating him, and there’s nothing he can do about it. Instead of continuing a fruitless battle that would probably kill him he assesses what’s the most important in the situation: saving innocent lives and then GTFO (getting the fuck out)! Not only does he admit defeat and turn tail and run, he also gives the villain exactly what she wants. He surrenders Asgard to Hela…after unleashing a demon on Asgard that he knows Hela will fight, destroying herself, the demon and Asgard in the process. Thor gives up. Thor loses. Thor retreats. In doing so, he rescues the civilians of Asgard and saves his own life. I would also like to point out that Thor is no less of a bad-ass masculine beefcake for having done so. Hmm, it’s almost as if being a man doesn’t have to be synonymous with never ever having a moment of weakness. Sometimes in life you get overpowered. Sometimes in life you lose face. Sometimes being a hero is just making the best of a bad situation, even if the end result is kind of shitty. Spoilers End!

 

  1. The soundtrack makes me nostalgic for the 80s even though that is physically impossible as I was born in 1990.

 

  1. Thor and the Hulk (not Bruce Banner) as roommates is magnificent and needs to be a sitcom right now. Fuck Young Sheldon.

 

  1. I really thought the black guy was going to get killed, but he lived! Way to go, Idris Elba! Is this a spoiler? I don’t think it really counts as a spoiler. Guys, Idris Elba’s character lives…and he’s black.

 

  1. After I watched The Silence of the Lambs, I never thought that I would be able to watch Sir Anthony Hopkins on screen and not be afraid of him. Without Thor: Ragnarok, I never would’ve overcome my fear of Sir Anthony Hopkins. He’s totally, like, an encouraging dad in this movie. He doesn’t cannibalize anyone.

 

So, there you have it! An entirely too long listicle about why you should go see Thor: Ragnarok! Brevity is not my strong suit!

 

K, thx, bye!

 

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A Penchant for Darkness

I’m really sad, guys!

“But, Wednesday, aren’t you always sad?”

Shut up! I’m extra sad right now, more than my normal levels of sad.

The spooky season is officially over, and it’s a real tragedy. The month of October is my absolute favorite time of year.

To cheer myself up and to perpetuate the idea that every day of the year can be a spooky day, I’ve decided to post this essay about why I love scary things so much. Stereotypically, it all started with a formative experience in my childhood:

I love horror movies. I absolutely love them. For all of my childhood, though, I was terrified of horror movies. Well, it was like I felt a terror that wasn’t quite mine. I had adopted my mom’s terror of horror movies, and it was covering up my true love of all things eerie and spooky.

It’s hard to explain why I love scary stuff. People who detest horror seem to have the moral high ground. They talk about how the depictions of violence are disgusting and how it’s creepy to be so gleeful about slaughter, even if it’s fictional and campy. They might be right, because when I have to come up with an explanation for why I love horror so much I can’t come up with anything much more substantial than, “I like the thrill.” I guess I find horror inherently fascinating.

So anyway, I was three-years-old, and the TV was on in our living room. My mom was watching the news or something, and when it went to commercial a horror movie trailer came on the television. The film being advertised was “Ghost in the Machine”. As the trailer played, complete fear filled my poor little body. I had never seen anything so frightening, and in my memory that trailer is the scariest horror movie trailer that has ever been made. I started screaming and crying, and my mom rushed in to snatch me away from the mean, old horror movie trailer and comfort me. Afterwards, she was extremely miffed that the television network would play a horror movie trailer during the dinner hour when young children would be watching TV with their families. This was the beginning of a trend that would last for my entire childhood. Shows like Goosebumps, Bone Chillers and Are You Afraid of the Dark would come on, and I would immediately flip the channel. I wasn’t allowed to watch those shows, and even if I had been allowed I would have been too scared to dare. Underneath my obedient fear, though, was a rabid and unsatisfied curiosity. Just what was it that was so forbidden and terrible about the horror genre? I wasn’t quite ready to admit to myself that I wanted to know.

When I got a little older I would desperately question my classmates about the plots of horror movies that they had watched. “What happened then? How did they get killed?” I would query hungrily. I didn’t know why I needed to know, but I just knew that my parents would never allow me to watch a horror movie, that I did not get invited to the kinds of cool sleepovers where horror movies were watched, and that there was a deep need inside of me that was satisfied only by chilling tales.

My first taste of horror came with the Disney Channel show, “So Weird”. It was a show about an unbelievably cool teenage girl who investigated a different paranormal phenomena every episode. The main character was named Fi, short for Fiona, (unbelievably cool name) who toured around the country with her rock star mom (unbelievably cool life), and everywhere they went Fi encountered unearthly occurrences. I was hooked from the first episode that I saw. Seeing as how it was on the Disney Channel, though, it was pretty tame fare.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m in high school. My best friend, Lisa (who is still my best friend) absolutely loves horror movies. She has accepted the sacred and imperative duty of baptizing me into the church of spooky shit, and at a sleepover at her house I watch my first two horror movies: The Village and the shitty remake of Thirteen Ghosts starring Tony Shalhoub. Yeah, yeah, I know. The Village is a weird-ass disappointment that starts out as a horror movie but then morphs into one of M. Night Shyamalan’s countless exercises in stroking his own ego. Thirteen Ghosts contains a flagrant example of the hip-talking, street-smarts-providing, black horror movie character, but at least it doesn’t add insult to injury by killing her off. Even though these definitely aren’t the best that the horror movie genre has to offer, they were enough to get me hooked. I think what really reached into my mind and pulled me in, was that fact that after a lifetime of having my mom tell me that horror movies were horrible and gross, I watched a couple and nothing bad happened. I wasn’t possessed by the devil. I wasn’t so scared that I died of a heart attack on the spot. I actually enjoyed myself. I could experience the exhilaration of thrills and chills while remaining safely snuggled on a couch with a friend. I was an exuberant convert. I loved horror movies.

My mom was not thrilled at the change. Throughout my youth and still to this day, when a horror movie trailer comes on the television she flips the channel and bemoans how dark and gory Hollywood has become. When the leaves start turning she dreads the proliferation of grisly rubber masks in store aisles and chilling TV spots. This isn’t such a surprise, though. My mom is a devout Christian, and when I was a kid we attended churches that held sanitized “harvest celebrations” where “satanic” Halloween costumes were forbidden and “Biblical” costumes were encouraged as an alternative to trick-or-treating. Even as a small child, I had the innate sense that being taken to the “harvest celebration” dressed as an angel rather than dressing up as a witch and extorting candy from strangers was unacceptably pathetic. Even the candy at the “harvest celebration” didn’t taste quite as good. When the Harry Potter books, one of the best-written and most valuable and edifying pieces of children’s literature ever created, came out, the church we were attending at the time denounced the series as promoting witchcraft, and my parents forbade me from reading them. The censorship went so far that when in middle school a friend of mine lent me the wonderful fantasy book by Garth Nix, Sabriel, about a young girl who comes from a long line of necromancers, my parents confiscated it from my room without telling me and only returned it when I asked if they had seen it, with strict instructions to give it back to my friend without reading it. This level of worry may seem ridiculous (it certainly does to me now), but this was the era when many parents (including my own) harbored very real and very inaccurate fears that Dungeons and Dragons was really satan worship in disguise.

My parents, especially my mom, were hell-bent on keeping me away from any media having to do with darkness, mysticism, gore, the supernatural and the occult. Ironically, as I grew, my fascination with these subjects only increased. I’ll never forget begging my mom to take me to my absolute favorite store, Hot Topic, and then totally regretting it when she began fretting over the fact that there were skulls all over everything and books that actually purported to contain magical spells for sale. With great concern, she wondered why I seemed to have “a penchant for darkness”. I could only respond with extremely teenage eye rolls. She wasn’t wrong, though. I did have an undeniable penchant for darkness, and I wanted to foster it.

By this time, I had completely thrown myself into my love of horror. Halloween was (and still is) my and Lisa’s favorite holiday. We spent the whole month of October planning our costumes. Lisa began working at local haunted houses. During my sophomore year of high school, I hosted a Halloween party at my house. My mom was aghast when I insisted on renting The Ring for my friends and I to watch at the party. She couldn’t believe that I was bringing a horror movie about supernatural forces that go around killing people into her house, and we actually argued about it. It was as if she thought that evil spirits were hiding on the rental store DVD, waiting to be carried into a house where they could leap off and curse the inhabitants. I won the argument, and The Ring was enjoyed at the party. After the TV screen had gone dark, and my friends and I lay snuggled in our sleeping bags on the floor of my pitch black living room I raised my voice in a sinister whisper. “Hey guys, what if the TV turned on right now, and it was just static, and we couldn’t turn it off?” “Shut up!” one girl cried out, frightened and perturbed. Gleefully, I complied with her request. Now that I had gotten over my own fear and become a devotee of all things horror, it was my joy to proselytize and terrify others.

The best moment came two months later, on New Year’s Eve of 2015. Lisa’s older sister worked as the night clerk at a hotel in town, and for the holiday Lisa and I were allowed to spend the night all by ourselves in a room…with Lisa’s mom sleeping just down the hall to keep an eye on us, but it still felt like we were super grown ladies, living large and partying the night away. We had not one, but two, rented DVDs, Scream and Chicago, and all of the snacks from the Wal-Mart snack aisle that our pubescent hearts could desire. Watching Scream was like a revelation, it was an awakening for my soul to how much I could actually love something, especially when I shared something culturally significant with a loved one. Lisa had seen Scream countless times before, but this was my first time. Scream was everything that we loved, it was snarky, it was funny, it was mysterious, it was funny, it was sexy, it had a quirky best friend, the slaughter was creative and not too gratuitous in its bloodshed. Lisa had a huge crush on Matthew Lillard, and I really wanted to go to the kind of house party where I could sit around with attractive people in their mid-20s pretending to be high school students and drink alcohol while Jamie Kennedy explained the rules of horror movies to me. That New Year’s Eve when we watched Scream became one of those legendary nights of my youth where I remember feeling a contentment and joy so pure and so distinct, because it is possibly inaccessible to me in my adulthood. Lisa sharing the miracle of Scream with me became part of the mortar that binds together the bricks in the fortress of our friendship, just like all of the poetry slams that we went to together and all of the crab rangoon that we shared. We chased away the post-Scream chills with a screening of our second DVD, Chicago (we also loved musical theatre) and then spent the rest of the night reminiscing about the past year, planning for the coming year, and snuggling in the warmth of friendship that deepens into a familial bond.                

It’s weird, but when I watch a really good horror movie, underneath the thrills and chills, it’s almost like it touches something warm and fuzzy deep down inside of me. It seems counterintuitive, but horror movies mean comfort to me. They signal the close drawing in of the brisk, golden days of fall, the time spent huddling with loved ones in fuzzy blankets, sipping something sweet and spicy. When we watch horror movies, we immerse ourselves in a world of deep fantasy. There may not be magical swords or time-traveling telephone booths, but the glee that I get from watching Michael Myers stalk Jamie Lee Curtis, is similar to the glee I feel when Legolas and Gimli fight together to defend Helm’s Deep.

If I’m really honest with myself about why horror movies are so sacred and core to my identity, it’s because I really do have a “penchant for darkness”. When my mom said that about me, she definitely didn’t mean for it to be taken as a positive attribute. She wanted to exorcise the shadows from my soul and leave behind a child who was holy and obedient, who loved going to church and listening to gospel music and memorizing scriptures. I was never going to be that child, though. For awhile I felt bad about that, but I think I’m turning into someone who would rather embrace darkness. Maybe that’s why I’m not a Christian anymore. At the core of them, the Abrahamic religions are about a cosmic battle between a force of pure good and a force of pure evil. Everything is very cut and dry. If you don’t emphatically declare yourself a follower of the things that are good and light, you are automatically doomed to be consumed by all that is base and dark. As I grew, I felt myself constantly being marked as sinful and wrong for following my natural proclivities. I wanted to be righteous and good, but it just wasn’t in my nature, and I felt drowned in shame because of this. Finally, I had to wonder, what was the point of always trying to be good when deep down I was hungering to know all about everything I’d been told was bad. It’s hard for me to believe in one force of supreme goodness and one of supreme evil, when everywhere I look, including inside myself, I see a duality. No living thing is all good or all evil. I just don’t see how it can be so. Sometimes, things that exist on the darker side of life: demons, murders, disappearances, spirits, madness, can be morbidly fascinating and undeniably tempting. I don’t know why I’m like this, but something about darkness and horror resonates in a deep and thirsty part of myself. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I’m fascinated by the ways in which people get hurt. Ya know, with the exception of children, animals and elderly people.

One day in the recent past, out of curiousity, I looked up the trailer for Ghost In the Machine. It’s stupidly easy to find on YouTube, and it’s only about two minutes long. It’s kind of ridiculous, because even though I watched The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby without flinching, my heart started to flutter as I watched the trailer for a super cheesy horror movie from the early nineties that nobody remembers. If you need a chuckle, you can watch the trailer here. One day when I feel like I have time to waste, maybe I’ll give the whole movie a watch. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that it won’t be nearly scary enough to satisfy me.