Thor: Ragnarok is startlingly good, Meyerowitz Stories gives laughs laced with pity

Chris Hemsworth plays the god of thunder in Thor: Ragnarok. The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) stars Ben Stiller (far left) and Adam Sandler.
Chris Hemsworth plays the god of thunder in Thor: Ragnarok. PHOTO: DISNEY-MARVEL STUDIOS
Ben Stiller (left) and Adam Sandler star in the original Netflix movie The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected). PHOTO: NETFLIX
Ben Stiller (left) and Adam Sandler star in the original Netflix movie The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected). PHOTO: NETFLIX

Thor: Ragnarok sees the hero fighting a banished sister, while The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) centres on adult children competing for their father's love

Who would have guessed it? By stripping away everything that made the last two Thor movies mediocre - the insincere romcom, the sub-par Lord Of The Rings lore, the bloated battle scenes - the third movie is startlingly good entertainment.

Thor: Ragnarok (PG13, 130 minutes, opens tomorrow, 4 stars ) is a back-to-basics hero story. The god of thunder loses almost everything that propped up his character in the previous films, including the hammer Mjolnir, realm-spanning bridge Bifrost and father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

The cause of his downfall is Hela, a banished sister who has come back as a seething figure of vengeance. Cate Blanchett plays her in the delicious manner one would expect, as Angelina Jolie's Maleficent but with an injured hauteur that is all Blanchett's.

Early Thor, as played by Chris Hemsworth, suffered from the same character issues that plague Captain America and Wonder Woman - he was a figure of principle in a world without any. It is a set-up that allows for lazy "dumb foreigner" jokes.

This time, Hemsworth plays Thor, less as the boy scout and more the beer-swilling warrior-god he was meant to be.

Gone is the bad boyfriend-tortured son persona to which he had been shackled. Now, he's just a bloke who had to break out of an alien gladiator camp using his wits, aided by a large green friend (Mark Ruffalo).

The Marvel-Disney team let New Zealand director Taika Waititi do what he does best - make a comedy.

Waititi, the force behind the funniest, most human films of the last five years (Hunt For The Wilderpeople, 2016; What We Do In The Shadows, 2014), knows exactly what he is doing when the most grizzled, hard-drinking male figure here is female (Tessa Thompson, giving it her full Han Solo treatment as a rogue Asgardian warrior). And you don't hire Jeff Goldblum and not let him be Goldblum - the actor is at his most Goldblum-ish here, playing the Grandmaster, the gladiator-camp owner with the style of an unctuous Manhattan comedy-club emcee.

For a laugh that comes laced with pity, there is The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) (NC16, 112 minutes, now showing on Netflix, 4 stars).

It was not always so with writer-director Noah Baumbach. His past works such as The Squid And The Whale (2005) and Greenberg (2010) rested on emotions such as envy and resentment - characters, deep in denial about their lack of talent, do something to betray that fact. The camera is held steady in the deafening silence that follows.

What's the same this time is Baumbach's preoccupation with the unfairness with which talent and love are distributed in a family; what's different is how willing he turns the resulting bitterness into a punchline.

The engine here is undoubtedly Dustin Hoffman as the fretful Harold, a sculptor whose middling standing in the art world gnaws at him.

His children, born of different wives, compete for his love, but he's busy berating art critics. Adam Sandler is more than good as the lost, angry Danny, the oldest son and full-time dad living under a cloud of paternal disappointment.

Danny's sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) and half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller) and Harold's current wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) have their ways of coping with being distant planets orbiting the star Harold. Their damage makes them interesting, which is perhaps the point Baumbach is trying to make.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'Sibling rivalry'. Print Edition | Subscribe