Superheroes big & small
'Thor' fun but forgettable, while 'Wonder' delivers on name

Superheroes big & small

Jacob Tremblay, as Auggie, with his mother, played by Julia Roberts.

Willie Krischke - 11/30/2017

Thor: Ragnarok” tries to be as glib and irreverent as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but doesn’t quite succeed, primarily because nobody here has the comic gifts of Chris Pratt and, yes, Dave Bautista. (Thinking about Bautista’s monosyllabic, simple-minded, violence-loving Drax just makes me realize how short Hulk falls here.) But points for the effort. Ragnarok embraces an outrageously cheesy ’80s space opera aesthetic, which makes it fun to watch, even when nothing all that interesting is happening on the screen – which, surprisingly, is most of the time.

In one of the funniest (and most Waititian) scenes of the movie, Thor uncovers Loki’s deception; he’s not dead. Instead, Loki is pretending to be Odin in Asgard, staging homages to himself, while Odin is in a surprisingly peaceful exile. Then Odin dies. Hela, the evil older sister, is revealed, and Thor and Loki must battle her to save Asgard. Except they get waylaid on a weird garbage planet ruled by Jeff Goldblum, and Thor has to fight Hulk in a Roman Coliseum type arena. 

Mark Ruffalo gets to have more fun as Hulk here than he’s ever been allowed to have, portraying him as sort of a teen-age jock who doesn’t really know what to do with himself when he’s not on the playing (or fighting) field. Personally, I’ve never really enjoyed Hulk storytellers that decide to make Hulk a separate personality from Banner, essentially two people fighting over one body. I’d rather see Hulk as Banner’s worst self, his lizard brain taking over, than as a tragically trapped personality inside Banner’s body. But, I can understand how that creates more narrative possibilities, even as it creates ethical problems that most superhero readers/watchers (perhaps rightly) just don’t want to think about.

That’s my biggest problem, though, with “Thor: Ragnarok” and, increasingly, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I like to geek out, and by that, I mean I like to think and talk (and write) about movies, especially movies like this. But increasingly, Marvel movies are plenty of fun to watch, but aren’t fun to think about. They are approaching disposable sci fi flicks like “Jupiter 

Ascending” or “John Carter;” fun, funny and forgettable. “Wonder,” based on the novel by RJ Palacio, is the story of August Pullman, aka Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), who was born with severe facial deformity. He has endured countless surgeries in order to be able to live a somewhat normal life. Auggie is about to start fifth grade, and though he’s been homeschooled up to this point, his parents have enrolled him in a private middle school.

“Wonder” is also the story of his family, made up of his stubborn but tender mother (Julia Roberts) his goofy dad (Owen Wilson) and his long-suffering sister Via (Izabela Vidovic). Together, they will need to navigate the turbulent waters of middle school along with Auggie – but Via, especially, has her own life to live, and struggles to offer her brother (and mother) the love and support they need without feeling forgotten and invisible. Vidovic really stands out, and I’d guess that, after this film, she will be offered many roles in the next few years. She reminds me a little of a young Carey Mulligan.

The school is run by the endlessly patient and compassionate Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin), and employs a couple of ridiculously good-looking teachers (Ali Liebert and Daveed Diggs) who do their best to look out for Auggie, without stigmatizing him further. Tushman brings in a 

couple of kids to show Auggie around the school and give him a couple of familiar faces on the first day. But they make a colossal error of judgment in including Julian (Bryce Gheisar) in that group. Julian is a spoiled rich kid and the school bully, and everyone seems to know that but Mr. Tushman. The other kids are nicer to Auggie, especially

Jack (Noah Jupe, another face I expect we’ll see more) who becomes Auggie’s best friend. But then there is a misunderstanding involving Halloween costumes, and Auggie wonders if everyone’s just being nice to him because they’ve been asked to be.

Granted, there are a number of things you can do on the page that don’t necessarily translate to the screen. For instance, Auggie’s deformity is not described until at least a third of the way through the book, which has the effect of normalizing his appearance – we don’t know what he looks like, we only know how he is treated by others. But Tremblay’s heavily made-up face is right there in the trailers. Also, you can’t change perspectives from character to character the way the book does, at least not without making a film that is much artsier and less accessible than this one wants to be. Director Stephen Chbosky (who wrote his own YA novel not long ago and then made a very good movie out of it) manages these limitations as best he can, staying as close to the source material as he possibly can. This is a family movie about kindness and courage, and I just don’t think you can do that without being a little bit syrupy. But Chbosky keeps that to a bare minimum, and the depth of Palacio’s characters comes through pretty clearly. The result is a heartwarming tearjerker that you probably shouldn’t watch if you’re feeling cynical. But can I make a suggestion? Per-

haps “Wonder” could become perennial Thanksgiving weekend viewing. Releasing it in theaters this week feels like a marketing stroke of genius. After all, this is the beginning of the season when we intentionally celebrate kindness, family and, well, wonder. And we have a higher tolerance for syrup and sentimentality when we watch holiday movies. Wonder is much, much better than a lot of what passes for holiday entertainment. Though there’s nothing specifically about the holidays in “Wonder,” this is one I’d be happy to watch again next holiday season.

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