Thor may have a mighty powerful hammer, but when it comes to the Marvel stand-alones, it always seemed like he got the short end of the stick. Thor movies were never as flashy as Iron Man or as endearing as Spider-Man or grew in intensity like the Captain America trilogy. They were dull, indecipherable, a chore to watch. (Serious question: Ever seen a Thor film multiple times?) Now, like a clap of Nordic thunder, here comes Thor: Ragnarok. Consider it a welcome and downright zany burst of comedic energy. Thor 1.0 grumbled as he saved the world; Thor 2.0 makes small talk with a skeleton to pass the time.
Say bye to star Chris Hemsworth’s long glorious blond mane. Say hi to a healthy dose of Led Zeppelin music and a neon color palette straight out the My Little Pony movie. The psychedelic sensibility is so off the charts that when Thor is guided through an off-kilter new planet, we hear the musical score of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. And this doesn’t seem weird at all.
His latest adventure is as ridiculous as ever — though blessedly easy to comprehend. Thor and his sinister adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) have a long-lost sister named Hela (Cate Blanchett). Their pops (Anthony Hopkins) banished her because she’s so dangerous. It has a little something to do with the fact that she’s the goddess of death. Fun! After [redacted], she’s unleashed into the universe. Hela, who looks like a cross between the Maleficent and Elvira, is stronger than Thor. (Ragnarok, by the way, means end of days. Hint, hint.) First order of business: Kick her younger bro over to Planet Sakaar.
This is where Thor: Ragnarok splits in two. Hela takes over her home of Asgard and blithely kills anyone that stands in her way. As Marvel’s first female villain(!), a vamping Blanchett relishes her inner-darkness. I just wish she had the power to give herself more screen time. There’s just not much of a role. Meanwhile, Thor tries to plot his escape from the Planet Sakaar. To do that, he’ll have to go through the kooky Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, of course).
The irreverent, ultra-droll Sakaar section is like a Hunger Games movie on helium. I hope the Thor: Ragnarok Blu-Ray includes a behind-the-scenes featurette in which New Zealand director Taika Waititi (helmer of the vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows) tells Goldblum, “Ok, now you’re going to turn this helpless man into a puddle of sticky blue goo. Then you’re going to step in the blue goo and be repulsed. But make it hilarious. Aaaand action!” Tessa Thompson (Creed) is also gem as a hard-drinking warrior with a past on Ankar. She’s mighty kick-ass. Don’t ask her to give up the bottle.
Hemsworth is the real star, showing off his delightful and witty comedic chops. (Last year’s Ghostbusters reboot was just a warm-up. The 2015 remake of Vacation was a waste.) His Thor is self-deprecating, yet he refuses to turn the superhero into a pathetic joke. The man always has his dignity, even when he’s being pummeled into submission. And with Jane (Natalie Portman) out of the picture, he now has the opportunity to work on the love-hate relationship with the most important person in his life: Loki. Their chemistry is magic.
The film never strays too far from the Marvel formula, though. There’s a fight every 15 minutes, leading up to an explosive and destructive battle that lasts well more than twenty. Check off the Stan Lee cameo box, as well as the post-closing credits tag. And yes, a few familiar faces pop up — including Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk/Bruce Banner. (It’s in the trailer!) The appearances are effective to various degrees. If you like to see Hulk get angry, you’re golden.
But for all the jokes, the tonal shifts aren’t necessarily smooth. A death has little resonance. Hela kills people by the hundreds. An army falls to piece in the snap of her evil fingers. is it OK to laugh when she then goes on to mock the furniture in the palace? Now that the franchise has taken a decisive turn for the fun, I guess the answer is yes. Enjoy hammer time.
(Thor: Ragnarok opens Friday, November 3)
Also published on Medium.