The mighty Norse god Thor as played by Chris Hemsworth, has long been a fun presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but his last stand-alone film — “Thor: The Dark World,” aka, the one I’ll never willingly watch again — was arguably, the worst of the franchise, if not of any of the MCU movies.
Worse even, than “Iron Man 2,” and that’s saying a lot.
The latest, “Thor: Ragnarok,” regains its sense of wonder, and more importantly, it sense of humor, giving Thor plenty of entertaining (and often, outright hilarious) interaction with others, redeeming this particular blonde, muscular thread in the Marvel tapestry.
As foretold by a teaser scene at the end of “Doctor Strange,” Thor and his shenanigan-causing/murderous brother Loki (again played by Tom Hiddleston) have come to Earth (aka Midgard) in search of their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), whom Loki deposited here and misplaced. As it turns out, dad has quite the bombshell: The boys have an older sister, Hela, whom he never told them about.
Hela has been in space-jail (?) for eons because of her genocidal impulses, but Odin’s imminent death will free her, whereupon she is expected to return to Asgard and unleash a demon that will bring about Ragnarok, aka the Norse apocalypse (like the regular apocalypse, only blonder).
Sure enough, big sis Hela arrives, played by actual space-queen Cate Blanchett and looking every inch like the goddess of death that she is. While racing back to Asgard to protect it from her, however, Thor and Loki are knocked out of the rainbow tunnel (it makes sense if you’ve seen the movies) and land on a random junk planet called Sakaar, and run by a Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, now at the stage of his career where he starts playing himself) who befriends Loki and forces Thor to be a gladiator.
You’ll never guess who Thor’s opponent is, unless you’ve seen even one second of advertising for the movie, in which case you know it’s the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who’s been on Sakaar since he left Earth at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
The gladiator planet turns out to be a comedy goldmine in the hands of director Taiki Waititi ( “What We Do in the Shadows”) and screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost (all of them, veterans of Marvel’s TV properties). There is the Grandmaster, of course, in all his brilliant Jeff Goldblum eccentric Goldblum-ness, and his bitter assistant (Rachel House). There’s the drunk scavenger (Tessa Thompson) who first captures Thor and turns out to be a fellow Asgardian. There’s Korg (Waititi himself in a motion-capture suit), a creature made of rocks who welcomes Thor to the gladiator pen and speaks in a polite New Zealand accent. Many people are hit on the head or fall off of things, to the amusement of all. If nothing else, “Thor: Raganarok” is certainly among the funniest Marvel films.
Once Thor assembles his erroneously-named team of “Revengers” the plot follows suit as they make way to Asgard where they may, or may not, stop Hela and/or avert Ragnarok.
The set pieces and action are fine (Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” is used to great effect), the story works well enough (though it sometimes feel like the movie was made for the sole purpose of getting Thor on Sakaar, originally an element from The Incredible Hulk comics), and the outcome, while playing out mostly as one would expect, does change the status quo somewhat, so there is that.
Also, as much as Blanchett gives herself to the role of Hela, the character is yet another oddly-motivated villain without interesting dialogue or a long-term purpose, not unlike her lackey, Skurge (played by a woefully underused Karl Urban). Meanwhile, unsure what to do with a semi-reformed Loki, the film has him stick mostly to brotherly antagonization, and comic relief.
Ultimately, “Thor: Ragnarok” works as a colorful cosmic adventure featuring some of the most powerful characters in the MCU, and giving Thor the chance to show, despite the circumstances, just how funny a god of thunder can be.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is rated PG-13, a little profanity, some mild suggestive dialogue, a CGI Hulk butt, and gratuitious use of a shake weight.