Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok

God of Thunder fights his villainous sister to defend Asgard in a splashy, joke-filled Marvel outing.
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No one seems to take Thor: Ragnarok seriously—not the actors, not the writers, and certainly not director Taika Waititi, whose Hunt for the Wilderpeople provides some clues about the tone here. Taking a side street from the Marvel Universe path to box-office dominance, Thor: Ragnarok coasts through a convoluted but still predictable story on the strength of its comic set-pieces and its sparkling supporting cast.

Count Jeff Goldblum chief among the movie's highlights. His Grandmaster, a sort of con-man tyrant on a planet made up of gladiator battles and heaps of debris, is an ambisexual killer without a shred of conscience. With his pauses and double-takes, Goldblum holds the rest of the cast in thrall, threatening to hijack the movie with every raised eyebrow.

Cate Blanchett isn't as lucky as Hela, Goddess of Death and half-sister to Thor, a sort of roadshow Maleficent who sprouts antlers when she's feeling frisky. Blanchett doesn't ham it up with her line readings, and physically looks trapped inside her form-fitting costume.

Some of the best lines go to Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. Missing in action since Avengers: Age of Ultron, Banner is sweetly befuddled by everything, even why Thor has suddenly appeared asking for help. "I don't want to fight your sister," he says plaintively, and part of the beauty of Ruffalo's performance is how he captures both Banner's rigorous logic and his uncertainty.

The plot has something to do with Hela fulfilling her destiny to destroy Asgard, home of the Norse gods, which she does by enslaving its people and exiling Thor (the ever-capable Chris Hemsworth) and his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). There's a fire demon, words of wisdom from Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), problems with a teleportation sword, and fleeting yeoman's work from Heimdall (Idris Elba), all of which pales next to the jokes and fights.

When it's not stealing from The Lord of the Rings, the script is busy referencing Star Wars and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, only with Vikings. And, in Tessa Thompson's case, heavy-drinking Valkyries. It's a lot of fun until Waititi tries to pull all the plot strands together. Then Thor: Ragnarok turns back into every other comic-book movie, with overbearing special effects and hints about sequels.

Even the characters mock the decor, which alternates between George Lucas tributes and Thomas Kinkade knockoffs. They also make fun of costumes, haircuts and earlier movies in the series. When The Hulk grabs Thor by the ankles and slams him into the ground, Loki jumps up and shouts, "That's what it feels like!" Mark Mothersbaugh's synthesizer-heavy soundtrack works a bit too hard to evoke a cheesy ’80s feel.

Movies like Thor: Ragnarok shrug off reviews. Fans come to check for mistakes, to make sure the Marvel universe is intact, just as much as for entertainment. The lighthearted approach Taika Waititi took gave him a little more leeway than his Star Wars peers. And in his case, Marvel gambled well.

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