Among the massive number of caped and cowled characters who make up the heroic stars in the Marvel Comics universe, Thor exists on the more somber end of the emotional scale. It makes sense; he’s the god of thunder and not the god of thunderous laughs.
That somberness has been a foundation for bringing Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to the big screen in both “Thor” (2011) and “Thor: The Dark World” (2013). There were glimpses of humor – including an almost movie killing effort by Kat Dennings in the first film – but generally, surly has surpassed silly.
That’s changed in a big way with “Thor: Ragnarok.” Thanks to the success of the comedy-heavy Marvel productions of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Deadpool” and the unbridled direction of Taika Waititi, “Thor Ragnarok” is the funniest film in the Thor franchise and it’s funnier than most of the other comic book movies that have come from the studio. Mix in a stunning new villain in Hela, as portrayed with wicked abandoned by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, and enough big action scenes to fill a half dozen movies and “Thor: Ragnarok” rocks.
There’s no doubt this is a different movie, from the opening scene where Thor is casually talking to a fellow prisoner who’s not a great conversationalist. This leads to a massive battle scene played out against the soul-pounding beat of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” Eric Pearson’s screenplay blends elements of the “Planet Hulk” storyline with the “Ragnarok” tales from the Marvel Comics lines.
Putting those two storylines together is the first of many smart moves because going strictly with “Planet Hulk” would have required a complete change in direction and would not have made this one of the oddest buddy movies ever made. Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are able to bond as they are forced to fight.
“Ragnarok” is an ancient prophecy about the destruction of Thor’s home world and the end of the Asgard civilization. That prophecy looks to be coming true when Thor and Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) sister, Hela (Blanchett), the goddess of death arrives and drives the brothers out of the home for the Norse gods. Even the all-seeing Heimdall (Idris Elba) has gone into hiding.
In Marvel mythology, there are not many heroes more powerful than Thor. But even he can’t stand up to the onslaught of Hela as Blanchett plays the character with almost invincible power and nearly pure evil. It’s another chameleon-like effort by Blanchet as she transforms herself into one of the most formidable foes to face any Marvel champion.
The film is filled with first-rate performances from Hemsworth’s continued easiness at playing either a scene for laughs or with pounding action. Hiddleston has found just the right tone for Loki; he never lets the moviegoer forget that while he can show signs of a good heart, at his core he will always be the god of mischief. Hemsworth and Hiddleston have never been given the credit they deserve because comic-book movies are not seen as serious challenges for actors. But both manage to slip into garish costumes, deliver heroic lines and fight giant creatures while still maintaining the humanity of the characters.
Even the addition of an underling for Hela in Skurge (Karl Urban of “Star Trek” fame) ends up being more than just another lackey. Urban plays this supporting role with multiple layers to make his personal journey one of the most interesting.
In contrast is Jeff Goldblum’s uninspired performance as the Grandmaster, the leader of the planet where Thor and Hulk are forced to battle. There’s nothing sinister or scary about the way Goldblum plays him. It’s just another example of Goldblum not being able to stretch beyond just being himself no matter the role. He’s is by far the weakest link in the production.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is packed from the opening sequence to the secret scene credits at the end. Waititi manages to dodge and weave his way from moments of high impact action to quieter moments that bank as much on laughs as landed punches. It would have been easy for all these elements to crash together but Waititi moves through the mirth and mayhem with great skill.
Nothing is held back. There are a lot of elements to the story that can’t be discussed, but know that this film is packed with great moments for fans of the comics. So many big moments from the pages of Thor comic are used that it looks like no one is planning on tomorrow. But, there is more to come as the heroes will be back saving the universe next year in “The Avengers: Infinity War.”
Until then, seeing “Thor: Ragnarok” is like riding the world’s fastest and tallest roller coaster that keeps looping through a funhouse. That’s a ride not to be missed so buy a ticket (or two) now.
3.5 out of 4 stars
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, Karl Urban, Jeff Goldblum
Director: Taika Waititi
Rated: PG-13 for action scenes, suggestive material
Running time: 135 minutes
Now playing: The movie will be shown in standard and 3D at AMC Classic Sauk Valley 8, 4110 30th St., Sterling, and at Sterling Theater, 402 Locust St. Go to amctheatres.com and sterlingtheaters.com for showtimes.
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