By Jim Sabataso
Another season, another Marvel movie. While these films have become as predictable as the seasons, “Thor: Ragnarok” is a delightfully weird and funny surprise. This is Marvel’s third Thor film, and easily its best. Indeed, the film is one of the studios’ most entertaining and satisfying films to date. High praise, considering 2017 has already given us “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”
Director Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Flight of the Conchords”) has a deft comedic sensibility, as he brings to life a script by Marvel scribes Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost and Eric Pearson.
It can’t be understated; this movie has jokes. While all Marvel movies have always found room for brightness and humor, “Ragnarok” surpasses even the “Guardians” films in its comedy. Jokes are clever and dialogue is witty, with some of the best banter this side of Stark Tower.
Chris Hemsworth once again picks up the hammer as the titular god of thunder. Thor’s been off the grid since the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” when he left Earth to understand more about the Infinity Stones that had been haunting his dreams. Two years hence, he returns to Asgard, to where he finally learns his scheming brother Loki is alive and has been posing as their father Odin — a fact audiences have known since the end of 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World.”
Tom Hiddleston (“The Night Manager”) reprises his role as fan-favorite Loki. Loki is a great character, a trickster god whose default mode is deception. The contrast of characterizations between him and Thor — a nordic Goofus and Gallant duo — makes for a great pairing.
Before they can settle their beef, a long-forgotten sister Hela, the goddess of death, returns to claim the throne of Asgard and cast her brothers out. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is a vicious and spot-on portrayal of the classic villain — right down to the impractical, but comics-accurate, headgear.
Banished from Asgard, Thor and Loki arrive separately on the far-off planet Sakaar, which is a sort of multiversal landfill ruled by an eccentric weirdo called the Grandmaster — played by Jeff Goldlbum in a genius bit of casting. Seriously, Goldlbum is so much fun he alone is worth the price of admission.
While Loki manages to ingratiate himself with the ruling class, Thor finds himself forced to fight for his life in the Grandmaster gladiatorial exhibition called the Contest of Champions, where he goes up against his long-missing teammate Hulk.
Mark Ruffalo is back as the angry green giant, and while he spends most of his screen time hulked out, we do get some funny scenes of dialogue between Ruffalo and Hemsworth. Here the film has elements of a buddy road movie, and has fun with the trope as the unlikely duo figures out how to get back to Asgard.
Rounding out the cast is Tessa Thompson (“Westworld,” “Veronica Mars”) as Valkyrie, a runaway Asgardian who’s got a major hate on for Hela. Karl Urban (“Star Trek”) plays classic Thor antagonist and Hela lackey Skurge. And Idris Alba (“The Wire,” “The Dark Tower”) returns as Heimdall, Thor’s ally and leader of the Asgardian resistance against Hela. A surprise comedic standout is Korg, a friendly alien with rock skin played by Waititi, who delivers some of the film’s funniest lines. (Seriously, Marvel, please give Korg a spinoff!) We also get a couple cameos early on that I won’t spoil here.
To be sure, “Thor: Ragnarok” doesn’t deviate too much from the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula — hero is brought low, forms an unlikely team and takes down a big bad. However, it excels by being fast paced and visually captivating. Indeed, cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (“The Road,” “Talk to Her”) creates a bold palette of colors, as the film hops between the majestic Asgard and the colorfully cluttered Sakaar.
The film also has a distinct 1980s-era prog-rock/metal vibe, thanks to excellent music direction by talented Mark Mothersbaugh — a name you might recognize from the band Devo, as well as his work on Wes Anderson’s films and, most recently, the TV series “The Last Man on Earth.”
The combination of such distinct visual and musical elements makes the movie feel like a Yes album cover brought to life. Add to this great dialogue and a tight story that never lags — despite a 130-minute runtime — and you’ve got a thoroughly satisfying superhero film.
CHECK IT OUT
“Thor: Ragnarok” (PG-13) is in theaters now.