Thor’s just wanna have fun sometimes and it’s a feeling that runs through a solid portion of the third film in the franchise’s running time. Ragnarok, more than most Marvel Cinematic Universe entries these days, feels less like it’s building toward next summer’s Avengers free for all where all their characters will join forces. Instead it feels more like director Taika Waititi got a chance to bring an often weird, humorous and outright loopy vibe to the proceedings. And there’s a lot to dig about it when it’s working on those terms especially.
The subtitle here refers to the destruction of Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) beloved planet of Asgard. That possibility is raised with the return of a previously unknown sister to Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) named Hela (Cate Blanchett), aka the Goddess of Death. She’s got a gnarly headdress and daddy issues like her siblings had. Of course, daddy is Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the king of Asgard who behaved like Hannibal Lecter when he raised Hela but now is basically a vegan in comparison. His daughter preferred the former.
All this business could be described as the main plot line in Ragnarok. And it’s all perfectly acceptable and visually impressive stuff that we’ve seen before. That said, Blanchett is a notch above most MCU villains because… well, Cate Blanchett is just a fantastic actress.
Yet the picture also spends lots of time on the planet Sakaar. It’s a land ruled by the flamboyant Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), whose idea of entertainment is creating Gladiator like battles for his prized possession. Turns out that possession is none other than the Incredible Hulk himself! He’s stuck in his perpetually giant green angry self for a while and not in the Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) scientist mode. It’s also where Thor meets Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a bounty hunter who happens to hail from Asgard.
Sakaar is where the best moments happen in Ragnarok and the bulk of them contain a lot of comedy that lands. Goldblum is simply a joy to watch. We have a ball watching the Hulk trapped in these surroundings. And Loki (forever the best MCU bad guy/sometimes sort of good guy) gets to display his charm coupled with Hiddleston’s always delicious work as the character.
When the first Thor premiered in 2011, I considered it a mixed bag. The Avengers and proper sequel The Dark World did more to hammer home Hemsworth’s effectiveness in the part. On a side note, the absence of girlfriend Natalie Portman is briefly addressed and all it did was remind me that her character even existed in the first place. Director Waititi imbues Ragnarok with a winky face emotion that is most entertaining when it’s away from Asgard and the familiar familial dynamics. In its own strange way, it’s the most pure fun Thor feature of the bunch.
*** (out of four)