Easily the best Thor movie yet, “Ragnarok” is a blast from the opening scene until the credits roll. Infused with wacky comedic sensibilities by director Taika Waititi, Marvel proves that it has figured out how to make an entertaining comic book film.
The story has Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returning home to Asgard to discover his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) likely nearing the end of the reign. His trickster half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) managed to clandestinely slip into the kingdom, and his reappearance has upset the delicate balance that keeps the peace. Returning to Earth, Loki and Thor find Odin, who leaves them with a many unanswered questions.
Following Odin passing, the resulting power vacuum releases former prisoner Hela, whose goal is to take over the throne and expand Asgardian hegemony. Naturally, Thor and a reluctant Loki have other plans.
Feeling more like a companion episode to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Ragnarok confidently one-ups the second installment in that intergalactic adventure with ample doses of tilted weirdness. The laughs take center stage, but that isn’t to say that the action sequences aren’t thrilling. Thor’s battles are epic! And Hela makes one frightening villain adding enough menace to keep the viewer on edge. As outlandish as things get, Hela’s one mission (to conquer anyone and everyone) adds a credible threat and convincing single bad guy (well, gal), who can certainly challenge Thor and his team all by herself.
New characters in addition to the villainous Hela add colorfully to the landscape. Jeff Goldblum does his best Goldblum impression with a dose of nastiness as the Grandmaster. Controlling a trash planet, the Grandmaster has captured Hulk and later Thor pitting the two titans against one another. From the trailer, we already know that this matchup proves to be hilarious, but after their initial clash is over, the two tough guys bond meaningfully.
And while Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) does make an appearance, the best banter is actually between Thor and the computer generated green monster. Hulk talks! And he says more than “SMASH.” It’s really very funny, and the effects are convincing.
Lost on no one is the success of “Wonder Woman” this summer. And I have to say Marvel just might have an answer in Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). This boozing Asgardian knows how to make an entrance as she steps from her spacecraft bottle in hand making forceful, if also drunken, demands. Frankly, Wonder Woman (part of a completely different comic universe) should watch out, because Valkyrie just might steal her golden lasso.
Pumping and powering this wonderfully weird adventure is a retro synth score along side expert use of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” And this is in-keeping with director Waititi’s funky vibe. His name might be tough to pronounce, but after this film, it will be on everyone’s lips. And he’s the kind of director who obviously doesn’t forget where he’s from and who helped him along the way. His “Hunt for the Winterpeople” supporting actress Rachel House makes an excellent second in command to the Grandmaster. Her stoic, deadpan performance is comically impactful, especially when she hands the Grandmaster his fearsome melting stick.
Nothing in this film should be taken seriously, although there are some weighty themes in play. Family, one’s responsibility as a leader, the corrupting force of absolute power, and finding one’s place in the universe are handled to varying degrees. There’s a moral or two wrapped in the film’s warped comedy shell. And it’s a journey that leaves viewers wanting more.