FILM REVIEW – THOR: RAGNAROK. With Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum.Written by Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher L. Yost. Directed by Taika Waititi. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material. 130 minutes.
It’s easy to tell the difference between the Marvel movies and the DC movies when it comes to the current cycle of competing superhero movies. The DC movies, like “Superman v. Batman,” are dark and largely humorless, even in comparison to the supposedly bleak but often witty “Batman” movies directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale.
By contrast, the Marvel movies – think “Iron Man,” “The Avengers,” and especially “Guardians of the Galaxy” – are filled with quirky characters and giddiness mixed with the special effects and action sequences. The new THOR: RAGNAROK very much takes this approach, making it a tremendous amount of fun provided that you go for this sort of thing. You may even find yourself being entertained in spite of yourself.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth), has some problems. His aged father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is not long for the world, his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is as untrustworthy as ever, and now a long-forgotten older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett, diving head first into the action) arrives to destroy Asgard and take her rightful place as supreme ruler. Much of the film is a shaggy dog story, as Thor chases and is chased around the universe until the inevitable showdown with Hela. And that’s where the fun is.
There’s a Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who seems willing to sell out Thor but may still have loyalties to her Asgardian roots. And then there’s Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), the ruler of a planet where he’ll grant freedom to anyone who can defeat his champion, only no one ever does. That may be because his champion turns out to be the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), one of several characters from other Marvel movies to show up here, but in a substantial enough part that it’s not a spoiler. (There are other surprises not to be revealed here.)
The result is the first Thor movie that can take its place in the first ranks of Marvel movies, instead of just being something to do with the character between outings in the “Avengers” series. One thing they’ve done is eliminated the Earth characters from the earlier films, although Asgardian gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba) is back. The filmmakers seem to realize that while they have to take the story seriously enough that we care how it turns out, it doesn’t have to be taken much more seriously than that. Cate Blanchett is one of the finest actresses in the movies today, and as Hela, she doesn’t condescend to the material but sinks her teeth into the role and has fun with it.
As usual, there are scenes in the closing credits to stay for, including a tease for next year’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” but it is the final moment – in which one character self-servingly sums up the entire movie – that really captures the spirit of it. This is a “get a bucket of popcorn, sit back, and have fun” movie and, as such, it works perfectly.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.