Since it’s become standard fare to release at least 2-4 superhero films every year, over time it would be easy for the genre to go stale. And with the recent trend leaning towards brooding, overly serious films it would be easier to burn out on all things Marvel and DC.

It seems, though, Marvel anticipated that and hired Taika Waititi to direct the third Thor film, Thor: Ragnarok. Waititi, a comedic director with such films as Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows under his belt, is an unlikely person to helm an MCU feature, especially considering Edgar Wright left the Ant-Man project due to creative differences. After seeing Ragnarok, Marvel may have loosened the creative reigns because for all intents and purposes what I saw was a sprawling comedy.

The usual actors have returned for this third go-round – specifically Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins. Waititi brought in a few new names, like Oscar winner Cate Blanchett as the new baddie, Hela; the quirky and wonderful Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster; Tessa Thompson as Scrapper 142; and Karl Urban (Dredd) as Skurge. With the trailers already spoiling it, Mark Ruffalo is on board as Bruce Banner/Hulk, and even Taika Waititi lends his voice to Korg, a rock-based being whom Thor meets during this latest journey. There are a few hilarious cameos scattered about but I’ll leave you to witness those for yourself.

Ragnarok is a typical save the world scenario, but the world that needs saving is Thor’s home planet of Asgard. Hela comes in to take over as ruler of Asgard and banishes both Thor and Loki in the process. As a result the siblings end up on Sakaar, a worldwide junkyard ruled by the Grandmaster. With Sakaar seemingly light on entertainment, they amuse themselves with classic gladiator battles. Thor, who is held captive by Grandmaster, reluctantly agrees to fight the Grandmaster’s champion warrior. Upon victory, Thor will regain his freedom so he can return to Asgard and defeat Hela.

From Ragnarok’s opening moments viewers will quickly realize how different this sequel is from its predecessors. Hemsworth, who in the past has displayed surprising comedic timing (he may have been the best thing in 2016’s Ghostbusters outside of Kate McKinnon), brought forth a performance that balances his superior physical ability with his aforementioned humorous side. Hemsworth is serious when he needs to be, funny at unexpected (yet perfect) moments, and still convincing as the god of thunder. Thor’s evolution is convincing and welcome, since Thor’s wit in the presence of imminent danger helps Ragnarok succeed in ways which Thor and Thor: The Dark World haven’t.

With Hiddleston being this franchise’s resident scene-stealer, it’s interesting to note Ragnarok has multiple scene-stealing applicants. Blanchett is outstanding in every sense of the word, and as Hela she chews up scenery like no other. Even more impressive is she’s not overly hamming it up yet still looks like she’s having loads of fun. Hela is truly dangerous - she is known as the goddess of death after all. But even during her most cruel scenes Hela is coy and playful. Few actresses can provide that balance – Blanchett is one of them and makes it look easy.

Tessa Thompson, known best for Creed, Dear White People and Westworld, finally has a chance to shine as the scrapper. Her character is a drunkard but is just as strong as Thor. Her backstory is interesting and Thompson plays her with enough charm to evoke memories of Harrison Ford as Han Solo (or Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor). She obviously is not the focus, so there isn’t enough screen time for her, but Thompson is as memorable as she is beautiful, and she’s every bit Thor’s match.

I won’t linger too much on Goldblum, but if you’ve seen any of his past work then you’ll come in knowing he tackles Grandmaster in the most Goldblum-iest way possible. That’s high praise because the veteran actor is truly one of a kind.

The biggest scene-stealer comes from Waititi himself, as Korg. Korg is everything George Lucas hoped Jar Jar Binks could be but never was. Korg is friendly and witty, but very low-key, which makes him slyly funny. He’s representative of Waititi’s film overall – entertaining and funny yet still focused on its main story.

Further lending to Ragnarok’s style change is a score that’s very synth-driven. Composed by Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo fame), it gives the proceedings a “sci-fi if it were imagined back in the 80’s” feel. Because of that, Thor: Ragnarok seems to be inspired by the 1980 film Flash Gordon. Both projects share the save the world story, emote a lighter vibe and feel, spit memorable music, and share a similar color palette. Ragnarok is not nearly as campy, but you could place the two films side by side and pick up on the like qualities.

If there is one drawback, it lies within the third act. Waititi seemingly focused so much on Sakaar that he left nothing for the end. My thinking is that Waititi made a deal with Marvel – allow him to do whatever he wants with the first two acts and in turn he’ll provide a standard third act which is right up Marvel’s wheelhouse. Ragnarok follows the typical “setup is more interesting than the payoff” blueprint, but the first two acts are so much fun that one can forgive the typical final act.

With Waititi at the helm, Marvel finally took a risk with its MCU. They’ve succeeded in creating the most entertaining Marvel film to date, and it bests even Guardians of the Galaxy as the funniest Marvel entry. Time will tell, but Ragnarok will likely change the landscape of superhero films. This one is a must-see because it delivers a healthy dose of some much-needed fun.

4.5 stars out of 5


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