A band of merry men, and women, come out to play in “Thor: Ragnarok,” and the result is glorious fun. Fun for them. Fun for the audience as well.
The latest “Thor” movie, third in the ever-lengthening line of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies featuring the Norse god at center stage, is a quippy blockbuster in which it is plainly evident the actors are having a grand old time bringing their characters to life.
First and foremost, of course, is Chris Hemsworth in the title role.
Breaking the fourth wall right off the bat by addressing the audience directly while tightly wrapped in chains and dangling in a pit of torment, he acknowledges his plight by saying, “I know what you're thinking: How did this happen? Well, it’s a long story …” and then the movie plays out. And long it certainly is: two hours and 10 minutes.
Beefy and bulked up, Hemsworth gives a performance that’s light and lively and comically adroit, blending a gift for broad physical comedy with a flair for delivering goofy one-liners.
Dragooned into gladiatorial combat in a vast arena, he’s surprised to discover his opponent is none other than his Avenger compatriot, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
“We know each other!” he shouts in delight. “He’s a friend from work!”
Not too friendly it turns out, as Hulk proceeds to slam him around in the same fashion he did to Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in the funniest scene in “The Avengers.” To which Loki, looking on, cries happily, “Yes! That’s what it feels like!” These two don’t like each other much.
Enjoying the dickens out of her work as well is Cate Blanchett, playing “Ragnarok’s” villain, Hela, Thor’s elder sister and proud claimant of the title God of Death.
Everything about her is deadly, from her elaborate multispiked black helmet to her penetrating glare. Even her cheekbones look sharp enough to cut a man to pieces. She revels in her badness, sardonically scorning lesser beings, which is everyone, including her siblings, Thor and Loki.
The plot pits Thor and Loki in a power struggle with Hela for supremacy on their home world of Asgard as Ragnarok, the apocalypse, threatens to destroy that world. On a smaller scale, Bruce Banner’s ongoing torment of being trapped within the raging Hulk is further explored in scenes between him and Thor.
Hiddleston, silken and sneaky as the shapeshifting backstabber, is a fine foil for Hemsworth. But it’s Jeff Goldblum, in the role of a genial-seeming planet-ruling character named Grandmaster, all smiles and sly winks as he offers up gladiatorial contests for the glee of howling masses, who is “Ragnarok’s” biggest scene stealer.
The lighthearted tone of the movie is set by New Zealand director Taika Waititi, maker of the offbeat 2014 indie vampire movie, “What We Do In the Shadows.” He makes the transition from low-budget filmmaking to the big blockbuster league with seeming ease and with his idiosyncratic sensibilities intact and on display
Its mix of humor and spectacle (giant battle scenes backed by Robert Plant’s keening vocal from Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” are electrifying) puts “Ragnarok” on a par with the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Deadpool,” and that’s top of the line territory in the Marvel universe.
☆☆☆ 1/2 stars out of 4
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanche, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba
Director: Taika Waititi
Running time: 2:10
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material