REVIEW | Action-packed and full of gags, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ shines with renewed vigor

October 26, 2017 - 9:13 AM
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Chris Hemsworth as Thor hams it up in a gladiator battle with Mark Ruffalo's Incredible Hulk in ‘Thor: Ragnarok.’

From the first opening lines of Chris Hemsworth as Thor, you are completely taken into a whole new Marvel Universe.

The previous Thor films were more moody and dark with the occasional comic elements from Tom Hiddleston as Loki. But from the very beginning of “Thor: Ragnarok,” director Taika Waititi injects so much humor that you know exactly what kind of film you’ll be enjoying throughout the movie’s 130-minute running time.

In an effort to stop Ragnarok, the Norse gods’ version of the end of days, Thor battles the fire demon Surtur, which leads to a chain of events that frees the goddess of death, Hela (played by Cate Blanchett). During their initial battle, Thor is sent into the world of Sakaar, where he is taken prisoner by Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson) and sold to a gladiator tournament.

While Thor must defeat the champion and find a way back to Asgard, Hela begins wreaking havoc on the land of the Asgardians.

Almost all of the story elements of “Thor: Ragnarok” are told through dialogue or flashbacks, giving way to the action and to the many gags that fill up this film.

And while that would be frustrating in a serious movie, it works perfectly well for “Thor: Ragnarok.” In a world where Norse gods are really alien-like beings with swords and magic, the films opts to take a more cartoonish approach to its tone and makes the movie more enjoyable.

Each actor gets a chance to make fun of a character or be made fun of and they even get a chance to make fun of themselves. Without heavy dramatic moments slowing down the narrative, “Thor: Ragnarok” zips along merrily. From the moment the film starts until it ends, you’re laughing or cheering on the excellent fight choreography and special effects.

Cate Blanchette as Hela in ‘Thor: Ragnarok.’

Using a very retro 1970s and ’80s color palette, alongside an ’80s-inspired synthesizer-heavy soundtrack, “Thor: Ragnarok” is bright and colorful and loud. By not taking itself too seriously, it gets through its narrative without a hitch to deliver solid punchlines and great action sequences without feeling like you’re being short-changed on story.

Waititi probably figured that all the important characters have been established and so he can give ample time to give the spotlight to his new characters like Valkyrie and Hela, creating two fascinatingly powerful female characters who can stand toe-to-toe with Thor, Loki, and Hulk.

Thompson is so engaging, showing her incredible range in relation to her previous work in the film “Creed” and the television show “Westworld.”

Blanchett captures the right theatricality that allows her to play an all-powerful death goddess that is both frightening and yet still funny when she needs to be. Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo, who returns as Bruce Banner/Hulk, are as reliable as ever, but it’s Chris Hemsworth who gets a chance to showcase his excellent comic timing. Despite all the bright colors and the quick pace of the direction, he keeps the film focused on Thor.

While “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man” needed humor to help sell lesser known heroes in the Marvel Universe, Thor could have survived with a darker story about Ragnarok.

But this brand new, irreverent take to the character and his world brings new life and energy to what might be the most confusing aspect of the Marvel Universe (Norse gods as aliens with sword and magic) and makes it work. It took the absurd idea of it and found a tone that finally makes sense for the hero.

It’s a shame that rumors abound that this might be the last Thor movie because “Thor: Ragnarok” definitely makes you want more.