I’ve never really been a Thor guy. After the goofy fun of 2008’s Iron Man and its 2010 sequel, the stodgy and needlessly convoluted Thor in 2011 seemed like a record scratch in the then-infant Marvel movie world. And 2013’s Thor: The Dark World was even worse, leading me to say at the time that the best part of the movie may have been the trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier that preceded it.

What a difference four years (and a new director) makes. While Thor: Ragnarokdoesn’t quite reach the stratospheric levels of the Avengers films, it’s a marked improvement over its two predecessors, as if everyone involved decided to just stop trying so hard and have a little (or a lot of) fun.

Chris Hemsworth, of course, is back in the red cape and leather breastplate. We discover him wrapped in chains and trapped high above the fire demon Surtur’s lair, commiserating with a nearby skeleton. Within moments Thor is dropped down and left dangling by those chains in front of Surtur, and the pair proceed to have a surprisingly amicable conversation punctuated by some clever lines and even a solid bit of physical comedy.

It’s a scene that in either of the first two Thor movies would have been played seriously, eschewing even the slightest thought that a glimpse of funny might be appropriate, but director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) isn’t normal. And in those first five minutes, the message is very clear—strap in, this is gonna be a hoot.

Waititi famously got the job after giving Marvel executives a sizzle reel featuring clips from Big Trouble in Little China over the sounds of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, and it turns out that may actually be the best way to describe the finished product. Lots of fights, lots of buffoonery, and never for one second does it take itself seriously. Waititi even claims that upwards of 80 percent of the dialogue was improvised (though that seems a bit high), and it does certainly give Ragnarok a much more relaxed feel.

Alongside Hemsworth, who finally has an entire movie in which to display the comic timing he flashed in the Avengers flicks, Tom Hiddleston returns to loosen things up further as wisecracking Loki, and Mark Ruffalo has the most fun playing Bruce Banner as he’s had in any Marvel film to date.

Among the new cast is Tessa Thompson as a spunky Valkyrie who captures Thor and takes him to the trash planet Sakaar, Jeff Goldblum who earns his own spinoff movie after his flamboyant performance as Sakaar leader Grandmaster, and Waititi himself who provides both motion capture and the voice of the movie’s most memorable bit part—Korg, a gladiator who befriends Thor.

Heck, even the addition of classically-trained Cate Blanchett (who entered Hollywood’s collective consciousness in 1998’s stuffy period drama Elizabeth) doesn’t dampen the festivities. As Hela, Thor’s evil older sister who is bent on taking over Asgard or destroying it in the process, she has an absolute field day, and it’s infectious. Damned if you don’t actually find yourself rooting for the villain off and on.

Of course there’s a plot here, but it takes a distant backseat to the hilarious spectacle that Waititi has created. It may not be perfect (been-there-done-that battle scenes, uselessly complex story), but Thor: Ragnarok may just be the most fun you have all summer. In November.

Worth the 3D glasses?

They’re not entirely necessary, but they do add to the fun. There’s plenty o’ 3D goings-on, to be sure, but the best parts of the movie are the characters and the humor, and you don’t need snazzy glasses to enjoy those.


4/5 stars