She’s a piece of work who thinks nothing of drowning a whole race of people in their own blood to get what she wants, but she has a point. Up until this point no one really knew what was possible with the Thor (Chris Hemsworth) character. Over the course of six movies we’ve seen the crown prince of Asgard as a larger-than-life hero with Shakespearean tendencies and a muscle-bound sex symbol but it took director New Zealand director Taika Waititi to fully realize the character’s potential. Thor has always been quick with a line, but this time around Waititi puts the comedy upfront.
The plot of “Thor Ragnarok” is less interesting than its tone. In a nutshell Thor’s sister, the hella-deadly Hela is back from exile and with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) out of the way, is first in line for the throne of Asgard. She, equipped with an impressive set of black antlers and ruthless nature, plans to go Ragnarok on the citizens of Asgard to fulfill her appetite for destruction.
After some tomfoolery with giant demon Surtur (Clancy Brown)—“Oh, that’s your crown,” Thor purrs. “I thought it was a big eyebrow.”—Thor returns to Asgard, reunites with mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) before literally locking horns with Hela and hurled through space and into the hands of the quirky Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), a colourfully dressed ruler who offs people with his dreaded Melt Stick and pits the Norse god against his old friend Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a gladiatorial match. With Asgard at stake Thor recruits the giant green world breaker and a warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to save his planet.
That sounds like it could be the plot from any generic Avengers film—a world is at stake—but there is no other superhero movie that would see their champions escape through an interdimensional portal named The Devil’s Anus. Yes, there is serious subtext about genocide and displaced persons—we hear Led Zep’s “Immigrant Song” twice—but this is the first Marvel movie to value comedy over spectacle. The trademarked Marvel blockbuster action is still there but the gags carry the show.
Certainly “Thor: Ragnarok” is the polar opposite of rival DC’s dark universe but even in its own house, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s a breath of fresh air. Seventeen movies in Marvel has taken a chance, handing the reins over to an idiosyncratic helmer. Waititi’s (who also plays a talkative Groot-like gladiator named Korg) first big studio movie after whimsical indies the adventure comedy “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” feels as close to an auteur film as we’re likely to see in this genre. He brings a zippy sense of fun that showcases Hemsworth’s comedy chops.
Like the rest of the Avengers movies “Thor: Ragnarok” is a tad long and, near the end is overrun by creatures and CGI. Some will complain that the glib tone completely overrides the film’s serious side but the gags and the home-is-where-the-heart-is message make this one of the most human and humane MCU movies yet.