None of us has ever doubted in mind that Cate Blanchett would make a kickass comic-book-movie villain, have we? And here she is, in Taika Waititi’s goofily entertaining Thor Ragnarok as Hela, Goddess of Death, styled like a malevolent combination of Catwoman and Cher.
(Her outfit nods to the current bare-shoulder fashion trend; apparently goddesses also read Vogue.) She’s been locked away for an eternity, we learn, so she’s understandably cranky — smoothing back her hair in a threatening manner (you quickly learn to flinch when she does this), hissing her lines in a refrigerated deadpan. Now freed, her silky evilness knows no bounds. Does Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his hammer possibly have a chance against such a foe?The happiest surprise of this third “Thor” installment isn’t that Blanchett is such a kick — come on, you knew she would be — but that the rest of the movie is, too. Waititi, the New Zealander whose credits include the irresistible vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows” (if you haven’t seen it already, have I got a Halloween-week movie pick for you) gives the familiar superhero formula a cheeky nudge. The plot’s the usual saving-the-world stuff — in this case, the world is Thor’s homeland Asgard — and the special effects and battle scenes are zippy but familiar. (Disclaimer: At the screening I attended, the sound cut out in the last minute or so of Thor Ragnarok film, so I suppose it’s possible that Thor and the gang closed things out by reciting T.S. Eliot or speaking Klingon or singing a song from “Les Mis.” But I’ve been assured that they didn’t. Somebody please tell me if they did.)
No, the fun here is in the little moments the actors find, and in the way that Waititi, within the massive machine that is a studio superhero movie, brings out a looseness and playfulness in the performances. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki remains an irresistible bad boy, slyly smiling to himself as he remembers a misdeed; Tessa Thompson, as the hard-drinking warrior Valkyrie, gets a hilarious entrance to the franchise as she expertly falls off a ramp; Jeff Goldblum, sporting blue eyeliner and a campy emcee-of-a-reality-show vibe, languidly saunters off with all of his scenes.
Hemsworth’s Thor, that most lunkishly likable of superheroes, carries this series as easily as he tosses that hammer around. He’s even got a perfect little rom-com moment, when he attempts to look suavely casual but doesn’t know what to do with his hands. (Even Norse gods, it appears, have moments they’d like to do over.) And Waititi himself adds Thor Ragnarok film’s offbeat heart as Korg, a creature made of rocks who lumbers through the action with a resigned, New Zealand-accented cheerfulness. “I tried to start a revolution,” he says, “but I didn’t print enough pamphlets.” Good fun, indeed. All of it.