Marking its impressive ambitious step into comedy, Thor Ragnarok brings up sparks but doesn’t really catch lightning in a bottle. Sporadically fun and visually impressive, this third film works a bit too hard at flexing its laugh muscles, while bogging down in a midsection built around the enticing prospect of Thor versus the Hulk.
Part of the problem, to be honest, is that Marvel has done probably too good a job marketing the film, to the point most of the best dialogues and moments (like Thor encountering the Hulk and gleefully shouting, “He’s a friend from work!”) have been played repeatedly in the trailer. Even Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” makes a slightly incongruous appearance.
To its credit, Thor Ragnarok film makes the most out of an inordinately strong ensemble, engaging Chris Hemsworth with trustful scene-stealer Tom Hiddleston as his brother Loki, Cate Blanchett as the female villain Hela and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, a fearless warrior. Throw in a cameo by Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange and a meatier spot for Idris Elba as the stoic sentry Heimdall, and there’re loads of power featured on screen even before the CGI pyrotechnics step in.
It all starts promisingly enough, with Thor — after what amounts to a James Bond-like pre-title sequence — returning home to Asgard, where a newly freed Hela, the Goddess of Death, is on her way to lay siege.
Failing to stop her, Thor is inadvertently cast onto a dystopian planet Sakaar, presided over by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, in fully manic mode), who forces his prisoners to engage in gladiatorial combat. Determined to fight for his freedom and battle against Hela, Thor is pleasantly surprised to learn that the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) as well, has landed there — or at least, until the first punch lands.
Marvel has handed the keys to the kingdom to New Zealand director Taika Waititi, who with his trio of writers unearths plenty of amusing character riffs, capitalizing especially on Thor and Loki’s squabbling fraternal ties.
Yet, there’s a serious menace that must be addressed, ultimately, as Thor spends ample time searching a way to extricate himself from bondage and assemble the support he’ll need to have a chance at defeating Hela.
Thor Ragnarok (the title refers to the prophesied destruction of Asgard) is definitely a step up in class from earlier sequel “The Dark World.” For better and worse, even these solo arcs have now been sucked into the maelstrom of the MCU, where promiscuous cross-pollination among heroes has become so frequent.
Bulked up for the occasion, Hemsworth remains an enormously appealing lead, capable of pulling off funny lines and slapstick silliness while still inducing swoons when his shirt comes off. He is, in many ways, the most special effect Thor Ragnarok movie has to bring, putting the unavoidable free-for-all that aside, it should be noted, inflicts a higher quotient of carnage than parents tempted to bring younger kids might deem appropriate.
In a sense, a film like Thor Ragnarok stands for the apex of Marvel’s strategy — a huge spectacle that in many aspects plays like a comic book come to life, while being liberated enough to have fun with light-hearted quirks and idiosyncrasies.
At a fundamental scale, Marvel jams enough high-spirited entertainment into Thor Ragnarok to make sure that it’s worthy of the price of admission. It’s just that armed with such a potent and promising arsenal, Thor Ragnarok full movie manages to feel less mighty than the sum of its parts.