Need a quick fix for the bleak dystopian epics flooding the multiplex? Take a hit off the laughing gas rising up out of Thor: Ragnarok, which may be the most fun you’ll ever have at a Marvel movie. The first Thor (2011) ran fast out of the gate, thanks to director Kenneth Branagh and Chris Hemsworth scoring as the Norse god with sibling issues (Tom Hiddleston as bad bro Loki stole the show). The 2013 follow-up, directed by Game of Thrones vet Alan Taylor, was a muddled mash-up. The third time really is the charm, with New Zealand director Taika Waititi, the indie firebrand behind Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows, calling the shots and rightly treating Norse mythology as a springboard for nonstop action and laughs.
As for Hemsworth, who showed his comedy chops in the femcentric Ghostbusters remake, the Australian actor seems liberated by the opportunity to shake off any trace of God-of-Thunder gravitas. The first thing to go, besides Thor’s trusty hammer, are his long, blonde tresses. But before screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher L. Yost throw our man in the ring with a jolly green giant, they give the star every chance to romp around like he’s in comic heaven. The feeling is contagious.
The plot technically revolves around Ragnarok – an apocalypse meant to signify the end of days in the mythical realm of Asgard – but it’s basically an excuse to have Thor interact with a parade of nutjobs to rival the scamps of Guardians of the Galaxy. We’re not giving away anything to say that the shape-shifting Loki is not dead; he’s actually pretending to be his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). This means his brother must rush to earth and consult with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to find where their actual dad is. It also results in our hero being threatened by Hela the Goddess of Death, played by a deliciously depraved Cate Blanchett – love the antler headgear – and who wants to end Asgard’s patriarchal reign. As for Thor and Loki, they wind up on the planet Sakaar, run by the Grandmaster (an uber-campy Jeff Goldblum, acting as if he’s having the time of his life). It’s this minor-league intergalactic Caesar who forces Thor to take on his chief gladiator, who just happens to be the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), a fellow Avenger who the God calls “a friend from work.”
As you’ve probably gathered by now, the whole movie is a grab-bag of insanity so off-the-chain hilarious that you stick with it even when the convoluted plot goes haywire. Hemsworth and Ruffalo, doing double duty as the raging Hulk and his mild-mannered alter ego, are frenemies to die for; the latter’s transformation from beast to Bruce Banner is a doozy. And you have a treat in store from Tessa Thompson (HBO’s Westworld) as Valkyrie, a bounty hunter who can kick Thor’s ass when she’s not flirting with him. The whole cast is aces, including Waititi, who contributes a killer cameo as a trash-talking rock pile named Korg. Granted, there are probably more monsters and CGI battles and explosions than the movie needs. But the movie keeps this Thor party hopping like it’s 1999 and Ragnarok will never come. Good times.