Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson
Directed by: Taika Watiti (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”)
Written by: Eric Pearson (debut) and Craig Kyle (debut) & Christopher L. Yost (“Max Steel”)
As unloved as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Thor” franchise has been, it’s still been able to reach the coveted trilogy status. But with the latest film, “Thor: Ragnarok,” it’s abundantly clear that Marvel has decided to burn down the boring version of “Game of Thrones” that is all the Asgard stuff and slot the God of Thunder into a more comical role with a blatant “Guardians of the Galaxy” influence. It’s a great idea, really, and Chris Hemsworth has a clear gift for comedy, but the unwillingness to make a clean break from the tedium on the other side of the Bifrost keeps “Ragnarok” from achieving the same highs as Marvel’s other cosmic franchise.
The film begins with Thor hanging in a cage, conversing with a skeleton, before destroying a devil-ish creature names Surtur intent on bringing on Ragnarok—otherwise known as the destruction of Asgard. Thor returns home with the Surtur’s crown for his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) throne room, only to finally uncover that his mischievous brother Loki (Ton Hiddleston) has been posing as their father since the events of the last movie, “Thor: The Dark World.”
When Thor and Loki finally track Odin down on Earth, he’s at death’s door. When he dissolves into nothingness, it allows for the coming of his firstborn, a daughter named Hela (Cate Blanchett) who is determined to rule Asgard and conquer the universe. A battle with Hela in the Bifrost sends both Loki and Thor spinning off into space, stranding the Avenger in a junkyard on a remote planet where he’s captured and sold by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, the absolute best). There, Thor is forced into gladiatorial combat against the Grandmaster’s champion, none other than fellow Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who Thor will have to convince to help him in order to stop Hela.
New Zealand director Taika Watiti delivers solidly when “Ragnarok” goes for laughs – which are often wonderfully weird, especially anything with Goldblum – but falls into the same trap as previous directors Kenneth Branaugh and Alan Taylor before him, in that the palace intrigue on Asgard just isn’t interesting, no matter how much vamping Blanchett does in her villain role (also a bad move for the story: spoiling the Hulk reveal in the trailers, but that was probably unavoidable). Doubtless this was all at the behest of the studio at large, eager to move on to something more crowd-pleasing, but unable to resist putting a button on Asgard for the dozen or so people who could have possibly given a shit.