The “Thor” movies have always been the lightest, silliest installments in the Marvel money-minting machine. They’re more about the fun than the fights, and in “Thor: Ragnarok,” you know even the big fight — the God of Thunder vs. The Hulk, teased in the trailers – is going to be a hoot.
“Ragnarok” is a ridiculously random comic book movie, more about zippy banter and zany cameos than the Great Threat to the Home Planet, “Asgard,”which as characters point out, is pretty funny when you say it out loud. It’s self-mocking, which is refreshing in the dark, gravitas-imitating post-“Avengers” universe, though that undercuts its vitality and urgency at every turn.
“Ragnarok” is the first Thor movie to look like they spent serious money on it. The 3D is stunning at times. The visuals dazzle, the brawls dance along, the cameos sizzle and every scene is populated and set-decorated to the hilt. None of this Dull Digital Great Hall myopia of the earlier films.
It’s even dumber than the earlier installments, but it knows it. And the result is some good, clean kid-friendly fun, save for the odd profanity — Odin is known for his curses, after all. Even the killing seems to lack fatal finality.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth, swaggering, self-mocking and studly) sets the tone in the opening scene, narrating his own predicament — “Oh nooooo, Thor’s in a CAGE! It’s a long story, but, basically, I’m a bit of a hero.”
A satanic digital villain has him in his clutches, threatening to set off Armageddon in Thorland (Asgard). Thor thinks he can stop it. “That’s what heroes do.”
But maybe not.
He’s waylaid through wormhole space onto a Planet of Lost Toys — actually space junk — where he faces off with the “champion” of the Grand Master (Jeff Goldblum, hilarious), teams up with a drunken Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson of “Creed” and “Dear White People,” bringing her own swagger) and tries to calm Hulk down enough to become Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) while reconciling with his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
No, they’re never really going to kill that guy off.
Meanwhile, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has retired to Norway, Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) is taking over Asgard and she’s recruited this poseur turncoat (Karl Urban) to help.
The settings are striking, the best effects are the morphing costume changes Hela shows off (Blanchett is quite the vamp) and the best visuals are a 3D flashback to the Ride of the Valkyries.
Nobody but Goldblum could make a supervillain’s characterization of his gladiatorial fight-to-the-death — “my little harlequinade” — come off. And nobody but Hemsworth could turn the “tragedy” of Thor finally getting a haircut into farce.
Actor-turned-director Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) makes this Down Under affair (so many Aussie and Kiwi actors) as much of a romp as one can manage in a two hour and ten minute overkill of a Marvel movie. Fights are set to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and the Mark Mothersbaugh score tosses a little Willy Wonka music at us for good measure (and ABBA?).
It plays longer than it runs, and it’s more about good lines than good story — “Are you a fighter, or are you FOOD?” More about characters getting chummy than creating suspense and raising the stakes.
Look for the cameos, listen for Hopkins reaching for the cheap laugh and wait, if you must, for the two post-credits teasers. Just don’t expect anything more topical, relevant or suspenseful here than Thor’s ever-annoyed waiting for that darned hammer to finally boomerang back into his hand in the “Ta DA,” nick-of-time.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Mark Ruffalo, Tess Thompson, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum.
Credits:Directed by Taika Waititi, script by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost. A Disney/Marvel Studios release.
Running time: 2:10