There are high times dead ahead for moviegoers who prefer their superhero camp to be intentional. While diehard Marvel fans breathlessly await the release of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and other entrants in the endless parade of flowing capes and bulging muscles, the rest of us can enjoy the peppy, eager-to-please goofball space-filler Thor: Ragnarok, crashing into theaters in a blaze of disco music, twirling lights, in-jokes and broad, winking, deliciously over-the-top performances.
From the first shot, the flick, a mashup of Guardians of the Galaxy with a dash of a Kevin Sorbo-era Hercules and a whole lot of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, acknowledges the obvious reality. It’s tough to take any movie about Thor—a pompous Norse god with an equally inflated backstory—seriously. Of course, Marvel tried it before, and look where that got them. This time, wisely, they’ve handed the directorial reins to smart, culty New Zealand moviemaker-actor Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) and the screenwriting duties to Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. Everybody involved seems clued-in to the funky, loose, anarchic spirit of “Let’s getThor.” The cast members look relieved and liberated—from the increasingly deft Chris Hemsworth to scene-stealing Cate Blanchett, as the sultry, super-vampy Goddess of Death, and Jeff Goldblum, as the gladiator-obsessed fascist Grandmaster.
(Caution: This paragraph contains one mild spoiler.) And so for most of the too-long two hours-plus running time Thor gets mocked, tossed around by several villains, battered and zapped, and he still finds time to chat hilariously with an actual demon and to flex his sculpted torso. As he showed in Ghostbusters, Hemsworth is more than up to it, self-satirizing Thor with a touch of Pierce Brosnan and a sprinkle of Errol Flynn. The (tired) plot intrudes on the fun when our hero learns from his world weary father Odin (a sleepy, tamped-down Anthony Hopkins) that he had an all-powerful, vengeful sister (here’s the spoiler: it’s Cate!) who was locked away because her sole aim is to utterly destroy their family planet Asgard.
Now, for reasons too boring to relate, Thor, armed only with his might, his puny hammer and a few sidekicks—”The Revengers!,“ he dubs them, when on the spot—he must defeat her. Thor gets occasional assistance from his shape-shifting, despicable brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, now more milky white than glowing green as in previous Thor epics), a boozy, snarly Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson from Westworld) and the Hulk and his troubled human incarnation (Mark Ruffalo, terrific, rumpled, and John Garfield-ish in both roles).
The rickety plot and the flat finale are as dispensable as the plentiful CGI battle and action sequences. The real action here is in the asides and the margins, with great throwaway scenes including a play-within-a-movie about Thor (featuring a couple of recognizable guest stars), a wonderfully funny scene in which Hemsworth (improvising?) disses the color scheme of one of the movie’s elaborate sets, and another in which Hemsworth’s musclebound hero tries to convince Ruffalo’s twitchy, neurotic Bruce Banner that he likes him in both sizes, even though Banner grouses, “You’re just using me to get the Hulk.” There’s also some very cool stuff from a soft-spoken, strange rock monster (voiced by the director himself) that lifts the movie with every appearance.
Thor: Ragnarok might rub some humorless Marvel purists the wrong way, but for the less obsessive among us, it’s every bit as silly and mocking as it ought to be.