The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Thor: Ragnarok

Whereas the original Thor helped establish the Marvel Cinematic Universe template and Thor: The Dark World went for a darker, gloomier vibe, Thor: Ragnarok opts to follow a heavily comedic path. The progression feels natural because, while you wouldn't label any of them outright comedians, the primary actors in the series all have impeccable comic timing. Director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) proves to be the right choice to guide the transition. This might not be the “best” Marvel movie, but it's definitely one of their most entertaining.

The plot concerns the re-emergence of Thor's sister Hela (Cate Blanchett). She's the Goddess of Death, hell-bent on bringing about Ragnarok – the long-prophesied destruction of Asgard. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) obviously needs to stop her. He's waylaid by a number of obstacles that put him far away from his homeland, though. For starters, he ends up enslaved by the Grandmaster (played by Jeff Goldblum), a quirky, malevolent dictator on another planet who makes him participate in a life-or-death gladiator match.

As he navigates his way though these various scenarios, Thor assembles a team that includes Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a fellow Asgardian who needs convincing to save her people. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is poking around, too, reliably refusing to be loyal to anyone except himself.

Thor: Ragnarok contains the elements that are, by now, standard in Marvel movies: exciting action sequences, cameos from other characters in the MCU, references to notable moments from comic book stories (including, in one throwaway line, Throg), and so on. The company has been very successful in using such things as building blocks for their productions. That formula isn't broken, so Marvel hasn't fixed it.

At the same time, they find ways to differentiate their films. Overt comedy is a no-brainer in Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, where the heroes include a tree creature and a talking raccoon. Going for consistent laughs on something like Thor is less expected, and that's part of what makes it so funny.

Hemsworth, who proved his chops in Ghostbusters, strikes up chemistry with Ruffalo that's reminiscent of classic buddy action-comedies like Running Scared and Beverly Hills Cop. When Hulk transitions back to Bruce Banner, he doesn't want to return to his other form, and he really doesn't want to fight the Goddess of Death. He and Thor bicker about that in ways that elicit plenty of chuckles.

Thor: Ragnarok also mines humor from borderline slapstick scenes (such as the Mighty Thor throwing a rubber ball against a window, only to have it bounce back at his head and knock him to the floor), witty lines of dialogue, and putting Jeff Goldblum into a wacky costume and allowing him to go “full Goldblum.” (I think you know what I mean.) The cumulative effect is that the movie has a freewheeling quality that previous Thor entries lacked. It makes this third episode feel fresh, ensuring that the 130-minute running time whizzes right by.

Hemsworth, Hiddleston, and Ruffalo are typically great, while Blanchett – who's virtually unrecognizable in her costume and makeup – makes an appropriately menacing villain. That said, the MVP here is Tessa Thompson, who brings a delightful no-nonsense sassiness to the role of Valkyrie. The actress steals every scene she's in. Someone at Marvel would be smart to give her a movie of her own.

Add to all this Waititi's awesomely bright candy-colored visuals, which provide a welcome contrast to the previous installment's darkness, and you have a Thor adventure that hits the sweet spot of seeming familiar and new at the same time. Thor: Ragnarok's story is somewhat disjointed in spots. Then again, that scarcely matters when you're having so much fun.

( 1/2 out of four)

Thor: Ragnarok is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material. The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.

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