A Film Review by Tim Riley
THOR: RAGNAROK (Rated PG-13) Fans of the Marvel Comics Universe are most likely to warmly and exuberantly welcome the return of Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-wielding Norse God of Thunder in his third run as the titular character in “Thor: Ragnarok.”
Let’s face it. While Hemsworth is greatly appealing as always in the role of Thor as the heroic guardian of the planet Asgard, the second chapter entitled “Thor: The Dark World” arguably had its share of shortcomings with a bland, generic blueprint.
“Thor: Ragnarok” does not fail to entertain beyond the usual tropes of a Marvel Comics superhero action film, and much of the credit goes not just to the good use of Hemsworth but to the vision realized by acclaimed New Zealand indie director Taika Waititi.
More than any previous installment in the “Thor” franchise, this third go-round turns loose Thor’s sense of humor and ease with wisecracks to create an enjoyable ride through the sometimes thin gruel of action scenes that play more like a repetition of everything we’ve seen before.
Understanding what the word “Raganarok” means explains the basic mission of this chapter. In Norse mythology, it refers to the end of days in which the destruction of Thor’s homeland and the end of Asgardian civilization is threatened by sinister forces.
“Ragnarok” opens with Thor trapped in what seems like the devil’s lair on the other side of the universe without his all-powerful hammer. Captured by a fiery monster, his wit is part of his arsenal to break free of captivity to save his planet.
But first, Thor’s primary objective to save Asgard is burdened by a slew of complications, beginning with the fact that his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), currently imprisoned on Earth, is being impersonated by Thor’s duplicitous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Given that Loki shifts his allegiances like a spinning weathervane in a windstorm, his character has always been more complex and interesting than the upright Thor who adheres to the moral code of an honest custodian of Asgard’s security and the well-being of its people.
There’s nothing like sibling rivalry and a sense of self-preservation that could motivate one’s behavior. In this case, the return of the villainous Hela (Cate Blanchett), older sister to Thor and Loki, is a motivating factor in the new-found unity of the brothers.
Hela’s power is unlike anything else in the Nine Realms. Armed with the ability to unleash unlimited weapons in astounding and deadly ways, Hela has returned to seek vengeance on those who cast her out of Asgard.
Needless to say, this monster that grows antlers when summoning her powers has no love for her father Odin or her two younger brothers. Known as the Goddess of Death and resembling a wicked witch, Hela intends to usher in a new era of cold brutality for Asgard.
Meanwhile, before Thor can do much about his homeland, he finds himself captured by bounty hunter Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and taken prisoner on the planet Sakaar where the eccentric ruler Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) runs gladiator contests for pure sadistic pleasure.
At one point, Thor, whose long hair has been a significant feature of his superhuman façade, has his golden locks cut very short. But unlike Samson, this act does not cause him to lose his strength.
Still without his hammer, Thor is forced into a brutal competition with the brooding Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) who has somehow gone two years without returning to the human form of Bruce Banner. This explains his now truly bad-tempered nature.
Things start to gel for the superheroes when Loki figures out the clash with Hela is inevitable, the Incredible Hulk turns into the soulful Bruce Banner and the hard-drinking Valkyrie decides her supreme warrior skills are a nice match for teaming up with Thor.
Along the way, Thor encounters Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) during a brief encounter where this denizen of the Marvel universe offers encouragement. Even Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow pops up in a flash.
The back end of “Thor: Ragnarok” is inevitably the most predictable and least interesting, unless of course the sight of Hela and her army of mercenary soldiers engaged in full combat with Thor and his crew is the most desirable aspect of this adventure.
It’s not quite a revelation that the Asgardian soldier Skurge (Karl Urban), who initially signed on to Hela’s reign of terror, suddenly decides in Asgard’s time of struggle to cast his lot with Thor’s army to repel the forces of evil.
“Thor: Ragnarok” is at its best when it embraces the comedic elements. Chris Hemsworth has terrific comic timing with his quips, and Jeff Goldblum does not disappoint with his whimsical portrait of an oddball tyrant who’s actually funny.
My guess is that the fan base will look more so to the film’s action sequences than its idiosyncratic tendencies to judge the merits of this latest “Thor” adventure. Whatever works for the audience is how its success will be measured.