ReelBob: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ ★★★

By Bob Bloom

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, superheroes, such as Iron Man and Captain America, seem to be embraced, while Thor, the God of Thunder, is simply tolerated.

It may be because of tone: the first two “Thor” movies were more serious and heavy, lacking the bits of humor and light touches that made the solo movies of his fellow Avengers more accessible and fun.

Director Taika Waititi, best known for his vampire mockumentary, “What We Do in the Shadows,” has remedied that, eliminating the Asgardian’s hammer and injecting him with a sense of humor in “Thor: Ragnarok.”

The movie serves a dual purpose: Giving Thor a new sense of maturity and responsibility, as well as moving the MCU franchise closer to its conflict with Thanos in the two-part “Avengers: Infinity War.”

As Thor, Chris Hemsworth mostly has been an egotistical dunderhead who was more brawn than brain. He was the unwitting comic foil of the smarter Tony Stark’s Iron Man or Steve Rogers’ Captain America.

In “Thor: Ragnarok,” Hemsworth is able to show the knack for comedy he displayed last year as the bubble-headed Kevin in the “Ghostbusters” remake.

“Ragnarok” is two movies. The first, which bookends the film, deals with Thor regaining control of his home world of Asgard from a sister he did not even know he had — Hela, the Goddess of Death, portrayed by an almost unrecognizable Cate Blanchett, in a near-campy performance.

“Ragnarok” is a prophecy that portends the end of days for Asgard, and the rampaging Hela, who destroys Asgard’s army, does a brutal job of nearly fulfilling that prediction.

The majority — and best parts of the film — take place on the candy-colored, garbage planet of Sakaar, ruled by the Grandmaster (a delightful Jeff Goldblum), who pits beings from various planets against each other in to-the-death gladiatorial battles in a giant arena.

These sequences spotlight Hemsworth’s comic instincts as he encounters an old Avengers ally, The Hulk, with whom he shares some funny macho-comparison banter about who is the strongest and more popular superhero.

Most of these sequences deal with Thor trying to convince Hulk to escape and return with him to Asgard to defeat Hela.

At the same time, Thor continually tries to trick Hulk into reverting to his human state as scientific genius, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).

Despite its rather ragged meshing of the two stories, “Thor: Ragnarok” is an entertaining picture. It is the best of the three “Thor” movies because it gives its superhero emotional and physical vulnerabilities and fallibilities he lacked in the first two outings.

Waititi and his screenwriters also lighten the proceedings by introducing some odd characters, such as a Korg, a rock creature (voiced by Waititi), who is anxious to start a revolution against the Grandmaster to free all the combatants. The filmmakers also give new life to some old favorites, such as Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, whose on-again, off-again relationship with his more powerful brother is on full display.

Waititi keeps us focused on the screen with all his colorful and noisy displays, so much so that you ignore a few plot holes.

Abetting Waititi’s overall vision is Mark Mothersbaugh’s musical score that is more heavy metal than the usual symphonic superhero sounds associated with such franchise features.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is a wild ride, a boisterous amusement-park excursion that will divert you from beginning to end.

It shows the influence of the “Guardian of the Galaxy” movies on the MCU universe and how the writers of the various films are learning to mesh wit and humor into these superadventure features.

I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

THOR: RAGNAROK
3 stars out of 4
(PG-13), science fiction action and violence, suggestive material

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