Reeling it in: In ‘Ragnarok,’ Thor shines

This image released by Marvel Studios shows the Hulk, from left, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Tom Hiddleston as Loki in a scene from, “Thor: Ragnarok.” (Marvel Studios via AP)

“Thor: Ragnarok”

 

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

2 hours, 10 minutes

Marvel movies are not particularly hard to analyze. That’s why you tend to have fairly predictable reviews. Some people don’t like these movies, but most critics appreciate the fact they are entertaining, if not particularly inventive.

Critics tend to agree, as well, about how to rank the films. “Captain America” gets the best reviews, where the “Thor” films are universally considered second tier. I don’t necessarily disagree, although Chris Hemsworth’s title character is undoubtedly one of the most likeable of all the Marvel heroes. This latest outing with the character, however, is surprising some. “Thor: Ragnarok” is garnering some of the best reviews of the series, and a big part of the reason may be that, instead of making another paint-by-numbers superhero film, “Ragnarok” has the definite feel of its quirky Kiwi author, Taika Waititi.

Starting with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the Marvel movies have been getting funnier. It’s a sensibility the studio definitely gets and one the suits over at DC have been slow to embrace. “Thor” movies had not been particularly funny up to this point, though. Sure, Chris Hemsworth has had small opportunities to show off his comedic chops here and there, but Waititi has taken a storyline that has traditionally been a bit stodgy and made the closest Marvel has come to a straight comedy since “Ant-Man.”

The story opens with Thor in chains deep underground in the lair of a horned fire demon. Almost like a Bond cold open, this storyline seemingly gets wrapped up quickly and the tale transitions to Asgard, where, if you saw the last “Thor” you’ll remember that Loki has banished his father Odin, and is impersonating the king of the Gods. If you didn’t see the last “Thor,” don’t worry because “Ragnarok” has a hilarious recap just for you. Once Thor becomes aware of Loki’s schemes, it’s up to the two of them to find the missing Odin. But the family reunion quickly turns ugly when Odin’s first born, Hela, the Goddess of Death throws her hat into the ring.

Rarely taking a breath, this film careens from realm to realm, adventure to adventure at a rapid pace. Unlike other “Thor” films, there is very little downtime in “Ragnarok.” As a result, there’s very little character building, as well. Beautiful as it is, and entertaining, this is the cartooniest of the Marvel films. Much of it feels like it was taken directly from the pages of a comic book, which is definitely cool, but throw in a little objectivist philosophy and dim the lights a bit and you’ve got a Zack Snyder film.

That’s perhaps an unfair criticism because no matter its flaws, this is not a Zack Snyder film. These are loveable characters. Thor is at his most likeably and Loki has settled into a nicely roguish rhythm. Jeff Goldblum’s take as the gleefuly corrupt Grandmaster is funny and almost loveable, even when he’s melting his enemies.

Perhaps the weak link, and I almost hate to say this, is the character that is supposed to be the big draw for this film, The Hulk. I like Hulk, but I think a little goes a long way. Mark Ruffalo, who plays Hulk’s alter ego Bruce Banner, is usually calm and brings a gravity to the role, but here he is forced to play a kind of Jerry Lewis/Woody Allen nebbish scaredy cat. Also, the fact that Hulk talks didn’t bother me so much as the fact that it’s never explained. He’s fine, and there’s some great moments of Hulk battle that I loved, but overall I felt this wasn’t the big green guy’s best showing.

Thor, on the other hand, is as good as I’ve seen him. Hemsworth is perfect for this kind of role, and I felt like this take on the role really humanizes him, ironically. He’d be nothing, however, if it wasn’t for a great supporting cast. Goldblum, as mentioned, is great, as is his chief of staff, Topaz, played by Rachel House. The two make a great team.

Cate Blanchett, as Hela, is fine for the role, though it requires little of her beyond sneering and strutting. I’ll be interested to see if they expand her into one of the big bads for the continuing series.

Crowd favorite, however, and stealer of all the scenes, is Korg, a blue rock gladiator, voiced by the director himself. Waititi plays Korg completely opposite of what you’d expect based on his appearance. This film really has a Kiwi (New Zealander) feel to it, and that sense coalesces in Korg. Polite, unassuming, yet brave and noble as they come, Waititi knocks it out of the park with this simple side character.

For as seemingly light as the film is, “Ragnarok” has big consequences for the Marvel universe and the story to come. This film and next Spring’s “Black Panther” lead directly into the next Avenger’s movie, “Infinity War,” which promises to start the big wrap up to everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been leading up to.

There were a few issues I had with this film, but it was so much fun, and so propulsive, that little irritations get lost in the mix of dazzling colors and killer music. “Thor: Ragnarok” is a blast – a little messy, but a blast nonetheless.

Grade A-

“Thor: Ragnarok” is rated PG-13 for language and cartoon violence.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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