Movie review: 'Thor: Ragnarok'

Brad Keefe

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands to seem like a constant presence in theaters, it's good to know that we'll at least get a little variety within the offerings.

And while it does its due duty in the slow march of compiling larger plotlines leading to the next big-screen meeting of The Avengers, I'm happy to report that “Thor: Ragnarok” seems to treat fun as its top priority.

It certainly doesn't hurt to have a director in Taika Waititi who is known for his comedies, making “Ragnarok” a punchy action-comedy before delivering the required showdown set pieces, which are also pretty exciting.

We catch up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he's imprisoned and trying to get back to his home world of Asgard to prevent its total destruction (aka the “Ragnarok” of the title).

His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is up to his old “hey, it's your fault for trusting me” tricks, but it's another sibling that's the big baddie this time around: their sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett enjoying every evil second).

Without giving much away, these intergalactic adventures cross paths with a mysterious badass scrapper (Tessa Thompson) and a certain green friend of Thor.

(OK, I didn't give much away, but I can't say the same of the posters, trailers and general marketing campaign. No fault of the filmmakers, but can we save some surprises for the theater, please?)

While Marvel movies have explored some heavier emotion, “Ragnarok” is the kind of roller-coaster ride I can get behind. Its exposition isn't too heavy, and it rarely goes more than a few minutes without delivering a thrill, a laugh or both.

New Zealand actor/director Waititi has never done anything close to this scale, but he seems oddly at home directing a big-budget superhero movie. His most recent movie, the superb and hilarious vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows,” certainly foreshadowed the laughs, though.

And that lighter tone really brings out Hemsworth's charm and comedic timing. His wit is as sharp as the definition of his abs.

In fact, the whole cast is top notch, from Blanchett's wicked turn to a scene-stealing Jeff Goldblum being vintage Jeff Goldblum. Thompson (“Dear White People”) is also great and gives us a new female of color in a landscape that sorely needs it.

The first hour also feels more in the playful vein of “Guardians of the Galaxy” before things get a bit more predictable in the big final showdown. Minor flaws aside, “Ragnarok” is one of the funniest, and most fun, superhero movies to date.

“Thor: Ragnarok”

Opens Thursday

4 stars out of 5