“Thor: Ragnarok” is a buddy comedy brimming with one liners and offbeat characters and relationships whose mechanical narrative and generic visual design leaves something to be desired.
But the relationships between newly-shorn Thor, played Chris Hemsworth; Hulk and his alter-ego Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo; his trickster brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston; and a Valkyrie, played Tessa Thompson – are given appealing top spin by director Taika Waititi.
Waititi, a New Zealander of Maori descent, is the first indigenous person to helm a superhero film.
“Thor” is like a Rat Pack movie where characters joke around as they go through the motions.
Thompson Valkyrie captures Thor to fight in the coliseum for a flamboyant emperor played by Jeff Goldblum on a planet where the Hulk is the top gladiator.
Thor and Hulk end up battling in a scene with the “We know each other from work” gag featured in the trailer from a film with comic moments to spare. Hulk still wants to smash things but his sensitive and sulky side gives the big green CGI more of the personality of Ruffalo’s flustered Banner.
The humor tenderizes the otherwise tough to swallow spectacle. Another plot involves Cate Blanchett as Thor and Loki’s long lost evil sister. She makes long speeches peppered with droll asides as she takes over the throne when their father, Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, dies in a cloud of molecules. Odin later re-materializes to give his sons’ Obi-Wan- or Jor-El-like counsel.
Even with, or because of, another self referential cameo by Stan Lee “Thor” feels second tier, like a shadow of a Marvel film. And its many fight sequences may be too violent for young fans. There is even a decapitation.
Still, Marvel’s freshening its franchises with offbeat and diverse voices should be encouraged. Waititi, director of the quirky “Hunt For the Wilderpeople” creates appealing characters, including one made of boulders. Its neurotic personality and adenoidal voice acting is by fellow Kiwi Jermaine Clement. Waititi did the character’s motion capture acting himself. Clement, of “Flight of the Concords,” appeared in Waititi’s vampire spoof, “What We Do In the Shadows.”
Waititi applies sly humor onto “Thor Ragnorak” with trowel. The result is a funny stand-alone that doesn’t feel particularly connected to the Marvel Universe despite an appearance by Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange and Avengers references.
And while I’m still not quite sure what Ragnorak is, I am fairly confident it doesn’t really matter.
**1/2 out of four stars
With Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum.
Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost.
Directed by Taika Waititi.