From contributing critic Andrew Gaudion

While Thor is arguably the strongest Avenger, with Chris Hemsworth out-muscling his co-stars by a good 16-inch bicep or two, it would be fair to say that his two solo outings (2010’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World) are two of the weaker entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s not the easiest of characters to get right, proving to be the most far-out fantastical Marvel character on screen, or at least that was the case until Doctor Strange turned up. Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean drama mixed with fish-out-of-water comedy gave the first film some charm, but Alan Taylor’s The Dark World lacked personality.

Marvel Studios seem to have taken a long hard look at Thor though and have taken him down an interesting path for his third outing. With Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Taiki Waititi at the helm and a super fun marketing campaign emphasising colour, laughs and a retrograde approach, Thor: Ragnarok looked to be shaping up to be a curious oddity for the big-budget studio, playing to the tune of its own drum. It is a damn joy to report that the film itself is as offbeat and as fun as those trailers suggested, amounting in a film that is one of the most purely enjoyable experiences one is sure to have at the cinema this year.

Thor’s return sees him faced with the annihilation of Asgard itself, as the prophesised end of days (named Ragnarok) seems fast approaching with the arrival of the extremely powerful and malicious Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. His first encounter with Hela leaves Thor stranded on the junkyard planet of Sakaar, ruled by the pleasure-seeking Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). There he meets allies both old and new and plans to make his escape to save Asgard before it is too late.

Much of what makes Thor: Ragnarok thrive is its commitment to the weirdness of the universe and those that populate it, allowing Hemsworth and the cast to flex their comedic muscles in a cosmic road trip of a movie, whilst also keeping up the quota of superhero action. While some of the humour in Marvel films of the past has been eye-rollingly cringe-worthy (I’m looking at you Guardians 2), having someone like Waititi at the helm means that much of the humour within Ragnarok is genuinely lough-out-loud hilarious, going to surprising places to mine laughs from the absurdity of this big-budget comic-book flick.

The cast is clearly having a ball, with Hemsworth finally getting the chance to flaunt his considerably impressive comic abilities to the max, whilst still carrying the action beats like the seasoned pro he now is. Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie is one fierce bad-ass and responsible for some of the film’s most crowd-pleasing moments, alongside Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk, who spends most of his time as the big green machine with the speech patterns of a five year-old. All you Goldblum fans are not going to want to miss this on the big screen as it gives some of the most unadulterated-Goldblum-isms ever committed to film. My mind boggles at the amount of memes that will be born out his performance here.

Unfortunately, as is the case with a great deal of MCU films, the villain feels very under-developed, which is a particular shame when you have someone like Cate Blanchett playing your chief antagonist. There is nothing wrong with her performance; she commands every scene she is in with a menacing allure and intimidating glee – only, her screen time feels restrained as the various subplots fight it out for space. This also means that the 130-minute runtime does feel a little too padded out for comfort, conflicting with the generally lightness of touch that the film clearly aims to convey.

Thankfully, Waititi keeps things moving at a good clip, only occasionally feeling strained. Much of the joy of seeing this unfold on screen comes from Waititi’s clear adoration for the 60s comic book stylings of Jack Kirby and 80s sci-fi fantasy movies (namely Flash Gordon). The colours are bright and bold, background characters are bizarre and filled with oddball personality, and the action is incredibly playful throughout. Every character gets a moment to shine, pulsing to a synth-driven score that gives the whole proceedings that feeling of watching something akin to that strange 80s fantasy flick you watched one time on VHS when you were 10 years old.

Waititi has made a superhero movie that feels irreverent whilst still serving the big picture of the franchise in a way that feels less forced than other MCU movies before it. There is no escaping the feeling that he is having a blast playing with a mega blockbuster budget to make the kind of Hollywood movie he loved as a kid. It is an energy that is thunderously infectious, with Thor Ragnarok standing as one of the funniest and strongest Hollywood flicks of the year when it comes to sheer entertainment value. Go forth and bask in the glory of the son of Odin, for his third motion picture is mighty!

(Photos copyright: Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures)

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