Ragnarök, a prophesied catastrophe in Norse legend, is apparently some kind of a big deal, even by superhero standards. Mainly, though, it’s a handy excuse for the latest edition of Marvel-branded sensory overload.
One of the most surprising things about Thor: Ragnarok is that it forgoes the umlaut in the title - that winking diacritical mark would have been a nifty signal of the movie’s tongue-in-cheek attitude toward its mythology, a comic stance that makes Thor’s third outing his breeziest by far.
With Taika Waititi at the helm, the clash-of-worlds CGI extravaganza blasts free of the previous instalment’s leaden Dark World. Giant fire monsters in stygian underworlds notwithstanding, even the story’s central bad guys are silly fun, hammed to the hilt by Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum.
The relatively laid-back angle on all the murderous spreeing gives Chris Hemsworth a chance to find the comic groove beneath the title character’s beefcake godliness.
Even Anthony Hopkins’ high-ground patriarch feels a tad looser, while Tom Hiddleston offers more of the seething sarcasm that makes Loki, with his ever-shifting allegiances, the best thing to happen to bad hair in the new millennium.
The film indulges in the kind of Marvel Universe crossover storyline that thrills fangirls and their brethren and leaves the rest of us guessing at the degrees of separation.
Waititi’s interest in intimate stories was evident in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but it’s the knack for dry comedy that he brought to the mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows, that shapes the new Thor. He sets the party-on tone in the movie’s first, jokey moments.
Returning to his native Asgard after escaping imprisonment, Thor is drawn back into the cosmic sibling rivalry between him and the devious shape-shifter Loki, who’s impersonating their father, Odin (Hopkins), after dumping him on the earthly plane.
Further competition for Odin’s throne arrives in the form of the brothers’ long-lost sister, Hela (Blanchett). A Norse terror with a Goth streak who lives up to the title of Goddess of Death, she’s been redacted from Asgard’s history and isn’t happy about it.
While Hela puts a reluctant Skurge (Karl Urban) to work as her henchman, Thor somehow manages to become a prisoner again, this time on the planet Sakaar.
Ruled by Goldblum’s disco-campy dictator Grandmaster, Sakaar is home to a gladiatorial contest that will pit Thor against the Hulk. Another larger-than-life character, Thor’s fellow prisoner Korg, proves a first-rate comic foil.
A stone man with a revolutionary calling, he’s a ready ally when Thor gathers together a team to save Asgard. The high-powered visuals include familiar elements from the film’s predecessors: the halcyon glow of Asgard, the Bifrost’s whooshes of world-spanning multicoloured light.
There are moments that might bring a viewer back to the day’s news: a citizens’ uprising, an exodus of refugees.
But amid the strife and the battles, it’s the loose-limbed laughs that amp the story’s comic-book formula. In the evanescent Ragnarok, even the shock of grievous bodily injury evaporates before our eyes.
What will linger when the weapons are withdrawn is the knowledge that you’ve been prepped for the inevitable next chapter.