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posted: 11/5/2017 8:22 AM

'Thor: Ragnarok' takes what we like about Chris Hemsworth's hero and kicks it up a notch

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  • Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns in "Thor: Ragnarok."

    Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns in "Thor: Ragnarok."
    Courtesy of Marvel Studios

 
 

What's a Ragnarok, you ask?

The direct translation might be "Marvel Studios can pretty much do anything they want at this point."

"Thor: Ragnarok," the third installment to Marvel's "Thor" movie franchise, is perhaps Marvel Studios' most comic-booky, laugh-out-loud movie yet. There are the bright Jack Kirby-inspired colors, a guest appearance by the Incredible Hulk (who's lost in space) and just a dash of Doctor Strange.

"Ragnarok," directed by Taika Waititi, feels like one of those classic "Marvel Team-Up" comics and, if successful, could give Marvel Studios a new sequel formula in the future. That formula being: Don't be afraid to mix things (and heroes) up a bit.

Despite including Ragnarok (which is actually a name for the pending destruction of Thor's mystical/celestial home Asgard) and parts of the Planet Hulk comic-book story line (in which the Hulk becomes a worshipped gladiator on the planet Sakaar) while introducing new characters Hela (the villain played by Cate Blanchett) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), the movie flies by in just over two hours.

This isn't the Thor movie that will win over critics ready to cry "franchise fatigue" and predict the end of superhero cinema. What "Ragnarok" is, it seems, is a thank-you to the comic book-loving fans who have made it possible for Thor to have three movies.

It seems Waititi and the Marvel Studios brass decided to take everything beloved about Chris Hemsworth's portrayal of Thor and kick it up a notch (including a cool new haircut).

"Ragnarok" oozes with the brotherly quarrels of Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), always a pleasure for its sharp wit and physical comedy. As is the case with every Thor movie, the two must team up at some point. There's more sibling bickering that way. Thor continues to hope Loki will change for the best. Loki continues to let him down every time.

Then there's the Thor/Hulk rivalry that was a highlight of "The Avengers." "Ragnarok" gives us Thor and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) pummeling each other for sport in a gladiatorial arena under the gaze of Jeff Goldblum's silly Grandmaster. And then we get to see them talk about it because, yes, the Hulk can talk in full sentences now. "Ragnarok's" revealing trailers took away any potential drama of this duel. We know Hulk and Thor bro-hug it up because the trailers show them teaming up to save the day in the movie's final battle against Hela. That doesn't make their punch-fest any less enjoyable to watch. It's like a Sal Buscema drawing come to life.

Talking Hulk is fun to listen to, with his "Hulk this" and "Hulk that" vocabulary, a nod to the classic Hulk comics of the '60s and '70s. Which raises the question of whether Marvel will continue to use him as a special guest star, or if he'll get his own movie franchise again.

The jokes are nonstop. So much so that a non-Marvel fan might say "Ragnarok" doesn't take itself seriously. But with the socially conscious "Black Panther" coming in February and the sure to be gloomy "Avengers: Infinity War" arriving in May, Marvel Studios decided to take a franchise that always had a sense of humor and make it a laugh fest. If you think Marvel movies are too jokey to begin with, fear not, darker days are coming.

Hela has some depth to her as a big bad with secrets Odin (Anthony Hopkins) would prefer hidden forever. She's linked to the one big surprise of this film, which is that the peace of Asgard was built on the blood of darker days of the past that no one, not even Thor, knew about.

Don't look for any romance amid the laughs and doom. Thompson lights up the screen every time she appears as Valkyrie, and she and Hemsworth are flirty. But they're too busy trying to pretend they don't care about each other to spark any new flames in the absence of Natalie Portman's Jane Foster, the love interest in the first two movies. Chalk that up as another loss for Thor on top of losing his mystical hammer Mjolnir (which is also no surprise because again, trailers).

"Ragnarok" is two hours of popcorn action with some gamma radiation added in for extra flavor. Your enjoyment level may depend on your loyalty to the God of Thunder. It was a wild ride for me, but I'm also someone who has reading 57 issues of Jason Aaron's "Thor" comic book run on my to-do list at work.

Thor will move on to more "Avengers" movies starting in 2018, but we'll have to wait to see if there's anything left of a solo franchise after "Ragnarok's" destruction.

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