The 17th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Series, “Thor: Ragnarok” feels quite a bit like the 15th, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”
It looks amazing, like a 1960s art-deco sci-fi movie gone bonkers in a whirl of colors and shapes; it’s often thrilling, sometimes touching, and above all, it’s very funny.
But is it too funny? This Thor (Chris Hemsworth, his fifth time in the role), with a spiffy shorter haircut, is a total goofball, and quite a far cry from the noble Thunder God created for the comics in the early 1960s by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby.
That Thor was a bit of a stiff. In “Thor” (2011), director Kenneth Branagh attempted to fit him into an action movie with some Shakespearian elegance. It worked, but then Joss Whedon allowed Thor to be a little silly with his fellow “Avengers” (2012).
“Game of Thrones” veteran Alan Taylor attempted an awkward compromise in “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) and came up with what many consider the worst in the series.
Now New Zealand director Taika Waititi takes over. With films like the funny, heartfelt coming-of-age stories “Boy” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” and the found-footage vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows,” he had nothing like this on his resume.
With spry style, Waititi pushes Thor all the way into comedy, and even though it might not be the honorable thing to do, it feels good. It’s done with joy and confidence, and a measure of love.
The “Ragnarok” of the title is a kind of armageddon, coming soon to Asgard. Thor hasn’t been back home in some time and discovers that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has taken over the throne, disguised as Odin, while the real Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is gone.
This leads to the release of their long-imprisoned elder sister, the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett); she wishes to claim her rightful place on the throne, and doesn’t mind destroying just about everything to get there.
Unfortunately, while fighting her, both Thor and Loki are flung to a far corner of the universe, the planet Sakaar, ruled by the hilariously weird Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Thor is forced to fight a champion, which turns out to be the long-lost Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
In short, they must escape, accompanied by a former valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), return to Asgard and save the day.
Though “Thor: Ragnarok” may feel like a lightweight entertainment, it comes packed with the same ingredients that made Whedon’s “The Avengers” so good. It has a sense of teamwork, of very human connections, but it also comes with a sense of the individual.
Unlike the case with so many other franchises, Waititi has been allowed and encouraged to bring his own touch to this expensive movie. It feels less like mass-manufactured fast-food and more like a home-cooked meal, complete with drinks and laughs, for his friends.
Three and a half stars
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum
Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher L. Yost
Directed by Taika Waititi
Running time 2 hours, 10 minutes