Marvel tries to hook moviegoers on a familiar loopy feeling in “Thor: Ragnarok,” the latest solo outing for Chris Hemsworth’s hunky thunder god. While occasional comedic flashes had been a welcome surprise in the first two installments, this one trends toward “Guardians of the Galaxy” wackiness under the stewardship of newly recruited Kiwi director Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople”).
This is a film that loudly, proudly casts gravitas-lite Jeff Goldblum as one of the Marvel Universe’s cosmic power brokers, the Grandmaster. So much for the franchise already sporting a god of mischief in returning regular Tom Hiddleston’s ever-slippery Loki.
And Goldblum’s giddy scenery chewing is nothing compared to Cate Blanchett’s as Hela, goddess of death, Thor’s big sis, and divine runway model for antler-chandelier headdresses. (We kid because we dig it.) Then there’s Hemsworth’s own loosey-goosiness, as he and his heroic compatriots indulge in broad gags about, say, Thor getting his blond mane chopped, or something dubbed the Devil’s Anus.
As a steady stream of random wit and bawdiness, it’s a good time. But as a story ostensibly escalating toward the titular cataclysm — Norse mythology’s take on doomsday — “Ragnarok” feels too episodic, a scattered trifle passed off as epic.
Waititi and the movie start fast, springing our hero from a vaguely explained cage for a brawl with a gargantuan fire demon (Clancy Brown) kinetically set to Led Zep. Thor’s Asgard-is-saved victory swagger doesn’t last, though, as he and Loki are soon preoccupied with the passing of their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and the old man’s dying-breath reveal of villainous Hela’s existence.
Speak of the she-devil and up she jumps, racing her brothers from Earth back home, and running them both off the teleportational road and into a junkyard-planet ditch. Welcome to the Grandmaster’s realm, where Thor is forced into gladiatorial combat with, of all superpeople, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) — a fan-thrilling, visually turbocharged sequence that it’s a shame Marvel couldn’t have kept secret.
Still, Thor’s bloodsport detour diverts an inordinate amount of the filmmakers’ attention, and ours, from the whole end-of-days buildup. Hopkins gets short shrift, as does Idris Elba’s returning interdimensional gatekeeper, Heimdall. And while Tessa Thompson (“Westworld”) makes an intriguing addition as edgy Valkyrie, it’s irksome how glibly ex-cast member Natalie Portman’s absence is explained away.
“Thor v Hulk: Dawn of Roid Rage” is a fun spectacle, all right — but talk about your bread and circuses.
Directed by Taika Waititi. Written by Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, and Eric Pearson. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs; Jordan’s Furniture IMAX in Reading and Natick. 130 minutes. PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, brief suggestive material).
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