The presence of Jeff Goldblum in “Thor: Ragnarok” is a statement. It tells us that this, the third feature centered around Asgard’s God of Lightning, will not be Marvel-by-numbers. How could it, when the iconic, oddball-ish, delightfully sputtering star of “The Fly” and “Jurassic Park” is one of your main villains?
Casting Goldblum says, “We’re not taking ourselves too seriously. We understand that this is a film about a Norse god wielding a mighty hammer. So let’s enjoy it.”
That’s a wise move. More “Fifth Element” than “Avengers,” more John Carpenter than Jon Favreau, “Thor: Ragnarok” is an often riotously entertaining interplanetary romp.
Yet, like nearly every Marvel effort to date, it is riddled with flaws. It is way overlong, and features a meandering, difficult-to-follow storyline. (I’m still not sure what Ragnarok actually is.) Audiences will be having so much fun, however, that they are unlikely to care.
Much of the credit for the film’s successes goes to filmmaker Taika Waititi, the New Zealander chosen as the director of the follow-up to “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World.” His last two directorial efforts, cult classic vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” and 2016 adventure “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” were offbeat treats. Neither would have made Waititi an obvious choice for “Ragnarok,” but he was an inspired choice. He nails the film’s devil-may-care tone.
Waititi also brought together a wonderful cast. Chris Hemsworth returns as the mighty Thor, and the reliably charming actor is having a blast. Also back are Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s sneering brother, Loki; Anthony Hopkins as their father, King Odin; and an underused Idris Elba as their Asgardian ally, Heimdall.
It’s the new names that enchant: the aforementioned Goldblum; Cate Blanchett as the “goddess of death,” Hela; Tessa Thompson as “Scrapper 142,” a booze-guzzling Asgardian in hiding; and Mark Ruffalo as Thor’s fellow Avenger, Hulk (a.k.a., Bruce Banner).
The less time spent discussing the plot, the better. But here goes: A couple of years after the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Thor returns home to Asgard. He finds his thought-to-be-deceased brother alive and well, but their father has left the planet.
Odin is, in fact, ready to pass on. Doing so ushers in the arrival of his firstborn child, the evil, all-conquering Hela. She quickly forces Thor and Loki to the planet Sakar, and arrives in Asgard to claim her throne.
Sakar is ruled by the powerful Grandmaster (Goldblum), who cannot wait to put Thor into gladiatorial battle against … an old friend who is green, large and angry. Thor, Loki, Hulk, and a new ally, “Scrapper 142,” must find a way off the planet, return to Asgard, and discover a way to defeat Hela.
There are ample joys along the way, many of them occurring on Sakar. Hemsworth displays the comic timing he used to great effect in 2016’s “Ghostbusters,” as well as noteworthy chemistry with Hiddleston, Thompson, and Ruffalo. Meanwhile, Blanchett chews scenery with ease.
As “Thor: Ragnarok” progresses, the sense of urgency severely wanes. The entire affair begins to feel like a long, rather random diversion. But Waititi saves the day, repeatedly, with great humor and eye-popping action sequences, including two set to Led Zeppelin’s wildly appropriate “Immigrant Song.”
How does “Ragnarok” fit into the extended Marvel universe? Who cares? After all, “Thor: Ragnarok” is the first Marvel film that seems designed to be fun, above all else. It doesn’t always work, but bravo to all involved for going full-Goldblum, and never looking back.
3 stars (out of 4)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Taika Waititi
Running Time: 130 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material
The mighty Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.