Movie review: 'Thor: Ragnarok' a delicious blend of meaty action and sublime silliness

By Michael O'Sullivan The Washington Post - Updated: November 3, 2017 at 6:25 am • Published: November 3, 2017 0
photo - This image released by Marvel Studios shows Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth in a scene from, "Thor: Ragnarok." (Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios via AP)
This image released by Marvel Studios shows Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth in a scene from, "Thor: Ragnarok." (Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios via AP)

When Cate Blanchett, as Hela the Goddess of Death, strides through the treasure storehouse of her father, Odin, in "Thor: Ragnarok," she casts her eye about. The film's black-antlered villainess assesses the artifacts - including the highly coveted blue "infinity stone" - with a series of blunt dismissals: "Fake!" "Weak!" "Smaller than I thought it would be!"

Such put-downs are not the only wisecracks that may remind viewers of a certain president. Somewhat later, in this cheekily self-aware and richly entertaining live-action comic book, we meet the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who, as fans of the "Avengers" franchise will recall, has been missing since "Age of Ultron." "Whatcha been up to, big guy?" he is asked, to which the green giant replies: "Winning."

Don't worry, the latest movie from Marvel Entertainment isn't exactly political, though it does involve palace intrigue. Hela, the evil sister of the movie's God-of-Thunder hero, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), wants to take over the celestial realm of Asgard, stepping into the power vacuum created by the absence of their father (Anthony Hopkins), who, as the movie opens, appears to have been exiled to a senior-living facility on Midgard, aka Earth.

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) makes a brief crossover appearance to help Thor find his father. That's not the film's only delightful cameo. In one funny sequence, Thor witnesses an Asgardian stage play featuring costumed actors portraying him, Odin and Thor's adopted brother, Loki. The casting, which is best kept secret, features two delightful surprises - and one that's very meta.

The real Thor, for his part, means to put a stop to Hela's ambitions, while the real Loki (Tom Hiddleston) must decide whose side he's going to fight on - other than his own, as is his opportunistic habit.

That's the internecine setup in a nutshell: Thor, like Abraham Lincoln before him, must put together a team of rivals to take out Hela, who has used her powers to reanimate Asgard's dead warriors.

The film's director, Taika Waititi, brings exactly the right balance of meaty action and sauciness to "Ragnarok," which avoids the bloated, cartoon-noir ponderousness that has, until "Wonder Woman," plagued movies from the film arm of Marvel's rival, DC Comics. "Everything always seems to work out," Thor reminds us - blithely - not just once, but twice, in a screenplay that elevates "Ragnarok" to the giddy heights of "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Deadpool" in its refusal to take itself seriously.

It may sound as if the movie is only for 13-year-old boys or the Marvel faithful, but it isn't. In these times of heightened stress and anxiety, "Ragnarok" - a word from Norse mythology that refers to the end of the old world and the rebirth of a better one - could not come at a more opportune time.

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