Review: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

dfn-thor_ragnarok_ver2-300Director Taika Waititi steals his own movie from his co-stars in Thor: Ragnarok.

He plays Korg, a doleful inmate in a remote prison who is resigned to a life of pain, yet keeps alive an impossible dream of rebellion against the forces that hold him captive. Resembling a bunch of rocks, Korg is nonetheless a very appealing personality in a very appealing, very funny comedy that actively works against the stereotypes of superhero films.

Waititi makes Thor: Ragnarok his own, bringing his signature authorial voice to a project with a massive budget and massive expectations. Hailing from New Zealand, the filmmaker has made a series of delightful comic works in which the characters struggle against the odds to make something of themselves — but not too much, since that wouldn’t be proper.

Having come to greater attention with What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, not to forget past festival favorites like Eagle vs. Shark and Boy, Waititi is fully prepared to put his own stamp on the third in a series of films that ran into a dead end.

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor showed strong potential for the Norse god, a fish out of water on Earth, but Thor: The Dark World, directed by Alan Taylor, felt very ordinary, featuring a lot of destruction but no real evolution of the primary characters.

Thor: Ragnarok resets the series with a much lighter touch. The screenplay, credited to Eric Pearson, Craig Kyler and Christopher L. Yost, really finds its footing after Thor is expelled from Asgard, his home planet, to a distant world, where he is quickly captured by indie warrior Scrapper (Tessa Thompson) and sold to Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The ruler of all he surveys, Grandmaster runs very popular gladiator games, and sees in Thor the possibility of making a quick profit before the mighty warrior is killed by his reigning champion.

That champion turns out to be Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who has been trapped in his larger than life form for two years and doesn’t recognize his old friend Thor. Eventually, of course, Hulk will team up again with Thor, as well as Scrapper, as well as Thor’s half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) — also exiled to the same distant planet — to do battle against the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who has assumed rulership of Asgard and wants to conquer the universe.

You know, the usual superhero stuff.

What makes all this enjoyable is the sure directorial touch of Waititi. He has no better idea of how to stage action than anyone else in the Marvel cinematic universe, but he excels at capturing believable interactions between characters, mixing believable dramatics with comic exchanges that are consistently amusing.

To a certain degree, it’s because Thor, Loki, Hulk, and Scrapper all make fun of ancient stereotypes, tamping down expectations that they’d ever want to be typical superheroes, and then proving by their actions that they’re willing to make the sacrifices needed. Scrapper, especially, stands out, not only because she’s a new character but because she’s not hemmed in by romantic attachments; she’s just a tough, experienced warrior with a sure sense of her own capabilities and a wily disregard of what others might want from here.

Thor: Ragnarok flies by in a thoroughly engaging manner. You never forget that it’s a silly superhero movie, and that’s perfectly OK with the actors and the filmmakers. The idea is just to have fun and enjoy all the action and pretty pictures on screen, and the film easily accomplishes that, leaving most viewers, myself included, wanting more.

The film opens wide throughout Dallas and Fort Worth on Friday, November 3. Check local listings for showtimes.