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'Ragnarok' and roll

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Latest “Thor” film an exceptional MCU addition

It’s no secret that I’m in the bag for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I love the MCU movies across the board. Even the ones that some people found somewhat disappointing, I love. They continue to bring the heroes of my comic-loving childhood to bright, bold life on the big screen. So I was always going to love “Thor: Ragnarok.”

But here’s the thing – I LOVED “Thor: Ragnarok.”

It’s both a great MCU offering and an unexpected vehicle for the character. It’s a delight to look at and even funnier than you’d expect. It has the big action set pieces and the weirdo supporting characters and stakes that actually felt like they mattered. It has smart and clever and unapologetically goofy.

We open with Thor (Chris Hemsworth, “Ghostbusters”) at the mercy of the fire demon Surtur, the creature whose flaming sword is the trigger of Ragnarok, the fabled cataclysm that marks the end of Asgard. He makes his escape with his mission complete, but on his return to Asgard after a lengthy absence, he makes some less than pleasant discoveries.

It turns out that Thor’s believed-dead brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, “Kong: Skull Island”) isn’t dead at all, but their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, “Transformers: The Last Knight”) could be soon. Odin’s life force is the only thing keeping sinister forces at bay; it turns out that Thor and Loki have a long-forgotten sister.

Hela (Cate Blanchett, “Song to Song”) is the goddess of death and one of the most powerful beings in the cosmos. Her efforts to take over Asgard lead to the destruction of Thor’s hammer and he and Loki getting lost in the interdimensional passageways of the Bifrost Bridge before being deposited on the far-flung planet of Sakaar.

Thor is captured by the bounty hunter Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson, TV’s “Westworld”) and handed over to Sakaar’s ruler, a being known as the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, “Independence Day: Resurgence”), for participation in the planet’s gladiatorial Contest of Champions. Thor is thrust into the arena and promised his freedom if he defeats the reigning champion. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know who it is.

(Spoiler alert: It’s the Hulk.)

Thor and the Hulk fight, then reconnect, then fight again, and then plot – along with 142 (who turns out to be much more than she seems) and Loki – to escape the Grandmaster’s clutches. All while Hela is laying waste to Asgard with only the on-the-run Heimdall (Idris Elba, “The Dark Tower”) attempting to save the Asgardian people. The realm’s only hope against Hela lies with Thor and his friends, but even their might may not be enough to prevent the onset of Ragnarok.

This is top-tier MCU. It’s easily the best Thor movie and in the conversation as one of the best of all the individually-billed films. While the action set pieces are typically awesome – there are some outstanding fight sequences, for instance – and the aesthetic is excellent, there are elements that set this one apart and above many of its peers.

This movie is funny. It’s like the filmmakers finally understood just how significant Thor’s comedic potential was and embraced it. “Thor: Ragnarok” is a superhero movie with a buddy comedy tucked into the middle; the dynamic between Thor and the Hulk produces some of the funniest moments in MCU history. Throw in Loki’s bone-dry self-awareness and you’ve got something truly special.

Not that the humor should surprise anyone; director Taika Waititi has a resume packed with funny and offbeat films. He seemed like a weird choice for this film, but it turns out he was the perfect fit. Oh, and he voiced one of the funniest characters in the movie as well. No big deal. His weird sensibility turned out to be the ideal avenue for Thor to break out of his shell; the result is a movie that is very much a Marvel film, but also something different – and wonderful.

Hemsworth has seriously never been better in this part. The MCU has spent years layering Thor’s character, giving us glimpses at what lies beneath the godly exterior, but never before has one of these movies really explored the combination of narcissism and insecurity inherent to Thor. Hemsworth winks without winking, playing it straight while still being in on the joke. He’s great.

Hiddleston is back, and thank goodness – he remains the only unqualified villainous success in the Marvel canon and consistently makes every film better with his presence. He’s game for the continued exploration of the Loki/Thor dynamic, which leads to some big laughs. And Blanchett – man. It’s fantastic when these acclaimed talents show up for their superhero movie and refuse to treat it like a beneath-them paycheck project. She goes for it and it’s awesome; she gnaws on the Asgardian scenery like she’s treading the boards at the Globe.

The rest of the bunch is pretty great across the board as well. Ruffalo’s Hulk/Banner combo is always a delight, while Thompson’s performance seems to have cemented her a spot in the MCU moving forward. Jeff Goldblum is especially Goldblum-esque in this part; his inherent weirdness is a spot-on fit here. Elba is solid in his relatively limited work. Anthony Hopkins does his best “Anthony Hopkins, only with an eyepatch.” Karl Urban’s here as well; he’s good, but a trifle underused. And Benedict Cumberbatch has an extended cameo as Doctor Strange that is kind of delightful.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is everything that you want a Marvel movie to be. It is action-packed and thrilling. It nods to the overarching narrative while still standing on its own. The relationships are dynamic and the dialogue is funny. It all comes together in a magnificent piece of popcorn cinema, a triumph of popular entertainment.

Ragnarok and roll.

[5 out of 5]

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