Bouncing back from its self-serious predecessor, Thor: Ragnarok also distinguishes itself as different from the first film in this specific franchise, which is part of a larger one that places its titular character in the company of other big personalities. First, it mostly disregards the trajectory of that bigger franchise acting itself out in the background. Indeed, the weakest moments in the screenplay (by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher L. Yost) are those that attempt to connect to a narrative larger than itself. The movie seems decidedly uninterested in the ways by which Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) story connects with those of the other Avengers, minus the one who plays a secondary role here.
Second, the screenwriters and director Taika Waititi (who also has a tertiary role that is so funny it shouldn't be spoiled here) focus once more on Thor's personality, which has been fundamentally changed by his experiences on Earth (known as Midgard to non-humans). They're smart enough to understand that Thor is at his most interesting when he has someone with whom to quarrel and argue, something forgotten completely by the second film, which bogged down in a lot of business to do with an Infinity Stone that made no sense. This film reconciles that by placing him in three separate buddy comedies that all happen at the same time.
He is first reunited with his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who banished their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) at the end of the last movie to ascend to his throne in secret. They are no sooner reunited with their father than his firstborn returns in the form of Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, looking like the member of a punk-rock group and seeking the throne of Asgard (technically her birthright) for herself by any means necessary - meaning mass destruction and death, of course. This constitutes the plot of the movie, although it doesn't really mean a lot in the long run.
That is because Hela spends a long chunk of the movie away from the main action, recruiting a reluctant lieutenant in Skurge (Karl Urban) and killing off or enslaving most of Asgard's population. Elsewhere, Thor is abandoned to a discarded planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), a cheerful tyrant whose jokes are just as prevalent as his mercy is utterly lacking. Here, he runs into the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who has been stuck in his big, green form for two years, and a hard-drinking member (played by Tessa Thompson) of the Asgardian Valkyrie, an all-woman group of guerrilla warriors whose last brush with Hela ended in, well, mass destruction and death.
Hemsworth's rippled good looks and rugged charm are still intact - if, indeed, they ever weren't - and the film's strengths easily lay in his adventures with this unlikely threesome. The climax must eventually pit them against Hela, her army of anonymous minions, and a giant wolf-dog whose quarry on the side of the good should be obvious by now. It's mostly a light-and-sound showcase, although the score being a certain Led Zeppelin track doesn't hurt at all. There's a joy to be found in the best action sequence, which pits Thor and the Hulk against each other in a way wherein the pair can air out their grievances in only the way such huge personalities can. Thor: Ragnarok is - not to put too fine a point on it - a lot of fun.
Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Cate Blanchett (Hela), Tessa Thompson (The Valkyrie), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk), Karl Urban (Skurge), Jeff Goldblum (The Grandmaster), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Taika Waititi (Korg), Rachel House (Topaz), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Benedict Cumberbatch (Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange). Featuring the voice of Clancy Brown (Surtur).
Directed by Taika Waititi and written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher L. Yost.
Rated PG-13 (intense sci-fi violence/action, brief suggestive material).
Released on November 3, 2017.