The idea in Marvel Studios’ sequel Thor: Ragnarok, a comedy of outsized figures punching their frenemies into the next county, is that the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) has been relying too heavily on his invincible hammer, Mjölnar, and his superb head of hair. So of course the former gets smashed and the latter cropped.
In this third installment, Thor’s brother and nemesis Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has spirited away their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of Asgard, to an old folk’s home on Midgard (Earth). A testy Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) intervenes. Odin’s daughter, Hela, the god of death (Cate Blanchet), is unloosed. This sooty-eyed Maleficent clone, helmeted with antlers that look like they were designed by Erté, plots to slay the universe; meanwhile, she oppresses the peasantry of Asgard, which we hadn’t really known existed in previous films.
Thor: Ragnarok parallels two bad monarchs, as the action switches from Hela’s misrule to the planet of the cruel, fey Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, with a goatee of blue paint). He diverts the subjects of his junkyard planet with fights at a million-seat arena; armored like Mars, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) has been dispatching all comers as a mixed-martial artist. Thor, brought there by a wormhole accident, is caught by a bounty hunter (Tessa Thompson) from his old neighborhood and forced to become a gladiator.
Superhero films are best when you have a moment of real fear for the seemingly invincible characters. That doesn’t happen here. Our hero is defiant, even in quiet moments—there’s a fine small scene of the imprisoned Thor chucking pebbles at Loki’s hologram. But director Taika Waititi’s determination to keep it light means that there’s nothing here quite like that moment in The Avengers when it looked as if Tony Stark was about to be marooned in another galaxy.
If Hemsworth is tired of playing Thor a fifth time, either he’s showing no evidence of weariness or he’s a better actor than most people say he is. Hemsworth’s stalwartness holds these super-ratpack movies together.
‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is playing in wide release in the North Bay.