218. Thor: RagnArok

★★★½

Part “Star Wars,” part “Lord of the Rings” with just a teensy bit of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” sparkled on top, “Thor: Ragnarok” proves to be greater than its other-worldly components, a behemoth of marvelous humor and action unlike any other comic book film to date. It bursts at the seams with meta humor, self-aggrandizing enough to supercharge Thor’s status into one of Marvel’s favorite heroes, and certainly its most comic.

“Thor: Ragnarok” accomplishes this feat by realizing exactly what it is: just another dutiful step up towards Thanos’ space throne. Whatever happens in this movie is ultimately pointless, just as long as it makes its necessary contribution to the”Infinity War” storytelling fund. Instead of being nihilistic or resolute about its fate, “Thor: Ragnarok” capitalizes upon every story beat with witty jokes and dazzling displays of light and color. One could say the same for the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, but that franchise is in its universe-establishing phase. The “Thor” films have already fully built their universe, and now command that we laugh at it. And so we do, with pleasure.

The movie depicts Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he braces for an attack on Asgard from Hela, aka the goddess of death, aka the goddess Cate Blanchett. But the god of thunder finds himself imprisoned on a desolate planet ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), a cosmic, musically-inclined individual who has less in common with other Marvel celestials than he does with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. He’s a funky, fun-loving ruler, one who will make sure you have plenty of Smirnoff in your cup before he smites you. Also hanging out on the Grandmaster’s planet are Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a dangerous Asgardian  named Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a woman who the only thing she can maneuver better than a sword is a bottle of whiskey.

The entire time Thor spends on the Grandmaster’s planet with these characters is unbridled ecstasy. It’s almost a shame that Thor and Hulk can’t crash here permanently with all that buzzkill, end-of-the-world stuff happening a few planets aways. But its in this sequence in the film where “Thor” takes its mightiest and most rewarding risks, where it bares down its most noble, statuesque hero into bare flesh and bone, thrusting him into scenarios that feel more ripped out of a sitcom script than the pages of a comic book.

These qualities make “Thor: Ragnarok” mostly unique, but the film still holds similarities with its Marvel brethren for having a lackluster villain. The circumstances for Hela’s introduction seem random and forced, and while the movie does an admirable job painting her as a high school graduate desperately hoping to be recognized at their 10-year reunion, she isn’t developed enough to earn a lasting place in our moviegoing memory. The explanation for Jane Foster’s absence also feels like an afterthought. Instead of properly explaining why this woman so important to “Thor” is no longer with us, the reason we get is really just a shitty, Google-translated version of “Natalie Portman was too busy.”

To be fair, this movie isn’t about having a well-rounded, groundbreaking villain or introducing a female character to find a spark with Thor’s thunderous emotions. “Thor” has done that, hell other Marvel films have done just that. The one thing that other Marvel films have not done is test the durability of comic relief by stretching it across the entirety of the film’s 130 minutes. The first “Iron Man” and later “Guardians of the Galaxy” proved comic book films can be funny. “Thor: Ragnarok” shocked us by showing just how funny they can be.

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