Thor, God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth), has spent the last two years seeking the Infinity Stones, gems containing unimaginable power, but has failed and is now the prisoner of Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown), a formidable fire demon who tells him that it is his destiny to bring about the destruction of Asgard, Thor's home realm. Not if Thor can help it, and he knows what to do, so on summoning his hammer Mjolnir, he frees himself, smashes up Surtur's minions and tears the crown from the demon's head, leaving him impotent. But it is not this fiery entity who he should fear, for his long-lost sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) has returned from exile: the Goddess of Death.
Guardians of the Galaxy was such a success that making their superhero movies part comedies was a notion Marvel took to like a duck to water, following the likes of Deadpool or the Guardians sequel (Logan proved the more sober approach could reap rewards at the box office as well). This led them to hire New Zealand director Taika Waititi to helm their third Thor instalment, a talent well-known for his way with comedy, though he was able to tackle the more serious material too should the script demand it. The results spoke for themselves, a blockbuster that happened to have most of its dialogue improvised, aside from the plot business one assumed, and by far the best Thor solo effort.
The previous two had been very full of themselves, which if you found all the retooled Norse mythology frankly rather silly and not worthy of such a po-faced treatment made for a pretty tedious experience, with Hemsworth's apt casting better served in the Avengers movies when he was part of a team instead of the focus. Under Waititi's guidance, Ragnarok became a goofy bit of fun that did not entirely undercut all that self-seriousness from before and was certainly in the thrall to the Marvel spectacle that marked out all their movies, so the jumping up and down, great big punches and energy blasts were present and correct, as were the abundance of excuses to fight at a drop of a hat.
But at least there was more personality this time, just as James Gunn had achieved in his Guardians entries, and that was down to the laughs. Not every joke and quip landed precisely as you imagine they would have wanted, but it did have a feeling of a space opera romp and not some sacred text which was only very important because Marvel had decided it was. This was to Ragnarok's benefit, and it was consistently engaging, particularly since you had the sense of a cast embracing the fact they were here to have fun first and foremost; Waititi cited John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China as what he was aiming for regarding the mood, and that was assuredly present in its balance of action, fantasy and laughs, but there was also a dose of Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits in there as well.
Both perfectly reasonable goals to emulate in a piece such as this, which saw Thor teaming up with Loki (Tom Hiddleston, again finally getting to grips with his character) to tackle Hela (Blanchett had charisma, but frankly could have been any respected thesp letting her hair down in a job for her kids' benefit). This state of affairs saw Mjolnir destroyed in a symbolic emasculation of the warrior, and to make matters worse Thor was banished to a world where Jeff Goldblum ruled over all with every caprice and whim in his head. Okay, he wasn't really Jeff Goldblum, but you could imagine the star behaving in much the same way had he become a megalomaniac. Also along for the ride were Tessa Thompson as the hard-drinking, hard boiled but hard luck case Valkyrie, and Mark Ruffalo as Hulk, who is trapped in his aggressive and green form to be Goldblum's gladiatorial champion, both sparking nicely with Hemsworth. A theme of refugees not being the end of the world but a chance at a better one was your social commentary, and it stuck to Marvel formula more than it claimed, but overall this was a very decent adventure with giggles. Music by Mark Mothersbaugh (heavy on the 80s synths).