Sight for Thor eyes

You know what’s cooler than a pegasus? A billion pegasuses.

You know what’s cooler than a pegasus? A billion pegasuses.

Rated 3.0

Thor: Ragnarok shows why Marvel Studios is winning its undeclared war with DC Comics in the battle of the superhero movies. Eschewing the joyless solemnity with which Christopher Nolan weighed down DC’s Batman, and with which Zack Snyder is in the process of murdering Superman, Thor: Ragnarok is actually fun.

The news isn’t all good. The truth is, it would probably be more fun if it were half an hour shorter. Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher L. Yost’s story is thinner than green tea, with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his treacherous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) uneasily uniting for Ragnarok, a world-destroying battle with their evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett). It plays more as a series of build-ups to action set-pieces, like song cues in a 1930s musical. The action scenes themselves feel like items on a CGI programmer’s wish list, about as viscerally exciting as a Coyote-Roadrunner cartoon and not nearly as funny.

New Zealand director Taika Waititi, graduating from the quirky indie flicks that put him on the map, isn’t quite ready for the quantum upgrade in scale. The final credit crawl reads like the population of a medium-size city, and he lets those hundreds of artists run away with the movie time and again.

Between these numbing extravaganzas, Waipiti asserts his impish humorous side, and the movie flares to life, revealing its saving secret: It’s really a comedy—or rather a knowing self-spoof; Pearson, Kyle and Yost are much better at mock-cocky badinage than they are at story construction, and at its best Ragnarok feels mercifully more like Young Frankenstein or a Mad magazine parody than a sequel to the dreary Thor: The Dark World.

In last year’s Ghostbusters, Hemsworth revealed a surprising gift for comedy, and he unwraps it again here, not only in his sibling-rivalry banter with Hiddleston, but in interactions with supporting heroes and villains—Doctor Strange (a cameo-ing Benedict Cumberbatch), a planetary emperor named the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, tarted up like Caligula in disco drag), the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, again giving both characters more than any other actor has even attempted). A bonus is newcomer Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a female Han Solo type who goes from being Thor’s captor to a flirtatious confederate, a better match for Thor (and Hemsworth) than the ill-cast Natalie Portman in the first two movies.

As villain-in-chief Hela, Blanchett is squeezed into a skin-tight black body stocking and wild antler headdress that make her look like a dominatrix in a Martian whorehouse, recycling her wicked stepmother from Cinderella. Rounding out straight-man duties are Karl Urban as Asgardian warrior Skurge and Idris Elba as the all-seeing wizard Heimdall. If they felt left out of the enjoyment, they kept it to themselves.

It may be damning with faint praise, but Ragnarok is the best Thor movie yet. The fans will love it, and the rest of us can duck out for more popcorn when the fighting starts.