Chris Hemsworth returns to his godly role in “Thor: Ragnarok,” a film that is a vast departure in tone and theme from the previous films, and it’s a welcome development.
Director Taika Waititi, working from a script by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, tears apart Thor’s world, hurtling him deep in space to the alien planet Sakaar.
It freshens up the franchise, which, despite strong performances by Hemsworth, had two of the more forgettable films in the Marvel Universe. Nobody is going to forget the synth soundtracked, tripped-out world created in “Ragnarok.”
The film begins with Thor taking on a big fiery foe named Surtur (voiced by Clancy Brown). He’s tied to Ragnarok — a mythic, end-of-the-world battle that will destroy Asgard, home to the Norse gods.
Shortly after, the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), shows up, and things really go to hell, with her taking control of Asgard and Thor and his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) getting jettisoned to Sakaar.
Inspired by a Marvel Comics’ storyline “Planet Hulk,” Sakaar is a junkpile of a planet centered on big gladiator fights — a contest of champions — all run by the enigmatic Grandmaster (played by Jeff Goldblum, in full eccentric Jeff Goldblum mode).
Thor gets brought in by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to fight, and he’s got to battle the grand champion, who turns out to be his old pal the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who landed on the planet after disappearing at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
But time’s ticking, and Thor needs to get back to Asgard to stop Ragnarok, and he’s going to need the help of not only the green goliath but also Loki and some others from Sakaar.
“Ragnarok” thrives on its lunacy, a colorful fever dream that’s funny and explosive and exciting. Hemsworth, with freshly shorn hair, gets to show off his great comedic timing. Thompson is a revelation as Valkyrie, turning in a powerful and nuanced performance, both physically and emotionally. Blanchett brings a cool menace to Hela, which is no surprise.
But it’s clear that Taititi — who also stars as the motion-capture rock creature Korg — was the missing ingredient in this franchise. The director of “What We Do in the Shadows” uses every dollar of his budget here, creating this massive world. It’s a visceral experience — funny, bold and surprising, which is just the jolt the God of Thunder needed.