Ragnarok opens with Thor being held prisoner by a fiery CGI demon straight out of an Iron Maiden album cover and the stakes couldn’t be lower. “How will our hero get out of this one?” absolutely no one thinks. Hemsworth winkingly toys with the clichés of his situation, lets loose a few tasty one-liners and sight gags, and manages to survive.
Then he’s off to Asgard, where he’s reunited with his sickly father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, in full-on paycheck mode) and his mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Things are looking bleak as Asgard is threatened with “Ragnarok” — the cataclysmic annihilation of their homeland and its civilization — at the hands of Thor and Loki’s older sister Hela.
Long ago, Hela went to the Dark Side. As Hela, Cate Blanchett camps and vamps in a form-fitting black-and-emerald bodysuit, smudgy smears of charcoal mascara, and shiny onyx horns that resemble one of those overpriced hipster antler chandeliers for sale on Etsy.
Blanchett snarls and cackles and purrs brimstone threats. And watching her, you can’t help but get a sense of deja-vu. After all, she’s already done this shtick as the Wicked Stepmother in Disney’s live-action remake of Cinderella. She’s also essentially doing exactly what Angelina Jolie did in Maleficent and what Charlize Theron did in Snow White and the Huntsman.
Surely, there have to be other ways to play female evil than just “threat-threat-punchline,” “threat-threat-punchline.” Especially when the threats are dusty groaners like: “Want to see what power really looks like?” But Blanchett is such a talented actress, all isn’t lost — even if she vanishes for large chunks of the film.
Instead, there’s Hemsworth getting his locks shorn off, swapping wiseguy banter with Loki, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange (in a drive-by cameo), Jeff Goldblum (in Aladdin Sane makeup doing his “Jeff Goldblum Thing”), and reuniting with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner and his big green alter ego (who gets to show off some dorsal nudity!).
Still, the stand-out supporting player isn’t any of the fellas, but Tessa Thompson (Creed) as a Valkyrie, a new ally who’s beautiful, badass, and likes her booze. The Marvel universe needs to see more of her. She’s a star.
There’s a lot more to the bloated story, but honestly, none of it is very interesting. In fact, it’s endless. You don’t care what’s happening or what’s going to happen next. We’re just led from place to place for a hash of foggy reasons that no one will ever remember 10 minutes after leaving the theater.
But that’s not really the point of this movie. Ragnarok is basically a Joke Delivery System — and on that score, it works. The movie is fun. So to recap: Taika Waititi was mostly the right director for the job.
Chris Hemsworth is hilarious. Tessa Thompson is going to be a star. And while Ragnarok’s story is an aimless mess, you won’t stop laughing.
In other words, it’s a… B