In the starring role of Thor: Ragnarok (Old Norse for “Twilight of the Gods”), Chris Hemsworth releases a comic daredevil spirit comparable to that other dashing Australian swashbuckler, Errol Flynn. When Thor lounges on a throne seized by Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett doing dazzling high-camp)—his newfound, evil older sister—he’s dynamic and insouciant. That breeziness only intensifies a confrontation that could determine life or death for all of Asgard and each of the Nine Realms.
Director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) is ebullient as well as iconoclastic as he smashes up decades of comic-book iconography, and Norse mythology dating back millennia, repositioning Thor’s saga to jibe with his wry sensibility. Waititi’s action builds like a gigantic expanding sphere toy. In a nifty visual effect, Hela sends Thor and his adoptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) tearing through the walls of a wormhole and onto the half-trashy, half-glitzy planet Sakaar. Thor loses his flowing locks but gains wiliness and humor as he fights and finagles his way back to Hela’s Asgard.
Waititi combines comic-book swagger and the antics of a Hope and Crosby Road movie with successive comic duos. Thor and Loki become an on-and-off team, and Hemsworth matches wits with Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange before matching half-wits with Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, who becomes the second lead. In the looniest and best possible way, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marvel Universe.