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  • by Jeff Beck

Thor: Ragnarok: A Dark Franchise Cranks Up the Fun

Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth in "Thor: Ragnarok"

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is well-known for having some insanely entertaining franchises under its belt, including “Guardians of the Galaxy” (still their best series of films to date) and “Captain America” (which has provided some of the most action-packed films in the entire collection). However, there have also been some series that have somewhat fallen on the wayside, one of which has been the “Thor” films. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both previous films well-enough (and they were decently received by most), but in all honesty, they weren’t very memorable, and besides Thor and his brother Loki, the characters were equally forgettable. Now we are faced with the inevitable third film, “Thor: Ragnarok,” which takes us back to Asgard for another round with the God of Thunder. Is it doomed to be another quickly forgotten entry, or has Marvel finally realized that something needed to be done to make this series stand out a little more?

The film opens with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) attempting to hunt down the Infinity Stones, only to be trapped by a demon known as Surtur, who warns him that his home planet of Asgard will soon be destroyed in a prophecy known as “Ragnarok.” Shortly after, Thor frees himself, defeats the demon, and heads for home. After reuniting with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who was posing as their father, they set off for Earth to find the real Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Once they do, Odin explains that he is dying, and that his death will release his first born, Hela (Cate Blanchett), a very powerful being who, once freed, takes over Asgard. However, before she does, she prevents Thor and Loki from escaping by hurling them out into space, eventually leading the former to crash on a planet, get captured, and sold to The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) as a gladiator. With his home world in imminent danger, Thor must survive a fight against a familiar face, gather up an unlikely group of allies, and escape the planet before Hela carries out the destruction foretold in the prophecy.

It seems more than a little fair to say that both “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World” were a little darker than most of the other MCU movies, and it seems to be at least partly responsible for why they were never received as well as the films in the other series that tried to be more on the lighter side. Perhaps this is why the director (Taika Waititi) and the screenwriters (Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost) took a slightly different approach to the latest film by giving it a good dose of what it’s been missing: fun and humor.

That’s not to say that the other two films didn’t have a splash of humor every now and again, but with “Thor: Ragnarok,” it’s definitely more prevalent and consistent than before, considerably lightening the tone and making the film not only thrilling and entertaining with its extraordinary action sequences, but also far more amusing than its predecessors (which was no doubt a difficult task considering the heavy plotline of Asgard’s possible destruction hanging in the balance). Just by taking a page from the more successful films in the MCU, “Thor: Ragnarok” lends itself to being a little more memorable, even if it is just for the jokes that you’ll still find yourself chuckling at after the film is over.

In terms of the plotline, it’s not really anything we haven’t seen before across the rest of the MCU. A big baddie threatens lots of death and destruction, and naturally our heroes have to stop them from doing so. In this regard, it starts to tip back over to the side of being a little forgettable, but at the very least, you have the great, two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett playing the villain, relishing the role with every line of dialogue she has. The only problem here is that she seemed very under-utilized, as though she was only in the film for no more than 10-15 minutes total, making her character feel like a bit of an afterthought. However, again, she makes those 15 minutes count, and the film is all the better for having her around.

On top of that, you get typically fine performances from Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Mark Ruffalo, as well as from newcomers to the franchise Jeff Goldblum and Tessa Thompson. As mentioned, there’s plenty of action to be had (with the usual grand climax of seemingly-never-ending fighting), so as far as the usual MCU fare goes, there’s more than enough here to please the die-hard fans of these films, most of whom will probably be pleasantly surprised by this latest entry in the “Thor” series. It may have a ways to go before it can stand on equal footing with the best Marvel films, but this was definitely a step in the right direction. 3/4 stars.

Starts tomorrow night in theaters everywhere.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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