Whether it’s Marvel or DC, “X-Men” or “The Avengers,” the superhero movies of late are often dark and gritty to the point of being needlessly edgy. For every bright and colorful “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” viewers are faced with another “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
It’s always another big crisis or some battle for the soul of the planet that forces heroes to make dark, foreboding choices in order to get the job done — it’s a real relief that “Thor: Ragnarok” breaks the trend.
The third in the God of Thunder’s cinematic ventures, “Thor: Ragnarok” takes place about two years after “Age of Ultron,” where viewers last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) looking for Infinity Stones.
His quest is cut short by the titular “Ragnarok” — a cataclysmic event that threatens to bring about the destruction of Thor’s home, Asgard, via the giant fire demon Surtur (Clancy Brown).
Adding to the chaos is the disappearance of his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), which paves the way for the villainous Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Norse Goddess of Death, to try and lay claim to Asgard.
During the ensuing fight with Hela, Thor is kicked into space, crash-landing on the planet Sakarr, where he is captured by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and taken to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who forces him to be a part of his Contest of Champions. Thor must ultimately fight for survival and make unlikely allies if he wants to return to Asgard and save his home once and for all.
As is the norm for “Thor” films, the plot is a mishmash of pseudo-Norse mythology and comic book zaniness — though this time, most of the plot happens on Sakarr, not Earth, making for an interesting change of pace.
Director Taika Waititi, known for the mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows,” takes advantage of his new setting and transforms it into a technicolor, neon-lit 1980’s paradise.
Whereas previous Marvel films seemed to lack a lot of colors, Waititi’s version of Sakarr almost overdoes them, but it’s never really too much — it’s bright, colorful and different in a very exciting way.
It should also be noted that “Thor: Ragnarok” relies on humor. Although some may see it as an annoying layover of the Joss Whedon era, it’s more than a breath of fresh air for the series and the genre at large.
Not a moment goes by in “Thor: Ragnarok” that isn’t punctuated with a perfectly timed gag. While it undercuts some of the more serious moments of the film, each joke is hilarious, making for a very entertaining near-two-hour sitting.
There are even some zingers thrown at previous Marvel films, making “Thor: Ragnarok” not just a diversion from the main story but also an affectionate homage to everything that made the Marvel Cinematic Universe great.
Most of this humor wouldn’t be possible were it not for the cast. Hemsworth seems to have finally nailed his approach for the God of Thunder as a boisterous, boastful brute who is having a good time with it all — a much-needed divergence from his overly dramatic and much too serious versions of the character in both “Thor” and “Avengers” films.
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki returns to the series, now serving as the sort of “straight man” to Thor’s “funny guy,” using his drier, snarkier humor to even out his fun-loving brother.
Tessa Thompson, as Valkyrie, seems to hold the serious ball for most of the movie, though her character’s complex backstory and penchant for drinks make her an interesting, well-rounded feature of the cast.
Blanchett’s Hela doesn’t just eat the scenery — she gorges on it, making her one of the cheesiest Marvel villains on screen, and therefore one of the best to watch as she mercilessly tramples on Thor’s home ground.
Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster is Jeff Goldblum — enough said.
Mark Ruffalo returns as the Hulk, who also got stranded on Sakarr and became the Grandmaster’s champion. Much like Hemsworth, Ruffalo seems to have found his way in interpreting both Banner and Hulk. One’s a neurotic, jittery scientist; the other, id personified, always down to fight but childish when he isn’t cracking skulls.
While “Thor: Ragnarok” might seem like it isn’t taking its own genre seriously, it’s embracing all the wacky zaniness that makes superhero comics so entertaining to begin with. It knows it’s about Thor and the Hulk fighting in outer space before working together to take down the literal Goddess of Death, and it makes the most of a convoluted plot that would only be possible in the superhero genre.
The comedic tone is a blessing rather than a curse, making “Thor: Ragnarok” one of the most entertaining superhero films this year, rather than another hero versus hero edgy snooze-fest.
For those hoping to see Thor pop some heads while they laugh their own off, “Thor: Ragnarok” is worth the visit to the theater.