Irreverent ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is weird Marvel at its best

I like my Marvel movies weird.

Apologies to The Avengers, but things are getting a little heavy in your neck of the woods, what with your civil wars, and infinity wars, and infinity stones, and civilian casualty-heavy near-catastrophes that always seem to be caused in some way by Tony Stark.

I’ll take an eccentric, irreverent, self-contained comic book-inspired yarn featuring lesser-known characters than The Cap and Spidey over that superheroic hot mess any day. I’m gonna level with you. Even “Ant-Man” wasn’t kooky enough for me.

“Doctor Strange” is more my style, with its bizarre blend of Harry Potter magic, martial arts mysticism, and “Inception”-style headtrips. Not to mention Tilda Swinton.

“Deadpool” made me blush, but it certainly didn’t bore me, the way it brazenly broke the fourth wall and eviscerated ridiculous comic book tropes while pushing cinematic boundaries of decency and good taste.

And you just can’t go wrong with “Guardians of the Galaxy” and its unruly band of rainbow-colored rogue misfits, its throwback ‘80s nostalgia, and its awesome rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack.

I swear by the soul of Stan Lee, that’s the good stuff.

If you happen to be of the same mind, “Thor: Ragnarok” is just what the doctor ordered for rounding out one of the most uneven trilogies of the Marvel movie franchise.

Debuting in 2011, the first “Thor” wasn’t half bad, directed by Kenneth Branagh as if it were a Shakespearean drama or Greek tragedy with just a touch of camp.

This was followed by 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World,” which was trying to be “Game of Thrones” but was instead a gloomy slog through grayish battlefields, culminating jarringly in a comedic finale.

But with “Thor: Ragnarok,” Marvel finally – finally! – hits upon exactly the right tone for the hammer-wielding God of Thunder, who is, let’s admit it, one of the wackier creations in the history of comics and a character nearly impossible to take seriously.

I’m not sure why it took so long to figure all this out. It’s not rocket science. At any rate, the credit for solving the Thor tonal issue belongs to director Taika Waititi.

A collaborator on the hilarious HBO comedy series “Flight of the Conchords” and an indie filmmaker known for the vampire parody “What We Do in the Shadows” and 2016 film festival favorite “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” — if you haven’t seen these flicks, rent them immediately — Waititi wasn’t exactly the obvious choice to helm an epic, expensive Norse superhero extravaganza.

The film lets us know what we’re in for immediately with Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian prince wrapped in chains in some outer dimension of space, casually conversing with a horned fire monster who is planning to wreck apocalyptic havoc on Thor’s home planet in a cataclysmic event known as “Ragnarok.”

The banter here is priceless, capitalizing upon Hemsworth’s self-deprecating charm and underrated comedy skills (if you doubt them, look no further than his turn as Kevin in “Ghostbusters”), while poking thorough fun at the more nonsensical elements of the world of Norse gods who live on extraterrestrial planets outfitted with magical rainbow bridges, which often reminds me of the cartoon version of “The Hobbit,” mixed with Monty Python, He-Man, and a medieval fantasy reenactment camp.

It’s not giving too much away to reveal that Thor escapes from his encounter with the God of Flame — a very cool dragon and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” are involved — and hightails it back to Asgard, believing he’s averted the destruction of his homeland.

Once there, he reunites with wayward brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), shapeshifter and God of Mischief, and they set off in search of their missing dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), whose absence heralds the homecoming of Hela (Cate Blanchett), a witchy goddess of death who draws seemingly limitless power from Asgard.

Blanchett is one of the definite highlights of “Ragnarok,” clearly having the best time as a magnificent, sneering goth goddess of destruction.

Refreshingly, her villainous turn isn’t the film’s only strong female performance. Tessa Thompson, who made an impression in 2015’s “Creed,” is a total bad-ass as a drunken bounty hunter who is one of Thor’s adversaries, but also a possible ally.

In their quest to stop Hela’s ruthless quest for the throne at the peril of Asgard’s citizens, Thor and Loki – I assure you, Loki fans, there is plenty of Hiddles to go around here — find themselves down a rabbit hole, of sorts, on the DayGlo planet of Sakaar.

Here, all sorts of madcap and highly entertaining hijinks ensue, including the much-anticipated reunion between Thor and his “co-worker,” The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), in a trippy subplot inspired by the “Planet Hulk” comic book storyline. Things get extremely goofy, which makes for a very good time.

Also, Jeff Goldblum basically steals the show as The Grandmaster, who presides over gladiator-style games and apparently does a little DJing on the side. Flamboyant and wisecracking, he could be the distant cousin of Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman in “The Hunger Games.”

Oh, and did I mention the movie’s kicky electronic musical score is by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh?

If you’re someone who is deadly serious when it comes to Thor, you might have a problem with Waititi’s vision, which is pleasantly relaxed, boldly improvisational, and unabashedly cheeky, yet with tons of affection toward the very thing it mocks.

The film’s narrative may be slight and as full of holes as a slice of Swiss cheese, but with box office at $121 million this weekend, I’m guessing most moviegoers feel quite the opposite about this wonderfully weird Marvel entry.

I’m surprised this movie was ever greenlit, but I’m glad Marvel had the nerve to go ahead with it.

Photos: Fandango, comicbookmovie.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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