God of Yuks? 'Thor: Ragnarok' plays for laughs — and gets 'em

Thor and the Hulk: Two one-upping Avengers

Thor and the Hulk: Two one-upping Avengers Courtesy of Marvel Studios

With apologies to the land of the Vikings: Thor is hands down the most boring Avenger.

He’s practically invincible, so the stakes are never all that high. His only real weakness is pride, which can be used as a plot point once before it becomes annoying. Thor is a relic from a different time, a superhero without nuance, and that makes for boring solo outings.

So after two meh Thor movies, how do you fix the god of thunder?

Make him funny.

Marvel has used Thor as comic relief in varying capacities over the course of its cinematic universe, but with Thor: Ragnarok the studio really leaned in. They hired Taika Waititi, a director known for oddball comedies like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and adapted the Planet Hulk comics storyline to shift some emphasis away from the stuffiness of Norse mythology. The result is a Thor movie that’s actually fun to watch.

Raganarok feels different from the get-go. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has allowed himself to be captured by the fire demon Surtur, as a means to defeat the monster and prevent Ragnarok, the prophesied destruction of Asgard. Whereas Thor of the past films would have charged in with macho gusto, our hero now chats up a skeleton in his cell, cracks jokes when face-to-face with Surtur, and subsequently does battle with an evil horde while Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” blasts from the theater speakers. This is a complete 180.

From here, Raganarok operates on two converging storylines. Hela (Cate Blanchett), goddess of death and Thor’s older sister, attacks Thor and his adoptive brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), in an attempt to take the Asgardian throne. Loki calls down the Bifröst Bridge in an attempt to flee, but the brothers are knocked from the portal and end up on a planet called Sakaar. Thor is captured and forced to compete in gladiatorial combat. While Hela wreaks havoc on Asgard, Thor must figure out an escape.

Blanchett does a fine job as always, but she’s just another in a long line of megalomaniacs. This storyline—all-powerful bad guy hell-bent on taking over the world—is the same old stuff from Marvel. We get a reprieve, however, during Thor’s time on Sakaar. Here, Ragnarok skirts its villain problem for a bit and trades the stale elements of the Asgardian epic for ’80s space opera vibes. Something about Thor flying around in spaceships and using laser guns just makes the character feel fresher.

Hemsworth gets to flex his comedic muscles more than ever before, and shows a real knack for it here. Hulk’s (Mark Ruffalo) appearance on Sakaar allows for more complicated chemistry between the two one-upping Avengers. And Jeff Goldblum lends trademark Goldblumian weirdness to minor villain the Grandmaster, a goofball sadist who runs the planet. As such, the second act stands out as more like Spider-Man: Homecoming than anything found in Thor.

Comic-book purists might not like the direction, but it’s a welcome change for the rest of us. Thor may always be the lamest of the Avengers, but Waititi and company made fine lemonade out of this Asgardian lemon.

Thor: Ragnorak
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett
Rated: PG-13
Theater: Now open, area theaters