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Front Page - Friday, November 10, 2017

Critic's Corner: Latest ‘Thor’ is Marvel-ous fun

After seeing “Thor” in 2011, I thought, “Meh. That was OK.”

After seeing “Thor: The Dark World” in 2013, I thought, “Wow, that was depressing.” It wasn’t a bad movie, but for a Marvel film, it was a dour, downbeat affair.

After seeing the new “Thor: Ragnarok,” I thought, “That was fun! I’d like to see it again.”

For its third Thor outing, comic book juggernaut Marvel lightened things up considerably. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn a producer had watched an early cut of the film with a stopwatch to make sure there was a joke or gag every 30 or so seconds.

The mood is so jocular at times, I’m half-expecting someone to release a fan edit of the movie with a ‘60s-style sitcom laugh track – the kind heard on shows like “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie.”

At times, the comedy is a bit too goofy. I made a note of this as a male character on the planet Asgard used an exercise shaker he’d found on Earth to impress two women. Then I realized I was dinging a movie in which beings from the planet Asgard visit Earth via a kaleidoscopic tunnel in space for being too goofy and scratched out my comment.

For the most part, though, the humor works. I even laughed at the bit where Jeff Goldblum, who plays the dictator of a planet of trash heaps, goes into DJ mode and starts slinging tunes.

But like Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, there’s an undercurrent of grave things taking place in “Thor: Ragnarok.” The movie begins with the death of Odin (Thor and Loki’s father), which releases Hela, a malevolent being known as the Goddess of Death.

There’s more to who she is and what her arrival means, but for the sake of this review, I’ll just say she doesn’t come to bring light and life to Asgard. Thor, of course, is tasked with stopping her.

I can’t imagine anyone who likes the films in Marvel’s cinematic universe not enjoying “Thor: Ragnarok.” The movie contains all the ingredients they love combined into a hearty stew.

In addition to the humor, there’s plenty of eye-popping action, including a killer fight between Thor and Hulk on the garbage planet, where they’re pitted against each other in gladiatorial combat. How they both arrive there stretches the limits of believability, although this seems like another quibble I need to scratch out because, well, what’s the point?

Director Taika Waititi, who co-wrote and helmed the 2014 vampire mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows,” a film festival favorite, was a good choice for balancing the humor with the superhero action.

Waititi also gave the film a look that’s unlike anything Marvel has produced. The art design is especially impressive where you might think it would be the least attractive – on the garbage planet, Sakaar.

In addition to the bright, vibrant sets, I loved the way the entire culture seemed fashioned out of bits and pieces of scrap. Somehow, the shots of the city and the shabby flying vehicles that lumber across its skies were the prettiest in the film, trumping even the gorgeous vistas of Asgard.

There’s a playfulness to the art design – like a kid jamming together whatever he can find in his toy chest to make a cool spaceship – that’s irresistible.

I found the story compelling, as well. While the scripts for these movies feel like products of an assembly line, with all the important boxes ticked off (villainous threat to all life in the universe? Check! Flashy, effects laden finale? Check!), “Thor: Ragnarok” tells an entertaining, self-contained story that also inches the current MCU film cycle closer to its looming finale.

The most gratifying aspect of the third Thor outing is watching Chris Hemsworth in the lead role. He owns the part – and owns the screen whenever he’s on it. Amid the flurry of jokes and pleasing visuals, “Thor: Ragnarok” works largely because of his charm and the pleasure he clearly takes in playing the God of Thunder.

Other characters from the MCU appear in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Even though the trailers spoil what should have been a surprise, I won’t. Suffice to say I enjoyed seeing Thor getting some alone time with one of the other Avengers and watching their friendship grow as a result.

And, of course, their banter is hilarious. Joke every 30 seconds? Check!