Although Marvel Studios has famously developed an elaborate Cinematic Universe that began with 2008’s Iron Man and is expected to conclude (this incarnation, at least), more or less, with an Avengers movie in 2019, one of the strengths of the franchise has been how diverse the tones of each of the films has been. Like the comic books that inspire them, we have the hip sophisticated comedy of Iron Man and Ant-Man, the serious, retro-patriotism of the Captain America films, the campy adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the youthful goofiness of Spider-Man, the humorless gravity of Thor.

Well, until now.

The latest Thor sort-of-solo outing, subtitled Ragnarok, seems like it will be the another sparkly, mythic entry about the God of Thunder, pulled from Viking legend, who protects the Nine Realms from his home in Asgard, transported via a gateway called the Bifrost. With its portentous name (“Ragnarok” is Norse for the German term Gotterdammerung, or Twilight of the Gods in English) it seems like it’s destined to be a sword-and-sandals epic. And while it makes gestures toward that, it’s anything but. Tonally, Ragnarok is much closer to Guardians than his last solo adventure, The Dark World.  It’s filled with jokey banter that often seems at the expense of character consistency. For instance, when Thor is told he much engage in a fight to the death and discovers his opponent will be the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), he quips, “I know him from work!” and smiles broadly even while being charged. No great warrior would put his guard down so easily (remember, Hawkeye spent all of The Avengers under a mind-altering spell, and all he does is shoot arrows). And the director, Taika Waititi — a Maori best known as an actor, for his droll work directing Flight of the Conchords and for last year’s quirky indie comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople — makes a lot of other peculiar choices, such as 300-esque action sequences that he cuts away from too soon; the film is choppy when it doesn’t need to be.

But despite those distractions, it’s an entirely enjoyable film. Much like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, it’s the kind of franchise film that does not require familiarity with the series or the characters to appreciate, though there are Easter eggs for fanboys (including a cameo by Doctor Strange that does an excellent job of showing us how far he has come since his own film). It also benefits from a scary-ass villain in Cate Blanchett as Hela, Thor’s until-now-unknown older sister, who’s a total badass and wants to wage war against the galaxy. There are also wonderful bits by Jeff Goldblum as a Jabba-ish trader in human misery (with Goldblumian snark), Ruffalo’s aw-shucksy take on Bruce Banner, and some shirtless preening by Chris Hemsworth. That alone could be enough to convince me to see it again.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

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