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Movie review: Waititi puts a humorous deadpan stamp on fantastic 'Thor: Ragnarok'
From left, Mark Ruffalo is the Hulk, Chris Hemsworth is Thor, Tessa Thompson is Valkyrie and Tom Hiddleston is Loki in a scene from "Thor: Ragnarok." - photo by Josh Terry
THOR: RAGNAROK 3 stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Idris Elba; PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material); in general release

Thor: Ragnarok is the kind of film that makes you feel like the director is getting away with something. Taika Waititis effort is bursting with personality, and beyond being the best of the Thor franchise, it may be one of the best Marvel efforts yet. Its certainly one of the funniest.

Ragnarok is the third standalone to focus on Chris Hemsworths blond hammer-wielding demigod. His last appearance came in 2015s Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ragnarok has him following up on the nightmarish visions that he started having while the Avengers were fighting James Spaders megalomaniacal artificial intelligence.

The visions are tied to an apocalyptic prophecy from Thors homeworld, Asgard, where a fiery beast called Surtur (Clancy Brown) leads a destructive overthrow called Ragnarok. But when Thor makes short work of Surtur early in the film, the pieces just dont seem to add up.

The math starts to make a little sense once we meet Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who also happens to be the true firstborn of Thors father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Hela is miffed that Odin turned his back on the ruthless lust for conquest that brought Asgards nine realms into submission largely thanks to Helas help and her homecoming is anything but nostalgic.

Hela casually destroys Thors hammer and sends him and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) off to a bizarre trash planet named Sakaar, where our hero runs into the other, much greener Avenger who flew off into the sunset after the fight with Ultron. But before they can head home and deal with Hela, Thor and The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) have to fight their way out of a gladiator-style battle royale headed up by Sakaars colorful Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), then win over an exiled Asgard Valkyrie warrior, played by Tessa Thompson.

All things considered, Ragnaroks plot isnt all that far off from the kind of fare fans encountered in the first two Thor movies. But this film is a drastic departure from those two, thanks to the efforts of its director. Waititi was the man behind 2014s What We Do in the Shadows and 2016s wonderful Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and he brings the same deadpan New Zealand humor that he used in those films into Ragnarok, even providing voiceover for a comic CGI character named Korg.

The result may be off-putting to diehard Thor purists, as Waititis persistent irreverence makes Ragnarok feel more akin to the Guardians of the Galaxy films than the first two Thor films. But others may feel that Waititi has given the franchise a much-needed and very successful kick in the pants that delivers some unexpected fun.

Keep in mind, though, that in spite of all the humor, Ragnarok still delivers some fantastic action sequences this is still very much a comic book movie and the dazzling visuals are enhanced by a fun techno-retro sci-fi soundtrack from ex-Devo musician Mark Mothersbaugh (which also benefits from some timely Led Zeppelin cues).

Hemsworth and Ruffalo seem to be having a great time with their roles, and Hiddlestons presence as Loki is always welcome its difficult to think of a better villain in any of the Marvel films to date. Speaking of which, it also helps to have someone of Blanchetts caliber as the heavy, even if this particular role doesnt give her all that much to do.

As is Marvel tradition, Ragnarok also offers up a pair of fan-pleasing after credits scenes, one a couple of minutes in, and another after were done seeing all the myriad effects artists and production company logos.

Altogether, Thor: Ragnarok is one of the most unique films of Marvels now extensive lineup. It may be an unexpected combination, but this blend of star, director and style is a big winner.

Thor: Ragnarok is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material; running time: 130 minutes.