The Marvel Cinematic Universe's most audacious entry so far, Thor's third stand-alone movie goes there with wild, bold choices -- and it succeeds, epically, on many levels. Thor: Ragnarok is a triumphant unification of diverse MCU elements. It's as gonzo-funny as the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, it steps up the sci-fi from those and the Avengers entries, it expands on the best mythological threads of the previous Thor films, it introduces exciting sword-and-sorcery action, and it even allows for real, believable character growth. Director Taika Waititi and the screenwriters have realized that all these things exist simultaneously in this ever-expanding storytelling cosmos, and they embrace it all. Ragnarok has dragons and demons and the Goddess of Death, spaceships and lasers and wormholes, gladiatorial combat and revolution, and even some magic in the form of a Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) crossover. Not ony does Waititi stir these ingredients together with the aplomb of a mad-but-brilliant chef, but he boldly adds his own special sauce with his quirky humor and even the use of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" as a kind of new, perfectly chosen theme for Thor.
We've seen hints of it before, but Ragnarok fully unlocks Hemsworth's Thor as a likable comic figure capable of personal growth. He's actually evolving into the great king he must become, while getting funnier with each appearance. The return of Ruffalo's Hulk is more than welcome -- so much so that the only complaint with the film's eye-popping action is there isn't enough of him in the final battle. Even Anthony Hopkins, as Odin, gets to have some fun doing his version of Odin-as-played-by-Loki. Among the newcomers, Thompson shines as the conflicted, swaggering, too-cool-for-Asgard Valkyrie (though her alcoholism-of-the-gods drinking problem isn't addressed at all by the film). The most lovable of the new characters is the gentle, blue rockpile-revolutionary warrior Korg, voiced winningly by Waititi. And as Hela, Blanchett kills it. Hela was co-created by one of the greatest comic artists of all time, Jack Kirby, and, unlike some superhero movies (ahem, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer), Ragnarok dives deeply into Kirby's incredible designs. The two-time Oscar-winning actress achieves the full Kirby, chewing the scenery with razor-sharp fangs and eyes shining with malevolence while looking comic-panel perfect doing it. This isn't a perfect movie: The brightly lit, candy-colored cinematography and production design sometimes feel inappropriate (see Blade Runner 2049, for instance, for a more visceral representation of a garbage-dump city). And major characters are killed and quickly forgotten. (Speaking of which, where's Sif?) But those are quibbles with a movie that, from its opening scene (easily the most thrilling in the MCU to date), incites a head-banging "right on!" Waititi, previously best known for small, personal comedies like What We Do in the Shadows and his work with Flight of the Conchords, passes his first big-canvas test with flying colors. Avoiding the DC/Justice League Universe model of jamming together ill-suited parts in the name of "artistic freedom," Waititi shows, as James Gunn did with the Guardians movies, that an artist can be oneself and play within the same sprawling sandbox as others. The ambitious Thor: Ragnarok mixes wildly disparate elements -- and achieves a kind of alchemy.