Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok ★★★★½

A cloudburst of joy. I go to the movies for a lot of reasons, but probably my favorite above all is to be entertained in a positive spirit, to be electrified and charmed, to make my brain dance with euphoria. Basically, to have fun, because I'm not very good at doing that in real life. The way an educated critic might assess something in competition at Cannes, I put that same seriousness of effort into evaluating quality popcorn flicks (in my mind, if not in writing, which almost invariably lets me down). So I think I've cultivated a special sense for recognizing and appreciating when movies have perfected "fun", or at least entered the closest orbit thereto - so many of them claim they're a good time but fall far short, or succeed with distracting caveats. "Thor Ragnarok" fulfills all the criteria to perch above most in an elite class of cinema known as The Funnest Movies Ever. And though I just made that up for this review, its members include Marvel's other deluxe dessert sundae space comedy "Guardians of the Galaxy", as well as, hmm, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", the "Ocean's 11" remake, "Singin' in the Rain", "The Incredibles"...movies that are so brilliantly, singularly, gushingly fun that they elevate it to art. They're not just summer blockbusters and crowd-pleasers; they are distillations of the form into its purest, most satisfying manifestations.

Unlikely though it may seem, the third movie in the least distinguished Marvel superhero branch is actually just such an instant classic. Goes to show that much like the quality variance of the comics which begat them, these superhero tales on the big screen live or die to a large extent by the creative minds who take them for each ride. Now maybe the Marvel leaders had it in mind for many years to take Thor off on this space quest, and deserve ample credit for guiding the movie's potential to fruition and navigating its density as like the 15th chapter of this interconnected MCU, but director Taika Waititi is the variable here, transforming the "Thor" line into even more of a straight comedy, and a relentlessly hilarious one (and without sacrificing the stakes or the high adventure). The usual barrage of Marvel movie one-liners and dramatic-moment-punchlines are sharper than ever, as are the sight gags, the silly character touches, even the performances. Waititi knows how to excel at comic contrasts, as demonstrated by the practical lives of ghouls in his "What We Do in the Shadows", only now he's got the budget to house it all in psychedelic '80s mania and absurd spectacle. They say Kenneth Branagh embraced the campiness of Thor in his first movie back in 2011, but some dutch angles and fish-out-of-water yucks didn't yield the best results. "Ragnarok" gets it, completely. It honors these many characters and shows how they've changed and makes you laugh every 5 seconds and introduces lovable new side players and revisits old ones (a check-in on Doctor Strange reminded me how nearly as outstanding that movie was) and provides a fittingly grandiloquent villain and features some of the most jaw-droppingly epic battle images since Zack Snyder's "300". Even if that scene of the Valkyries taking on Hela was only a flashback, just looking at it for a few seconds felt like peeking in on majesty I'm unqualified to comprehend. Which is just my way of saying it was so cool I wanted to stand up in the packed theater and yell with my fists in the air. Some things affect some people stronger than others..

Lastly but perhaps most crucially of all: I haven't enjoyed any Marvel musical theme this much (cheers, Mark Mothersbaugh) since, well, last November's "Doctor Strange" (that time it was Michael Giacchino), but those are the only two that have ever stood out to me in any of these movies.

And also, blessed is the rare movie that knows how to use Jeff Goldblum correctly.

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