Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok ★★★½

"A creepy old man cut my hair off!" ~ Thor

Even if I hadn't known this film was directed by Taika Waititi, I probably could have guessed as much. His marks are all over it and, believe me, that's a good thing.

There's Waititi's disarming sense of humor that pops up in scene after scene, making this perhaps the funniest Marvel MCU installment outside Guardians. Then there's the family angle (papa dealing with sibling rivals), the tribalism (Asgard as a people not a place) and the respect shown for nature (barren Norway never looked so good). He also manages to cast one of his favorite New Zealand regulars, Rachel House, in a great minor part as Topaz, bodyguard to the eccentric Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Yep, that's Waititi all right.

Things I Really Liked:

- Cate Blanchett as Hela, Goddess of Death and the first born of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). She was made for this role ... maybe her most powerful since playing Queen Elizabeth twice for director Shekhar Kapur way back when.

- Tom Hiddleston back as Odin's adopted son, the mischievous Loki, using his shape-shifting and illusions to keep us confused at all times. Who's side is he really on? Or is his only goal to stir the pot? Looks great in all-black business attire, BTW.

- Led Zepplin's "Immigrant Song" played not once but twice during battle scenes -- perfect choice!

Things I Wasn't Quite Sure About:

- The narrated opening by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to create a reason for him being caged by the fire demon Surtur (Clancy Brown) and to introduce the concept of Ragnarok.

- The totally unexpected appearance of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Why?

- Waititi himself as the stone man Korg, a gladiator who befriends Thor. His accent and mannerly behavior seemed vastly out of place.

- How Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is manipulated to further the plot instead of being allowed to stand on his own.

- The limited role of Idris Elba as Heimdall, a really kewl character deserving much more screen time.

- Goldblum's Grandmaster version of Stanley Tucci's Cesar Flickerman in "The Hunger Games." He really needed an Effie Trinket.

- Stan Lee's creepy cameo.

Things I Didn't Like:

- The emasculated way in which Odin is portrayed after Waititi told Anthony Hopkins "to really destroy what's come before [with the role] and recreate it." Was that necessary?

- The Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) portrayed as an alcoholic. Wasn't her turning her back on Asgard enough? The slip into substance abuse added nothing to her tortured character.

- The loss of Mjölnir. I loved that damn hammer and I want it back!

- The throw-away character Skurge (Karl Urban) -- so one-dimensional.

The special effects were special, of course, and I expected nothing less. Lots of action, not too much down time and, again, the humor was much appreciated. I predict a big profit for this, plus some award recognition. And of course there's the set up for "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018), where perhaps Thompson will have a more sober role and Dr. Strange's appearance here will make some sense. Keep 'em coming, Marvel.

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