First things first:Thor: Ragnarok, the third solo film featuring the Asgardian god of thunder, is easily one of the five best Marvel Studios movies to date.
(For the record, my other top four are The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Spider-Man: Homecoming.)
Like a candy-colored kaleidoscope,Thor: Ragnarok is the first film to properly translate Marvel Comics’ Bronze Age (1970 to 1985) to the big screen with a live-action King-Size Annual befitting its muscular blonde hero.
This is a comic book movie made for comic book fans by people who truly get the transcendent joy that such stories meant for people of a certain age. Every frame is stuffed with eye-popping spectacle and intimate details. It’s also one of the funniest superhero films you will ever see.
Ragnarok excels by making Thor more relatable. Sure, he’s a god, and nearly invincible, but he’s also a fortunate son still struggling to be the man his father Odin envisioned and a sibling still wrestling with the many betrayals of his brother Loki. Since last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor has been traveling the cosmos, seeking answers to questions both personal and universal.
As the movie opens, Thor has been captured by Surtur and is being held in the extra-dimensional realm of Muspelheim. Surtur promises that the time of Ragnarok, meaning the death of Odin and the destruction of Asgard, has come.
What Thor doesn’t realize is that a greater threat exists: Hela, the goddess of death (Cate Blanchett, looking fetish fierce and reveling in her wicked turn), Odin’s first-born — and Thor's sister — is about to return to claim Asgard’s throne, which she believes is rightfully hers.
Thor finds himself transported through the Bifröst Bridge to the planet Sakaar where The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, being Goldblum-awesome) rules over the Contest of Champions, which is basically an intergalactic Thunderdome mashed together with Roman gladiators (Fun fact: Contest of Champions was Marvel’s first limited series, published in three comics from June to August 1982).
Thor is captured on Sakaar by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and forced to fight the reigning champion, who is revealed to be none other than the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).
Director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) — another inspired choice by Marvel, much like Guardians’ director James Gunn — dives deep into the nerd pool to deliver a stunning (and hilarious) sequence pitting Thor and Hulk against one another.
The fights, the jokes, the bare green ass of Hulk — Ragnarok is Marvel’s interpretation of a classic Hope-Crosby road movie. There’s barely time to catch your breath before Waititi serves up another unexpected delight.
Some of the best moments arrive during the film’s brief quiet spells between action: Thor talking to Loki about his breakup with scientist Jane Foster (it was a mutual dumping, OK!), Thor and Hulk bickering as roommates like The Odd Couple, Hela asking Skurge (Karl Urban) about his career goals and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) being called a wizard repeatedly by Thor.
There’s also an inspired play-within-the-film parody of Loki’s death in Thor: The Dark World that features several laugh-out-loud, uncredited cameos.
In case you’re wondering, yes, this is the cinematic equivalent of waking up early on a Saturday morning and eating an entire box of sugary cereal while watching cartoons. You feel buzzy and euphoric almost to the point of guilt at being so giddy.
If there’s any regret to be had while watching Thor: Ragnarok, it’s knowing that this feel-good high won’t last. There’s just one more Marvel Studios feature (Black Panther) coming before the MCU gets deadly-serious with the arrival of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War (May 2018). Many of your favorite heroes may not survive that battle for the Infinity Gauntlet.
But, for now, we have Ragnarok, and it is truly a gift. My advice? Do whatever it takes to Hulk smash your way into seeing it opening weekend. You’re in for one hell of a glorious ride.