Since its beginning with the release of “Iron Man” in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the highest-grossing franchise in film history. “Thor: Ragnarok,” the 17th film in the expansive series, mostly stays within the mold of the other successful movies: An entertaining comic adventure that lacks real drama but makes up for it with solid performances, wild action scenes and hilarious banter.

The third installment in the “Thor” series, “Ragnarok” follows the titular character (Chris Hemsworth) as he attempts to escape imprisonment in a deadly gladiatorial contest and prevent Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett), from destroying his homeworld, Asgard, and taking over the cosmos.

The film’s best quality is its sense of humor, aided in large part by very game actors. Much more overtly comedic than its predecessors, “Ragnarok” is heavily influenced by the zany style of its director Taika Waititi, whose works “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” exhibit some of the most uproarious movie moments in recent years. “Ragnarok” is aware of its inherent ridiculousness, a quality evident in Hemsworth’s performance as Thor. In prior appearances, the character was consistently one of the most serious. Now, he cracks wise in a way that would even make Tony Stark proud, brought to life through Hemsworth’s commendable comedic chops.

Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki, continuing to excel as the charming trickster with whom audiences have fallen in love. Mark Ruffalo is delightful as Bruce Banner and especially the Hulk. For the first time in the franchise, the Hulk has the ability to speak full sentences, and the film takes advantage of this through the endlessly amusing verbal sparring between him and Thor. Memorably wacky additions to the series are Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, who, in unfortunately limited screen time, brightens the proceedings considerably, and Waititi himself as the soft-spoken revolutionary rockman Korg, easily the picture’s funniest character.

The film somewhat falters in the mixing of its superb comedy with a half-baked dramatic throughline. Cate Blanchett gives it her all in portraying the cartoonish villain Hela, as she tries to imbue her character with a level of fun that matches that of the heroes. However, even an actress of her caliber cannot salvage a rushed plot and hasty character-building. In addition, a few potentially moving scenes that would have better balanced the hilarity with needed emotion were undercut with unnecessary jokes. The filmmakers should have gone all the way to make an outright comedy rather than combine farcical humor with material that, if approached differently, could beget the most emotionally devastating story of all the Marvel movies.

That’s not to say that none of the non-comedic elements work. Tessa Thompson shines as the fearsome Valkyrie, possibly the most powerful female character in a Marvel film so far. Idris Elba as Heimdall has a significantly increased role from previous stints as the character, a welcome change for an actor with such gravitas. Many of the action sequences are thrilling and feel truly dangerous for the heroes.

Overall, “Thor: Ragnarok” is a fun time at the movies that will be appreciated by fans of both the franchise and comedy in general. Though the plot does not have the dramatic heft that could push the film to greatness, the hysterical comedy excellently rectifies this misstep. All it tries to be is a supremely entertaining experience, and in that regard, it passes with flying colors.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars

Thor: Ragnarok is rated pg-13 and playing in theaters now. Watch the trailer below: 

"Thor: Ragnarok" Official Trailer

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