As much a parody of Marvel movies as an addition to the ever-growing mythology, "Thor Ragnarok" goes all in on self-referential wackiness and an unbridled energy stream of sarcasm to unleash an apocalypse of silly, exciting fun.
The film has as much in common with late 1960s and 70s rock operas such as "Barbarella" and "Tommy" as it does its Marvel Cinematic Universe brethren.
Hemsworth doesn't have to do it alone. Thor's archenemy, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back once again to cause havoc, and Anthony Hopkins reprises his role as their aloof father, Odin. Benedict Cumberbatch pops in for a memorable extended cameo as Dr. Strange, and Mark Ruffalo puts in some major work as the Hulk. Jeff Goldblum pulls of grand larceny, swiping scenes as master manipulator Grandmaster.
Cate Blanchett gets in on the fun by going full Maleficent/Elsa as Hela, the cackling goddess of death and a long-lost sibling of Thor and Loki who is bent on taking over Asgard. She wields such overwhelming power that even the combined efforts of Norse gods and the Incredible Hulk seem to have little chance at slowing her roll.
Director Taika Waititi revives the mainline "Thor" series after the "Dark World" slump, ratcheting up the fun factor and never losing sight of the fact that these are comic book characters in a gloriously nonsensical comic book world.
Rich with quips, sight gags and an over-the-top score that matches the wild, seat-rumbling action beat for beat, the film ripples with kinetic energy from wire to wire.
And although it's almost painful to use the word "realistic" in association with this absurd movie, but the plot takes a somber and pragmatic approach to heroes facing a cataclysmic, seemingly unwinnable battle. The resolution is a welcome antidote for the usual formula of invulnerable heroes overcoming impossible odds. Sometimes a victory is more about survival and escape than slaying evil.
"Thor: Ragnarok" may be an odd duck, but it's no spinoff. Another solid building block on the path toward next year's mega team-up "Avengers: Infinity War" movie that fans have been salivating over since Hemsworth first picked up a hammer.
The movie makes the wait not seem so bad, proving to be a shining example that the journey is its own reward.
RATING: 3.5 stars out of 4.