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'Thor: Ragnarok' is laughable. In a good way

New Zealand director Taiki Waititi and an enthusiastic cast turn 'Thor: Ragnarok' into a raucous comedy.

Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo in ‘Thor: Ragnarok.’
Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo in ‘Thor: Ragnarok.’Read moreWalt Disney CO.

When Cate Blanchett showed up for the raucous cast party otherwise known as Thor: Ragnarok, she decided to go stag.

At least judging by the enormous antlers she wears to play Hela, Goddess of Death, sister of Thor, and goth girl with raccoon eye makeup and a welter of withering wisecracks.

She looks like a trophy elk, and certainly acts like an alpha – grabbing Thor's hammer and crushing it (ouch), banishing her brothers and rivals, taking a male servant (Karl Urban), and ascending the throne. Certainly she wears the leather pants in Valhalla, a movie that takes the Norse end of the Avengers franchise and turns it into a comedy, with jokes at the expense of Thor himself (he also loses his hair, like Samson) and macho iconography in general.

I don't know how much more emphatically the movie could make this point, short of actually emasculating the title character.

Oh, wait, I do. When helpless, hammerless Thor is exiled to a prison planet, he is subdued by female warrior Valkyrie (Creed's Tessa Thompson) and whisked away in her spaceship. Director Taika Waititi shoots the getaway scene in a very loaded way — Thor below, Valkyrie above, Thor's head positioned … suggestively.

Waititi comes from New Zealand, and from comedy. His style is quirky and humane, explored throughout his directorial work, including some episodes of Flight of the Conchords, Eagle vs Shark, What We Do in the Shadows (in which he also co-starred). Shadows was about a bunch of vampires sharing an apartment, a mockumentary that de-fanged its creatures of legend (they argue over who does the dishes), and at the same time created a warm, low-key parable of tolerance and decency.

He brings some of the same tone and ideas to Ragnarok, and this is shrewd. Thor has always been the most laughable of the Avengers, and Waititi's approach means we don't have to pretend to take seriously the insane mythology about outer-space Vikings ruling over nine galactic realms.

Waititi says: Let's just have some Flash Gordon fun (the score even borrows some of the same musical ideas).

Some brilliant cameos kickstart the movie; although, Benedict Cumberbatch pops up, absurdly, as Dr. Strange. Jeff Goldblum steals scenes as the amusingly amoral leader of a prison planet that serves up gladiatorial combat; the main event pits Thor against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is on hand, as usual looking out for himself. It's fellow malcontent Valkyrie who must be roused from her cynicism to help Thor and Hulk save Valhalla from Hela.

Everyone's having such a good time (Chris Hemsworth, as Thor, is an extremely good sport, and a comedy natural), it's a shame the movie eventually has to drag itself back to Valhalla for a straight-faced 30-minute finale, where giant devil dogs and fire monsters make the movie needlessly long and kill the mood.

To paraphrase the actors' aphorism: Digital effects are easy. Comedy is hard.