Thor: Ragnarok: “a fabulous fantasy and the funniest Marvel movie yet”

Chris Hemsworth returns alongside the big, green rage monster

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★★★★

Family ties and family lies come home to roost for Thor, Loki and their fellow Asgardians in this stonking third solo adventure for the immortal Avenger.

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Chris Hemsworth’s god of thunder was last seen at the end of 2015’s Age of Ultron, when he was in a morose fug over the impending end of Asgard (or Ragnarok, as it’s known in Norse legend). Meanwhile, his no-good brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) had snatched his home-town throne by pretending to be all-father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

How things have changed in two years (in Marvel Universe time, anyway), as our first glimpse of Goldilocks is when he’s bound by chains in the hellish bowels of Muspelheim, the kingdom of demonic fire giant Surtur. The fact that Thor is coolly cracking quips like Bruce Willis in his Die Hard pomp is a sign of things to come, for this fabulous fantasy has to be the funniest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, notwithstanding the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Once the Surtur situation has been “resolved” thanks to Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir, the bickering brothers put aside their differences to find missing dad Odin (with a little help from Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr Strange, in a tasty cameo that offers the sorcerer’s first mouthwatering meeting with Hiddleston’s god of mischief).

Trouble is, their mission coincides with the return of goddess of death Hela (played with haughty relish by Cate Blanchett), who’s on her way to conquer Asgard but unwittingly dispatches the pair to a faraway planet ruled by the whimsical Grandmaster (a louche Jeff Goldblum) and dominated by his gladiatorial Contest of Champions.

A now not-so-mighty Thor – shorn of hammer, costume and hair – is then press-ganged by a feisty warrior woman (Tessa Thompson) into battling a familiar big, green rage monster. It’s then that the fun and games really begin because once the shellackings have been handed out, a hoot of a buddy movie ensues – think Midnight Run, only with a god and a gamma monster.

Kudos to the witty script and Kiwi actor/director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows), who cut his teeth on comedy show Flight of the Conchords. Here he serves up a hugely entertaining, laugh-out-loud romp with brilliant brawls, humour delivered with delightfully deadpan finesse (not least by Waititi himself as hilariously random rock beast Korg) and plenty of in-jokes (the look of horror on Loki’s face when he sees the Hulk, who clobbered him in Avengers Assemble, is a peach).

Meanwhile, Hemsworth proves a dab hand in his double act with Hulk’s human alter ego Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and the grudging bromance with Loki – their “get help” escape scam is a terrific brotherly moment.

Some may bemoan the unabashed light-heartedness but a game-changing reckoning with Hela on Asgard awaits Thor and co in the all-action climax. Next year’s Avengers: Infinity War will surely be doomier and darker when more Marvel superheroes (and stars) than you can shake a cape at go toe-to-toe with cosmic bad-ass Thanos.

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But right now, Ragnarok rocks.