An important thing to know about “Thor: Ragnarok” is that Ragnarok isn’t Thor’s surname, but refers instead to a foreboding passage in Norse mythology about the future death of the gods and the destruction of their realm.
In director Taika Waititi’s film, this downfall would occur on Asgard, the home of our old pals Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). They are up to the usual tricks we know from earlier installments of the franchise—Loki makes mischief, Odin proclaims stuff, Thor flexes his biceps.
Their idyll is interrupted by the reappearance of Thor and Loki’s older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett, styled like the baddest goth shopping at Hot Topic) who pulls no punches with her chosen nickname: The Goddess of Death. Blanchett, having done her research, knows that being pure evil means wearing raccoonish eye makeup and hissing demands at people to kneel as if your jaw were wired shut.
After donning an awesome antlered headdress, she wrecks Thor’s hammer and leaves him bereft as a boy without his coziest blanket. He and Loki are cast out of Asgard and freefall into Sakaar, a.k.a. the Fun Face Paint Planet. As Odin watches his boys depart, Hopkins establishes that he’s firmly entrenched in the gazing into the sunset portion of his career, trying to find a shot in which he’ll look thoughtful in the Oscars in memoriam montage (for the record, he is better at this in “Transformers: The Last Knight,” where at least he doesn’t have to wear an eyepatch).
Without male deities around to interfere, Hela shows she’s more an Old Testament god than New, responding to women being written out of history with a righteous takedown of all patriarchal structures. She is easier to root for than the boys, except that she’s super-committed to the Goddess of Death thing, generating a murderous zombie army and everything.
On Sakaar, Waititi plops Thor directly into the plot of “Gladiator,” which is fine, because his movie is for people who weren’t born when Ridley Scott’s film came out, people for whom Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”—played twice as a battle hymn—is about as distant as Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung.”
After being captured by a mercenary called Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Thor becomes a pawn in the turquoise-painted fingers of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, about 33% less amusing than you figure he will be). The Grandmaster wants a contender for his well-attended gladiatorial spectacle and, to achieve a crossover to a related franchise, without which Marvel Studios would crumble into a Ragnarokian hellscape, Thor must fight his old Avenger pal, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Bruce Banner is permanently trapped in mean green mode and this is, as we know from the many, many movies harping on this topic, a real pickle for the mild-mannered doctor.
For those scoring at home, it’s not until an hour and four minutes into the film that we finally see Chris Hemsworth without his shirt on, and his Hulk Hogan-esque pecs carry us along for a few blissful moments.
Eventually of course, the good guys must escape Sakaar and head back to Asgard for the contractually-obligated 30-minute-long climactic battle with Hela. Loki is sadly peripheral the whole time—given his might, we lament that he doesn’t use his superpowers to get Mr. Hiddleston a better wig to wear.
‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 2:10. Visitcinemawest.com.