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‘Thor: Ragnarok’ makes the end of the world fun

Photo: Chris Hemsworth as Thor in his newest movie

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

From the start, I’ve had problems with how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has handled the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth). The brain trust at the new comic book studio somehow dared to raise questions about Thor’s status as a Norse god because the notion of religion/mythology seemed at odds with the science-based grounding of the movies. Did they completely forget they were operating in a universe with a hulking green radioactive creature fueled by rage, a super soldier from World War II who was frozen in a block of ice and thawed out forty or fifty years later, and a renowned surgeon who loses the use of his hands and turns to the mystic arts? The decision was made to represent the Asgardians as space aliens, but I’m not sure a Norse god actually upsets the reality quotient that much.

And then there’s the idea of tone. Was the world of Asgard modeled on a Shakespearean model, as seen in the direction of Kenneth Branagh, complete with a cast including the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Colm Feore, Stellan Skarsgård, and Tom Hiddleston, who all seemed to imagine themselves doing Shakespeare in the Park with modern cosmic accents? Or how about Nine Realms with battling Frost Giants and Evil Elves straight out of the dark fantasies of “Game of Thrones” courtesy of Alan Taylor?

Who knew that the best solution would have been injecting a healthy dose of humor into the mix?

Well, how about those of us who grew up reading the Tales of Asgard series that introduced Thor and his mythical realm into the comics in the first place. Norse mythology got a kick in the pants by an irreverent team of writers and artists who used the stories as a springboard for creative tinkering. Of course, Thor was a stiff brawny do-gooder with no sense for how his earnest intentions played next to the devious cunning of his adopted brother Loki, who was always more fun, even at his mustache-twirling worst. He was the eternal trickster in search of a worthy foil capable of earning his respect.

That basic core remains in the Marvel movies, thanks in large part, to the twinkling performances of Hiddleston across his many appearances. It’s just too bad he’s been doing solo yeoman work, for the most part, toiling away like a premier actor doing a residency with a community theatre troupe in the hinterlands. The man is always game, never phoning in a performance, but you see that his attention drifts to the wings where he’s waiting and hoping for someone else to burst onto the scene and give him a run for his money.

Which director Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows”) does, by unleashing the ace the series has always had up its sleeve—Hemsworth. “Thor: Ragnarok” reimagines Thor as a devilishly dim hero in love with the idea of his own power until a crisis forces him to confront the notion that he’s not as strong as he always figured. What’s a not-so-strong strongman to do? Embrace his hidden talents. And Hemsworth proves to be quite funny. We caught a glimpse of this in his sly turn in the “Ghostbusters” reboot, but here, Thor finally reveals himself to be a frat house jock among the Asgardian set, the hard-partying life of the party who finally realizes that it’s time to grow up.

It takes the unexpected arrival of his older sister, Hela the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett, always up for crashing a good time), the sibling that dear old dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has kept hidden from Thor and Loki, to usher in sense of urgency and responsibility. What I love about Thor this time out, is that he never doubts himself. He’s like an entitled modern child, always told he’s the best who really believed the hype and now blindly sets out to earn the rep.

Of course, he’s surrounded by a collection of hilarious riff-raffy sidekicks and buddies—from Mark Ruffalo’s infantile talking Hulk, to Jeff Goldblum as an ageless alien, to the secret saucy Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who can drink and brawl with the best warriors the galaxy has to offer—and a director who knows that the end of Asgard deserves to play out like Prince’s all-time anthem 1999. “Thor: Ragnarok” doesn’t want to hurt us; it only wants to make sure that we have fun.

Rating: PG-13; Grade: A-