If ever there was a perfect match of actor and director, Chris Hemsworth and Kenneth Branagh in "Thor" was it ... or so I thought.
Taika Waititi ("Hunt for the Wilderpeople") sits in the director's chair after the rather disappointing 2013 sequel "Thor: The Dark World," attempting to bring the series back to life. But while Waititi's unique wit and personality are evident, an overwhelming amount of CGI bogs down what could have been the next "Deadpool" of superhero films.
Hemsworth returns to carrying the entire galaxy's future on his strong, chiseled shoulders. The opening scene shows him in a caged basket chatting with a "friend" made of bones on the other side, recounting his past endeavors and how he finds himself in his current predicament. His matter-of-fact tone accompanied by perfectly-timed stunts provides exactly the punch needed. He then spins around slowly in a circle, dangling on a chain, trying to talk with the evil character before him. Apparently, Thor likes to maintain eye contact while talking and has to wait for a complete rotation before continuing his dialogue. This jarringly hilarious situation knocks the intimidating pace out of his opponent, giving the audience time to laugh and him to prepare to fight.
This is most certainly Waititi's touch, and we see these off-kilter situations occur throughout much of the film, thanks to new characters: Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), Topaz (Rachel House), Skurge (Karl Urban) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson).
The premise of the story is nothing new. Thor must fight the next evil coming, Ragnarok, in order to save his homeland and his people. The story does add Hela (Cate Blanchett), the long-lost sister. (She used to be Daddy's favorite but was banished after he decided to change his evil ways and stop pillaging and killing everyone.) This history and his sister are completely unbeknownst to Thor, but after discovering these disturbing facts, he must team up with his rather untrustworthy, adopted brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
Of course, along the way, he meets up with outlandish characters who either thwart his progress or help him. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) are familiar characters that move the plot along with touches of humor — but it is Grandmaster and his psychologically unbalanced, right-hand woman, Topaz, that steal the show.
Goldblum has fun as the sadistic ruler of a world, pitting beings against one another, reminiscent of Roman gladiator games. He's flippant and totally uncaring with remarks and mannerisms that made me laugh out loud.
He's perfectly paired with Topaz, who, as the evil social worker, argues with Grandmaster about the term "slaves" versus "prisoners who work" and the "melty stick." We want more of these characters, but alas, they only join us for a short period of screen time.
Hemsworth seems to be putty in any director's hands, as we can see the influence of Branagh's Shakespearean background in the first "Thor" and now Waititi's pacing and delivery of comedy in the third installment. He's a talented actor who is more than just a pretty face (although that's highlighted in a lengthy and very gratuitous shirtless scene), giving depth even to the most superficial of characters.
Blanchett is mesmerizing on the screen in her striking outfit and evil makeup, intimidating all who surround her in character. She's proven herself in some of the most arduous roles and now appears to relish this lighter one.
Anthony Hopkins, who returns as Thor's father, Odin, provides a chuckle or two quite unexpectedly. And it's refreshing to see Thompson as a strong female character who just might help save the day.
But what starts out with humor and high hopes ends in the ever-increasing number of beasts being slaughtered via CGI. It's expected, but none-the-less monotonous. Waititi's eccentric style in both humor and dialogue is a welcomed change, but there just wasn't enough.
2 1/2 out of 4 stars