Nine years after Iron Man kicked the whole enterprise off and Marvel Studios have reached the point of churning out three films a year, like clockwork. This autumn's release is Thor: Ragnorak, the third solo adventure with the thunder god.
Through a series of unfortunate events, inevitably involving his adopted brother, Loki, Thor finds himself imprisoned on the planet Sakaar. He must enter the gladiator arena and face a fellow Avenger before he can return to his home planet and prevent its destruction by his sister, the Goddess of Death.
The success of Thor: Ragnarok seems to have started with the employment of director Taika Waititi (behind the hilarious What We Do In The Shadows and the adorable Hunt for the Wilderpeople). The film is at its most comfortable when it's cracking a joke, cutting free of the Marvel shackles. Waititi is an inspired choice but is aided by the fact that his lead, Chris Hemsworth, has a fairly sizeable funny bone and flourishes with the opportunity to show it off. The character makes sense if he isn't taken seriously, there are too many absurd qualities to what is essentially a Shakespearean drama bedecked in gold. In embracing this Thor: Ragnarok is by far the most enjoyable Marvel film in a number of years.
As well as Hemsworth bringing the laughs, we have a fabulous supporting role for Jeff Golblum and the return of The Hulk, a fun addition to the ensemble. The film even finds time to develop an interesting female character, often lacking in Marvel movies, in the form of Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie. Finally there are a few fun cameos for fans of Waititi's previous films that I won't spoil here. For the most part the director brings a lightness of touch that elevates the film above the quality of previous Thor films (in particular the excruciating second one). And hats off to Mark Mothersbaugh's score, which is a slice of synth heaven.
The comedy does, however, undercut much of the drama. While Guardians of the Galaxy (which the film is clearly aping) successfully crafted a comedy that retained its moments of drama, Thor: Ragnarok suffers because nothing really matters. The stakes should be the highest they have been with the Goddess of Death on the scenes, but they just don't exist in this film. Part of the problem is that Cate Blanchett's Hela has little to do until the finale. She has a mighty fine back-story but not enough to do on screen, with the film eager to return to Sakaar.
Still it feels a trivial complaint when you leave the cinema with a broad smile on your face. If Thor: Ragnarok doesn't reinvent the formula, relying on a third act fight to save a besieged city, it still manages to be a very enjoyable comedy blockbuster with a marvellous lead performance.